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North America's first female ship captain Molly Kool dies at 93

Followed in father’s footsteps

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

BANGOR, Maine - Molly K. Carney, who as Molly Kool was the first woman in North America to become a licensed ship captain, has died at her home at the age of 93. Known in Canada by her maiden name, Kool won her sea captain's papers in 1939 and sailed the Atlantic Ocean between Alma, New Brunswick, and Boston for five years.

Kool grew up in the village of Alma, where she learned a love of the sea and sailing from her father Paul Kool, a Dutch-born ship captain. At the age of 21, she entered the Merchant Marine School in Saint John, but only after convincing them that she was capable. She was the only woman to ever attend the school. After receiving her Mate's Certificate, Molly was made a mate on her father's scow the "Jean K." At 23, she made history by earning the title of captain, after the Canadian Shipping Act was rewritten to say "he/she" instead of just "he."

She overcame superstitions about women working at sea and won the respect of her male counterparts as she sailed her father's 70-foot boat in the dangerous waters of the Bay of Fundy.


During her career, she experienced at least three shipwrecks. One wreck occurred in Moncton, New Brunswick, when a Norwegian captain told her to move her ship, which was tied up at the wharf. She refused to give up her berth and the Captain first tried to jam the ship into the dock. He then offered Molly money to move the ship. When she refused, he rammed the ship bow, which cut the lines of the ‘Jean K.', setting it adrift. While Molly ordered her men to jump off the boat, she stayed aboard but had no way to pilot the ship. The danger was real that the ship would drift into the Petitcodiac Bridge and be destroyed since the tidal currents in this part of the river can be quite dangerous. When Molly ordered her crew to abandon ship, the Norwegian Captain became afraid that a lot of damage might be done to the boat, so he ordered his men to board the vessel and cast off the anchors. Although that attempt was not successful, the boat grounded itself on a nearby riverbank, with little damage being done. Molly and her father later successfully sued the Norwegian for the damage that had been caused.

In another incident, the ‘Jean K.' collided with another boat. The impact caused Kool to fall overboard, dragging her under the boat. She swam up the other side of the boat where she was thrown a life jacket, but instead swam until she found some lumber to hold onto until she was rescued.

In a third incident, when a fire caused by a gasoline explosion destroyed the engine room, the cabin, and the wheelhouse of the ship, Kool lost everything she owned except the clothes on her back.

Kool outlived two husbands and is survived by a sister.