Sailing the seas

By Drum Digital
15 August 2011

She grew up in the small Eastern Cape town of Aliwal North, never dreaming she’d ever live near the sea.

But today Lulama Tsholoba (26) not only knows some of South Africa’s beautiful seaside towns and cities, she has also carved a career for herself at sea.

A marine pilot who lives in Saldanha Bay on the West Coast, Lulama’s main job is to help sea vessels to dock – and later leave – the Saldanha harbour safely.

“I’m the link between the control room and the captain who is steering his vessel into the harbour.”

Lama, as she’s known, says it’s a demanding job.

“There’s no space for error. You have to be on top of your game every day.” But she thrives on the challenge.

Her interest in a maritime career was stimulated when she spotted two guys walking around Cape Town in immaculate white uniforms.

“They looked good” she says, “and I wondered what kind of work they did. Later on I discovered they were naval officers.”

Soon thereafter she attended a career expo at the then Cape Technikon and saw a poster advertising maritime studies.

On the poster were people dressed in the immaculate white uniforms she’d recently admired. Then and there she decided to pursue a maritime career.

“I wanted to do something different,” Lama explains. Even though she’d heard that the maritime industry was male-dominated, she wasn’t put off. “I love a good challenge,” she laughs.

Now employed by the Transnet National Port Authority – the only company in SA that employs marine pilots – Lama is perfectly suited for the job.

She works 12-hour shifts, one day on and one day off, and is on duty two weekends a month.

“No two days are the same,” says says, “and my days are determined by the weather.” If the sea is calm, it’s easy to dock a vessel but when the wind starts to blow or it’s raining, things can get very tricky.

But come rain, wind or shine, Lama gives of her best and rises to the challenge.

Best part of the job?

The satisfaction of safely docking a ship or sailing it out of the harbour in all kinds of weather conditions.

What I wear

Black pants, a crisp white shirt, epaulettes and safety shoes.

How do you destress?

I love sleeping on my days off or having a long chat with my boyfriend.

Call the Cape Peninsula University of Technology Granger Bay campus on 021-440-5752 or go to for more info.

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