updated 06/08/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT
•originally published 06/08/1981 AT 01:00 AM EDT
Cate Cronin remembers that by tradition, "If a woman worked on a ship, it would be in the galley." So much for tradition. At 24, the 5'7", curly-haired Cronin is the first woman captain of Clearwater, the 106-foot sloop that sails the Hudson as a river ecology watchdog. The brainchild of folksinger Pete Seeger, Clearwater is a replica of a 19th-century sloop Supported by gifts and grants, it has plied the Hudson since 1969 to dramatize the campaign to clean up the river and its shores. Cate, says Seeger, "is one of the best-organized captains we've ever had." The daughter of a graphic artist and a housewife, Cate grew up in Bangor, Maine and first went to sea in 1975 as assistant cook. (She dropped out of the University of Maine after two years.) "It was hard to get out of the galley and on deck," Cate admits. But after three years in galleys, including Clearwater's, Cate finally made it topside. A Coast Guard-licensed inland waters operator, Cate became Clearwater's captain last summer. Single, she tries to date fellow sailors "who have the same crazy schedules." Cate ships out from April through November, earning $11,300 a season, and lives with her family the rest of the year. "I can now," she notes proudly, "call myself captain of a prestigious boat in a field where it's hard to find a job—whether you are a male or a female."