Viewfinder: Boat’s second mate strives to climb to top rankPublished 12:01am Tuesday, June 18, 2013
By Justin Sellers
The Natchez Democrat
NATCHEZ — If Mark Twain were still alive, he would surely find a kindred spirit in Allison Peck, even though she didn’t find her way to many of the towns that line the Lower Mississippi until a little later in life.
Peck, 27, knew she wanted to be a riverboat captain when she was just 8 years-old and took a ride on the now permanently docked Delta Queen.
Now, almost 20 years later, Second Mate Peck is the third-highest ranking officer and highest ranking female on the largest steamboat ever built, the American Queen.
And she has even bigger plans than that.
“Delta Queen Steamboat Company was started by Mary Greene, who was the first female captain for the company” Peck said. “It would be great to be able to be the first woman since then to be a pilot and captain of these boats.”
Peck, who is from Bangor, Penn., attended State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, N.Y., where she received a bachelor of science in humanities and traveled to almost 30 countries along the way.
But to her, it’s about more than just seeing the world.
“My deckhands are like my kids,” Peck said. “I take care of them, I like to work with them and help them train; That way one day they can take my job.”
Bryant Johnson, the head deckhand, said he enjoys having a female boss.
“She teaches a lot, I’ve learned a lot from her,” Johnson said. “She has your back, whenever you need somebody, she’s behind you.”
Although Peck is surrounded by men twice her size, she says its not an issue.
“These guys work hard for me because I work hard for them as well,” she said. “They respond to me even more so than they do for most men.”
As for advice for other young girls who dream of working on a steamboat, “Accept yourself as a girl in a male environment, because if you try to be a boy in a male environment you’re going to fail,” Peck said. “I can’t keep up with the guys physically, but I have other capabilities. I can do paperwork, I can do training, I can teach them.”
Natchez and one of its local eateries holds a special place in her heart.
“On the Lower Mississippi, Natchez is my number one,” Peck said. “And Fat Mama’s, I love that place. I get the Gringo Pie every time.”
Peck has a long career ahead of her, and undoubtedly Natchez will be at least a small part of her life. And just like the Mighty Mississippi, she will keep moving forward regardless of obstacles or obstruction.