The Council of American Master Mariners, Inc.

Lalonde Spirit of the Seas Award

2019 Recipiet Captain Deborah Dempsey



Captain Deborah Dempsey


The 2019 Lalonde "Spirit of the Seas" Award winner is Captain Debbie Dempsey. She comes from community sailing programs on the mouth of the Connecticut River. She is a lifelong professional mariner whose non-traditional career has been documented in film, books, many articles. Captain Dempsey has spent her life contributing to the US Merchant Marine. As a Licensed Deck Officer and Master, as a Columbia River Pilot, a champion and mentor for women in the Merchant Marine, and author of “The Captain’s a Woman: Tales of a Merchant Mariner.” She recently retired as a pilot on the infamous Columbia River Bar.


Captain Dempsey graduated as valedictorian of her class from Maine Maritime Academy in 1976  and is the first female to graduate from a U.S. maritime or military academy. She is the  first American woman to be licensed as a Master Mariner and to command a cargo ship on international voyages, the first woman to become a Columbia River Bar Pilot and the first female regular member of the Council of American Master Mariners.


Before attending Maine Maritime Academy, she had obtained a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Vermont. Captain Dempsey has been a champion and mentor for women in the Merchant Marine. She took more pride in having pursued her goals and having earned the respect of her crew and peers by steadily paying her dues, than for being known as the first female deep sea captain. It was her love of the sea and her profession that propelled her to her achievements.


Captain Dempsey was the only woman among nine ship captains to earn the U.S. Navy's Meritorious Public Service Award during the Persian Gulf War. In January 1993, she rescued a dead ship (M/V LYRA ) that had broken away from its tow and was drifting onto North Carolina’s Frying Pan Shoals.  As a result, Captain Dempsey and her crew received several award, including the United Seaman’s Service AOTOS Honored Seamen and a Letter of Commendation from President Clinton. In 1994, Captain Dempsey was awarded an honorary PhD from Maine Maritime Academy for her extraordinary achievements. In 2006, Maine Maritime Academy presented her with its Wall of Honor membership, reserved for distinguished alumni. She became a Columbia River Bar Pilot in 2007.


Captain Dempsey’s passion lies in teaching others how to recreate safely on the water leading her to help start the Community Boating Center on Bellingham Bay and she presently serves the Board of Directors as Treasurer. It's been said she has salt water in her veins and is definitely more comfortable afloat than ashore.








Lalonde Spirit of the Seas Award - History

The Father Maurice Lalonde Spirit of the Seas Award is the highest honor that the Council of American Master Mariners can give its members. It is named for one of our members, Captain/Father Maurice Lalonde. Father Lalonde, in his early career, graduated from the New York State Maritime Academy and served as a Naval Officer in WW II. He then went back to sea as a civilian mariner, sailing in all deck officer billets, including Master Mariner. He then came ashore and studied for the Catholic priesthood. After his ordination, he went back to sea for awhile and donated his salary to his priestly order. He again returned ashore and spent most of his remaining career as a foreign missionary. He obviously is a man of a tremendously giving nature. The recipients of this award represent this kind of overall selfless spirit.


Past recipients are:

2019 Captain Deborah Dempsey

2018 Captain RJ Klein

2017 Father Sinclair Oubre

2016 Captain John A. Cartner

2015 Captain Pat Moloney

2014 Captain Don Moore, Jr.

2012 Captain Tim Brown

2011 Captain Tom Bradley

2010 Commodore Kenneth Orcutt

2009 Captain Charles “Chick” Gedney

2007 Captain James Morgan

2006 Edward Frank Oliver

2005 Captain Dominick Calicchio

2004 Captain Warren Leback

1999 Father Maurice Lalonde

Lalonde Spirit of the Seas Award - Nominations

Nominations for the Lalonde “Spirit of the Seas” award open in September and is awarded at the National Annual General Meeting the following spring.


The Lalonde “Spirit of the Seas” Award is the Council’s most distinguished honor. The award is made annually or as deemed appropriate by an Awards Committee comprised of the National’s five Regional Vice Presidents and Ex-Officio National President.


Nominations are open to any member in good standing for all of the following: humanitarianism, professionalism, seamanship, life-time achievement and noteworthy accomplishments, along with contributions to the maritime industry and the 'Spirit of the Seas' in their everyday lives. An eligible nominee may be a member in any category of the CAMM National organization in good standing (who is/was current in their dues to CAMM National and to their chapter, if they were also chapter members). Individuals must be nominated by a CAMM National member who also is in good standing.


Download: Nomination Form


For additional applications, information or guidelines and rules, contact your Regional Vice President or your Chapter President.


All nominations must be postmarked by January 15.

Lalonde Spirit of the Seas Award - Winner Notification and Acceptance

The winner will be notified in advance by the Lalonde Review Committee. If nominee is the winner, he/she must make every effort to attend the annual meeting Closing Dinner. Because of the prestigious nature of this award, the winner’s Chapter should be an enabler to encourage and assist winner to be present to receive the award in person. If because of poor health, the winner can’t attend please list their designee (show name & ID number) who will accept the award in their behalf.

The Council of American Master Mariners, Inc.