GREEN ISLAND COVE, N.L. — The seat of the Liebherr BOS 4200-80 offshore pedestal crane, mounted to the West Aquarius oil rig, is 50 feet above the rig’s deck. The deck of the Seadrill rig is dozens of feet above the cold waters of the North Atlantic. The height amplifies the rolling of the sea. It is here, in this waving tower, Denika Mitchelmore is most comfortable.
“I really enjoy the privacy of working in the cab. And just the peacefulness that it brought me,” says Mitchelmore. “You got a minute to yourself. You're in the cab, it’s just you and the crane. I felt like it was my calling, and of all the things I've done in my life it was one thing that I felt understood me.”
This November, Mitchelmore, from Green Island Cove on the Great Northern Peninsula, became the first female level 3 offshore crane operator in Atlantic Canada. It’s the highest qualification available, and it’s been a long way into that cab for Mitchelmore.
“I come from a family of fishermen. So fisherman was supposed to be my trade, but I kind of steered clear of it,” says Mitchelmore. “And this is honestly how it happened, I saw a crane on the side of the road, watched it for a little while. I found it interesting how it worked and ever since then, I wanted to steer to that career.”
Mitchelmore spent years trying to work her way up on land-based equipment. Each ticket level as a crane operator requires 200 hours of seat time with a willing mentor. She found those hours hard to come by.
“There’s a lot of times where I wasn’t given the opportunity, where I had to fight tooth and nail to get a little bit of seat time,” she says. “You had to sometimes bounce around and go from job to job just hoping that the next job you get you’ll get some seat time.”
Construction life is dictated by the needs of the project at hand. Mitchelmore once worked six months at a stretch. Even her infrequent stretches off were haunted by the possibility of getting called in. For someone who loves home and family, it was a hard way to live.
“It was hateful. It feels like the last eight years of my life, until I went offshore, just went by in the blink of an eye because I worked so much,” says Denika. “One minute you’re 22, the next minute you’re 30. You don’t know where the time went at all.”
Since she’s been working offshore, Mitchelmore has been on a schedule of three weeks on, three weeks off. When she goes home, she knows she won’t be called back in. She can spend more time with her partner Stephanie, her parents, Boyd and Patsy Mitchelmore, and her sister Amber. Offshore on the West Aquarius, she’s found a group of coworkers who support her ambitions.
“I lucked out and I got a great bunch offshore. God love their hearts, they did everything in the world for me,” says Mitchelmore. “They made sure I got every opportunity and they were always there to support me.”
Mitchelmore prefers not to focus on her status as the first level 3 female operator, although she recognizes that she can’t control how others react.
“When I say I work offshore, people just look at me, and I’ll tell them, there are important people, women, offshore, in different roles. It’s not uncommon. It’s just that people are just not used to hearing it.”
Her own struggles to find a place where she belongs, and the support that has gotten her to this point, have made Mitchelmore determined to make a clearer path for anyone following behind her.
“I’d like to see a lot of younger people get into it. People struggling with who they are and what they are. I find that those people struggle the most getting anywhere they want to be,” she says. “I hope I see more women. I hope I see more men. I hope I see more people who are gay, transgender, don’t matter. I hope I see all kinds working everywhere. That’s how I was raised to see the world. Don’t matter what you are. Everyone deserves opportunity.”
Perched above the deck of the West Aquarius, Mitchelmore insists on crediting the people who helped lift her into that seat. People like Steve D’Entremont, the operator who mentored her through her level 3 training. Walter Lindstrom from Sleipnir, who conducted her assessment. Deck pushes Grant Butler and Jerry King, along with crane operator Chris Walker. Luke Jarvis, the offshore installation manager who pushed for her to get her level three training.
“My partner Stephanie, she’s been amazing with me through all this. She’s been my rock,” says Mitchelmore. “Of course, my parents were great supporters. My sister was a good supporter. All those people there, and a larger group of family and friends. You have to have people who’re actually willing to give you the opportunity and see the potential in you and see that you follow through with it, and not give up on you.”
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