Some people think of Maggie McDonogh as a quirk in a male-dominated job. Some of us just plain admire her. Her nickname is Captain Mom because she is the fourth generation in her family to earn a living on the waters of San Francisco Bay. Captain Mom owns and runs a fleet of ferries out of Tiburon. She does the scheduled runs to Angel Island, and offers an evening picnic sail around the bay. She also runs a moonlight champagne cruise on the three full moons of summer. She offers whale watching trips and great white shark adventures with cages off the Farallone Islands. “Sharks don’t have can openers,” the strawberry blonde, divorced mother of two quips.
Great Grandpa left railroading to haul water freight and run a chowder house. Grandpa Sam rented out his fishing skiff for 25 cents a day back in the days when Tiburon was on the wrong side of the tracks. “He didn’t know how to swim and he once fell in with his pockets full of quarters. No way was he going to let that cash go, it was the Depression. Lucky for him, someone hauled him back in,” Maggie laughs.
Maggie’s Dad Milton hauled munitions at night in blackout conditions through World War II and he started the ferry business.
Maggie now runs three boats: the Angel Island, the Tamalpais and the Bonita. She has been greening the business, systematically replacing the engines with low emission ones. It’s a costly process, but she is dedicated.
She manages her 10 employees while also caring for her kids, Becky and Sam, and her aging father. She feels her crew is her extended family. She also provides a home for many unwanted roosters.
She was raised on boats, and she is raising her children the same way. “Becky is natural mermaid, sings and dances. Sam is more analytical and he’s a dedicated fisherman,” she explained.
Her job is not always a picnic on the bay. In 1995 she had just had a C-section and the coast was slammed by a hurricane strength storm. “That storm was chewing up the dock and my boat would be smashed on the rocks if I didn’t do something. The Coast Guard didn’t have anything big enough to help us. We were on our own I shoved the baby into my neighbor’s arms. Me and Dad, and some deckhands launched a skiff.”
She boarded the vessel and eventually brought it into the protected harbor on Angel Island despite her stiches tearing. The storm left every boat in Tiburon damaged, but she managed to save their biggest boat and the business continued.
You have to take life as it comes,” she said. “My Dad taught me to know what I could fix and not worry about what I can’t. You have to accept you can’t win everything. But hey look,” she gestured at the view from the bridge of the Tamalpais. “I’ve got no complaints. The good Lord changes the art work in this office every day. How good can life get?”