Refuge in the Black Deck

The Story of Ordinary Seaman Nicola Peffers

Nicola Peffers

When Ordinary Seaman Nicola Peffers boarded the HMCS Winnipeg in 2009, she was embarking on her first deployment with the Canadian Navy. At twenty-six years old, one of the top students in her training class, and one of the few women on the boat, Nicola began her career with a sense of optimism and hope towards seeing the world and serving her country.

Rather than finding the teamwork and belonging she had hoped for, Nicola endured constant sexualization by the men she worked with. Along with the rigors of an intense military training process, she also faced sexual harassment and mistreatment from her superiors, meanwhile bound by rigid hierarchies and the physical distance between home and life at sea. Socially isolated, Nicola’s only refuge, at times, was hiding in the black deck, a dark and cramped area of the ship that no one visits unless they absolutely have to.

Refuge in the Black Deck is about physical and emotional strength, the failures of the justice system in the face of sexual harassment, and the harmful effects of trauma that continue even after having left the site of the experience.

Refuge in the Black Deck is a wake-up call for all Canadians. With a keen eye for detail, Nicola Peffers brings readers into the belly of the ship as she endured endless harassment, insults and abuse. Challenging the myth that trauma is felt by one experience, she exposes the reality that sexual harassment is often death by a thousand cuts. This is a necessary read for anyone who has ever read the headlines about sexual violence in the military and wondered ‘Is it really that bad?’ Refuge in the Black Deck is the story of a system that tried to break a woman’s spirit and her courageous battle to save herself.”
— Julie S. Lalonde, award-winning women’s rights advocate

“In short journal-style entries, marine electrician Peffers, a born storyteller with a sailor’s fondness for salty language, expertly chronicles her journey from eager newcomer to deeply wounded, trauma-battered soul. She pulls no punches, combining humor, horror, and searing honesty to describe daily life during a high-profile anti-piracy mission off the coast of Somalia.”
Publishers Weekly

“Refuge in the Black Deck is highly readable … it hopefully will be a vehicle for compassionate change as well as encouragement to other service personnel – male or female – in similar situations. Recommended. Long-listed for a 2017 “Very Best!” award.”
— The Miramichi Reader