Book Review: Diary of a Sea Captain’s Wife

Diary of a Sea Captain’s Wife: Tales of Santa Cruz Island by Margaret H. Eaton

This book is one of the favorites I always recommend to fellow partners of commercial fishermen.

Diary of a Sea Captain’s Wife: Tales of Santa Cruz Island by Margaret H. Eaton explores the deep thoughts and emotions of a commercial fisherman’s wife in the 1920s & 30s.

Margaret takes you from the moment she meets her fisherman husband, Ira, then carries you through the professional and personal sacrifices she endured to build a homestead while raising a child on Santa Cruz Island, a channel island off the Santa Barbara coast.

You can’t help but read in awe at Margaret’s time alone and with a young daughter, discovering new ways to manage a lifestyle unknown while enduring harsh conditions alone while her husband is at sea and developing a deep sense of pride and joy in her adventurous life. 

When my now husband, Chris, gave me this book when we first started dating, it felt as if he passed along a How-To book on what life with him would look like.  The cover was ripped off the spine with yellowed curled pages, all worn with love. That copy is like a relic in our home now. I’m sure the emotional and mental realness she shares will hit close to home for you, too. 

If you can’t find a copy at a local bookstore (they are rare), try this shop in Santa Barbara, California, the same town Margaret lived after Santa Cruz Island.

Or, you can click here to get a copy of Diary of a Sea Captain’s Wife: Tales of Santa Cruz Island by Margaret H. Eaton through Amazon.

Santa Cruz Island. I took this while on a hike on the island a few years ago.
Here’s Santa Cruz Island from our sailboat. I believe we were leaving Pelican Bay and heading towards the South end.
My husband, and second generations fisherman, Chris, fishes spiny lobster at Santa Cruz Island, which makes the story hit on a familiar level.


A wide shot of the south side of Santa Cruz Island. Our sailboat was anchored in a bay just beyond the ridge.

To further the discussion, here’s what Jan Timbrook, Associate Curator of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History had to say about Mrs. Eaton’s journal:

“Margaret Eaton and her husband Ira were well known to Santa Barbarans in the early part of this century as operators of the Pelican Bay Camp on Santa Cruz Island.

Beginning humbly with small-scale commercial fishing, seal hunting, and passenger charters, the Eatons gradually developed a unique resort that came to be popular among writers, film companies, and people from all over the country.

Working from her diary and her memories, Mrs. Eaton wrote this extraordinary story of her life over a period of many years, until her death in 1947. She is remembered by her daughter, Vera Eaton Amey, as a fearless and compassionate woman.

Mrs. Amey has done admirably well in sorting through mountains of letters, clippings, and photographs to organize her mother’s manuscript. She has also painstakingly consulted other sources to confirm, as much as possible, the accuracy of these recollections. With the passage of time- half a century and more-corroboration becomes increasingly difficult, and inconsistencies have inevitably crept in. The reader who would use “Diary of a Sea Captains Wife” as a historical reference is asked to bear this in mind.

The true significance of Margaret Eaton’s story lies in its appeal as the personal account of a woman living in a man’s world, in a time and place remote from today’s urban society.” 

This is a must-read for those in relationships with commercial fishermen. To realize that partners of commercial fishermen from all eras experience similar emotional strains is empowering and makes you feel less alone. 🐟

Have you read this book? Can you relate, or do you have other reads to recommend? If so, please share in the comments below!


If you want to connect further with others in our community, I’d love for you to join us in the private forum! The forum is a safe space for us to chat with POCFs all over the world to share our thoughts and feelings without judgment. If it feels aligned for you, click here to join the private forum!

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