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

Margaret Eaton’s book is one of the favorites I always recommend to friends, especially other 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.

The book takes you from the moment Margaret first met her fisherman husband, Ira, and carries you through the professional and personal sacrifices she endured to build an unconventional life.

Mainly based on Santa Cruz Island, a channel island off the Santa Barbara coast, read in awe at how Margaret homesteads on the island – alone and with a young child – discovering new ways to endure harsh conditions while her husband is at sea.

Chris handed me this book when we first started dating as if unconsciously giving me a how-to book on what a life with him would look like.

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.
Chris also fishes lobster at Santa Cruz Island, which makes the story hit closer to home.

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

Here’s a description by Jan Timbrook, Associate Curator of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History to break it down:


“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. It makes you feel less alone.

Intrigued? Here’s a small Santa Barbara business where you can snag a copy: Buy book here.🐟

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

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