Diary: Why No News Is Good News in Fishing

Why No News Is Good News in Commercial Fishing

Chris mentioned a little wind when called me that day from the harbor. But when he began the story at home by calling me “Dude,” I knew it was rough.

“Was it like Isla Natividad?” I said.

I hated to ask.

I’m referring to a gnarly two-day sail in Baja, Mexico, on our 34-foot sailboat that still makes me shutter. After hand-steering through confused seas and strong winds, the inside of our sailboat looked as if pirates had robbed us: open books scattered around the galley, squished bananas and fruit found in corners near the v-berth, charts and papers flung from one side to the other, shit all over the place.

He nodded.

I exhaled deeply in that slow, controlled way they teach you in yoga. (Or, as one does to stifle a scream.) I needed that moment to still my heart from the fear, worry, and what-ifs and realize it didn’t matter now because my fisherman stood before me, healthy and alive.

“Ok. Lay it on me.” I said.

Here are a few highlights I gathered from his story:

  • “It was a stormy day. We probably should have stayed tied up a the dock, but we hadn’t been out in a while and needed to pull some traps.” This is what partners of commercial fishermen hate to hear, so we’re off to a great start.
  • The wind shot in from the Southeast, making confused seas, a big sloppy mess, like being in a washing machine with 15-20 knots of wind on the nose. Barf.
  • “The autopilot took a shit in the confused seas, so I had to hand steer slowly back to port into steep wind swell.” Yep, been there done that, which leads us to…
  • “Cavitation.”
    • Let me explain this part because it happened in Mexico: This means the boat rode the crest of each wave, so high up that the propeller – LOCATED UNDER THE BOAT – was literally out of the water, spinning air into foam.
      More air behind the propeller means less forward motion, and if it’s really bad, you’re barely moving a knot. (About 1 mph)
    • It sounds like a clunky metal spoon caught in a broken garbage disposal.
    • It jerks the boat and feels like a bumper car tapping your ass.
    • It’s exhausting to keep focus and the boat upright while, essentially, surfing waves.
    • It sucks balls.
  • For the finisher, Chris said: “Another fisherman’s buoy got wrapped around the propeller, SO I HAD TO JUMP IN THE WATER AND CUT IT OFF.” I heard it in capital letters in my mind, though it was casually mentioned as a sidebar.

So that happened.

Fellow fish wife Jolene Colomy has a similar story. She’s been with her fisherman, Jim, for almost forty years and was initiated into commercial fishing from Jim’s first trip. When I asked Jolene about her concerns or worries while Jim fished, this is what she said:

“One thing that Jim is excellent about is he takes incredibly good care of his boat. He is really careful and has an inordinate amount of respect for the ocean. He knows that he’s just a little cork in that big old ocean. Mother nature could come anytime, and that’s it. He’s had some close calls with completely unexpected stuff, but he immediately addressed it and was lucky.

“This is just a classic story: His maiden voyage of the boat back in 1984, he built this beautiful boat, but he didn’t want to scratch up his deck with these new-to-him traps, so he lays screen down on the deck to protect it. The thing was, the screens were covering the scuppers, and as they headed out to San Nicholas Island, they hit some weather.

“He took on water. The boat starts to list, the traps are leaning over, and Jim goes to get a knife. The knife falls over the side of the boat. More water’s coming in. They’re starting to go in a weird direction. Jim happened to have a Swiss army knife in his pocket that somebody gave him, and he was able to cut the rope, and half his gear went overboard. The boat righted itself, and they kept going.

“I don’t know any of this because this is early, two months after we started dating. He comes to my office that afternoon with a big bouquet of flowers. I said, “What happened? Why are you bringing me roses?” So that was the very first day Jim took the boat to really go fishing. It was quite a welcome to commercial fishing!”

Even now as I type, Chris said it may be too windy today, but he “has to at least unload the baiters and bring in the traps because the season ends in a few days and the weather is shitty for the rest of the week.” 

Great. Insert deep breathing.

I found this YouTube video of Maine Lobstermen to give you an idea of what it’s like in rough weather. This is not to scare you, but to understand what it’s like. Speaking from experience, I know this video does not fully capture the intensity of sea:

These stories and video only confirm what one member in our private FB group has always said: NO NEWS IS GOOD NEWS. And after years of being stressed and worried about things I can’t control in the commercial fishing industry – the weather, the price, the poachers, etc. – all I can say is, Lord, please surround him with a white light of protection. My heart can’t take it. And I have a deadline. 🐟

If you liked this, you’d love Letter: Aussie Needs Advice on Long-Distance Dating a Fisherman.

Do you have a similar story? What was your experience hearing stories of rough seas? Please share in the comments below!

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  1. Now that Matt has stopped fishing he told me “there were plenty of times I was very scared or thought this was the end but I never told you. I didn’t want you to know and for your anxiety tonget out of control”
    Part of me is annoyed he didn’t tell me but part of me is grateful he was from shielding me from massive amount of stress and anxiety and panic attacks.