DIARY: Traditional Roles vs. Modern Roles of POCFs and the Tides That Bind
Since the fall of last year, I’ve asked myself this question: As partners of commercial fishermen, how do we honor traditional roles without stifling growth as modern women?
Whether a fisherman is gone for weeks, months, or just a day, a boat conjures a sense of detachment as vast as the ocean until a ding of a text message or a phone call tethers you back in. You live in two worlds and can almost feel it the moment your partner leaves the dock.
Because of this, POCFs are more heavily relied on for women’s traditional roles, and many of us don’t realize it until we’re in it. We are called to *maintain the homestead,* and another word we use is “shoreside support,” which can be a different role in itself. Shoreside support extends beyond the home, and/or job, and/or raising kids (which is a f*ck ton already).
It’s running the business side, bookkeeping, advocating for fisheries (and being forced to learn new policies because of it), and more. Overall, POCFs manage the now, plan for the future, and secure deep faith that our guiding Power will also guide our loved ones’ home.
In the “cruising community” (a term for those who travel by sailboat for a long stretch of time), specific boat tasks are referred to as “pink jobs” and “blue jobs.” Pinks take care of the galley, cooking, and cleaning, while the Blues fix things (as we know, boats need lots of fixing). Generally, women take pink, and men take blue, just like Jack and Jill, who went up the hill to fetch a pail of water. Tradition, if you will. For modern folks, it’s whatever floats your boat.
To be clear, there is NO shame in enjoying the traditional roles of a homemaker. Providing a safe and nurturing space for our families is the greatest gift, and it ain’t easy. What pisses me off is when a woman’s value is tied to a paycheck rather than the *life-giving support* we selflessly share daily. Add up every job a woman does for her family, compare it to the market value, then write a check. I bet feelings would change. You are worth more than any paycheck or “highliner” season. Remember that. Fishermen work hard to provide, as do you.
By the way, this isn’t “Us vs. Them.” This is a call for honest conversations, compassion, and mutual respect for each partner’s roles. Discuss what works for your partnership, and try it out. Revisit after the season if you need to adjust. This is your life – make it work for you.
Another HUGE trigger is when women – especially POCFs – are told not to express themselves because it may make others (fishermen) feel a certain way.
You’ve got to be kidding me, right?
Our partners have one of the most dangerous jobs in the world, and we’re being told not to express our sadness, worry, and pain? To hold it in? TO MAKE OTHERS FEEL MORE COMFORTABLE?
Hell to the no.
Your feelings are valid, and getting them out is required for good mental health. Silence results in anxiety, anger, overwhelm, and a giant dose of depression. Feeling isolated and misunderstood with no one to relate to is why this blog was created in the first place. I’ll never forget the first email I received from a fellow POCF. Just saying, “I get you,” made me feel empowered and less alone. (Reading this adds to that energy for all of us, so thank you for being here!)
I should clarify that expressing your feelings doesn’t involve trash-talking about your partner. (Can you imagine if they talked trash about you? The nerve!) And I’m not encouraging a POCF to plead and beg a partner not to walk out the door. As intense as their jobs can be, we know what’s up. However, there’s a healthy way to get the scaries out.
What makes a modern POCF is expressing feelings to find solutions that will make bring more ease into your life.
POCFs need to feel safe to express the good, bad, and ugly *without judgment,* and connecting with others is the perfect place to start. Maybe it’s talking to POCFs in our private group to ask for advice on handling certain relationship challenges. Perhaps it’s hiring a cleaning service once a month, coordinating with family or friends to help with the kids for a few hours a week, or taking a mini-vaca to recharge alone.
Virtual therapy is a great option, too. It’s more affordable and easier on the schedule than I initially thought. I just signed up last week and can’t wait to try. Two virtual therapy options that our community recommends can be found here and here!
Yet, as I stand on my soapbox, I realize certain commercial fishing traditions are harder to break…
The thought came full circle after California’s massive rain and floods this January. Chris and I live in Ojai, a mountain valley tucked fourteen miles from the coast, and during a break in the storm on day two, we drove to a bridge over the Ventura River. We pulled to the shoulder behind a line of cars doing the same, walked hand in hand to the bridge, and stood stunned as the once bone-dry Ventura River raged like the Mississippi. The experience brought both a sense of awe and sadness – water rushing down the mountains was a beautiful sight, but what does that mean for the coast?
Once home, I opened a group chat with two POCFs who live in Ventura (the town at the base of the mountain, nearest the ocean), and both reported how fishing businesses are already being impacted.
Later that day, Chris and I learned that every road to and from Ojai is blocked, which means we’re landlocked. In a mild panic, scan our pantry to ensure that we have enough food for a few days (a week? Who knows!), and survey our home, confirming that the oak trees in the front yard aren’t dangerously leaning like the neighbors’ across the street. In moments like this, I ask, What can we do? I turn to prayer for those suffering the imaginable and give gratitude for our safety and others, too.
Inspired by the DMs, I pitch a story to National Fisherman on the storm’s effects on the California fishing community and once approved, I hop in the car to snap pictures of the coast. Traffic crawls along the only two-lane working road out of Ojai. I grip the steering wheel past uprooted trees leaning on powerlines, homes, and fences, and see vast swaths of cleared land that didn’t use to be.
I decide to drive to Channel Islands Harbor, Chris’s home port. A fisherman’s harbor is like a POCF’s second home; a sense of connectedness and belonging. A place to feel safe.
However, roadblocks prevented me from driving through, and instead, a detour brought me to Ventura Harbor. I turned into the parking near a rock wall, pulled out my phone, and photographed miles of debris – logs, random shoes, unidentifiable plastic, and thousands of washed-up reeds – until I heard a loud boom from the shorepound and took a step back to look at the surf.
Walls of mud crash on the sand with a thunderous roar that I forget to catch my breath. My first thought is how Chris would love to see this. I smile at the thought of my surfer/fisherman calculating each wave and explaining the swell.
Until I remembered, Chris was OUT there. Fishing.
I become immobile. A sharp pain seared my heart like a dagger, and I could actually feel it above my left chest, shooting out my back. At that moment, questioning the difference between a modern and traditional POCF seemed obsolete.
Standing on the shore, watching the waves crash over the harbor entrance, I felt like every fisherman’s wives memorial I’ve seen. Facing towards the ocean, the wind in my face, bracing for an unimaginable pain that’s already taken my breath away. The sea was a battlefield, and I stood on the front lines.
I realized we are bound to generations of POCFs by experiencing this fear. The oldest tradition of a fisherman’s partner holds true for the modern woman – battling thoughts of our fisherman’s fate. Whether a seasoned POCF or a first-timer, fear either threatens the loss of a future you’ve yet to live or a life together you have to lose.
As modern POCFs, it’s time to break the cycle –*And in this interview, we learn how to do it.*
Are you a California Fishing Family effected by the storm? What part of the traditional vs. modern POCF role conversation spoke to you? I would love to know in the comments below!
If you liked this, you’d love our upcoming virtual event with Seafood Educator & Fisheries Historian Trish Whetstone @Trishtalksfish! Trish is giving the history of POCFs dating back to the Viking era! Wait til you learn how women were treated back then – it’s not what you think, and you won’t want to miss it!) Tune into our IG Live on Sunday, January 29th, at 1:11 pm PST. Hope to see you there!