Diary: Pre-Season Prep & The Emotions That Go w/ It

Pre-Season Lobster Prep & The Emotions That Go W/ It is a continuation of the original Diary of a POCF series, where I documented what it’s like when your partner is a deckhand for sockeye salmon season in Bristol Bay, Alaska. In this series, I’m telling what it’s like when your partner is a captain for the California spiny lobster fishery and fishes closer to home. Different jobs, different stories, new emotional toll. Let’s do this.

Pre-Season Lobster Prep & The Emotional Toll That Goes With It

The alarm goes off at 4 am. Chris grabs his phone to tap it silent but lingers a little longer, letting his eyes adjust. The blue light from his iPhone silhouettes his face, and I can immediately feel the vibes that something is up. This can’t be good.

“FUCK!” he says. 

Yep. It could only mean one thing: we have a deckhand down. The deckhand is sick today. Again. And we’re less than a week from the opening day of spiny lobster season in Santa Barbara. There are still traps that need ropes and buoys and taken to the harbor for staging…among many other tasks that I can’t think of because it’s four in the morning.

I roll out of bed and offer to make him breakfast since the day is already off to a weird start. I heat the skillet to fry eggs, and as I crack the first egg, I break the yoke. I’m low-key stressed for three reasons (but I don’t tell Chris because he’s got a million other things on his mind). I worry that:

  1. The physical work of loading, unloading, and setting lobster traps in the ocean by himself means a better chance of Chris straining his already sore back. Sure, he’s handled traps alone many times before, but the older we get, the more concerned I am for his overall health. Commercial fishing, as we know, is tough on the body. (The upside is that our fishermen have nicely sculpted bodies. But still!)
  2. There is only so much I can help since I don’t have a fishing license. It’s technically illegal for me to handle anything on the boat while Chris is fishing. Plus, the out-of-state deckhand licenses are around $500, so I’m out. (It doesn’t seem like a worthy investment for only a few days’ work.)
  3. But the number one concern is SAFETY. Having another person on the boat means someone to help in case of – *God forbid* – an emergency. What if he falls overboard? Who will throw a life ring or radio call “May Day?”

I shudder at the thought as I spread a cold hunk of butter on his toast, accidentally scraping holes in the bread. I place the fried eggs on top to cover it.

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Captain vs. Deckhand:

The roles of a deckhand and captain are COMPLETELY different. And living in the same town as the fishery, as opposed to them traveling out of state, is also completely different. While Chris fishes sockeye salmon in Bristol Bay, Alaska, he’s a deckhand. And when you’re a deckhand, pretty much the only thing you need to think about is packing enough warm clothes and texting your partner the correct address so they can send a care package. As a partner, you say goodbye and hope for the best, then live your life as an un-single bachelorette.

But, for the spiny lobster fishery in California, Chis is the captain of the boat. The boss, if you will, and the weight of his new position is so much greater. The stress trickles down to the fisherman’s partner, too. Me, if you will, and living in the same town as the fishery is way more stressful than fishing far away because the “out of sight, out of mind” defense doesn’t work here. I can literally see the ocean and feel the changing weather patterns as they happen. If the sea is looking rough that day, I know it. And since he’s only gone for overnights, instead of months at a time like in Alaska, the homecomings and send-offs are much more emotional because they happen so often. Along with worrying about his safety, the weather, and the price of fish – which are concerns no matter which fishery you’re in – when your partner’s the captain, more logistics come into play like: 

What’s the buyer situation like this year, and are we selling to the same guy? 

What’s the fuel cost?

How’s the boat running? 

Are the permits up to date? 

What about the gear? Buoys? Does he have enough rope?

Is the plan for our satellite messaging device still active? 

Will he make enough money to fuel the boat and pay the slip fees? 

Did we buy enough food for the crew? (Because captains are responsible for feeding the crew.)

Does the camping stove on the boat have enough butane?

Will the deckhand be able to handle the season?

Does the deckhand have a substance abuse problem?

Will the deckhand be reliable and show up every day?

I pack a sandwich and snacks I made the night before while the list of questions loop in my head. As Chris puts on his hat, I go in for a full-frontal hug and kiss him deeper than usual, savoring his coffee breath and stubble that gently scuffs my face. “I love you,” I say, with a lump in my throat. “And I hope you have a productive day!” He pulls back and smiles, assuring me that everything will be OK. But as I watch his headlights shrink down the drive, I say a little prayer and can’t help but wonder if this is the last time I’ll watch him walk out the door. 🐟

Can you relate? If so, what fishery does your partner fish, and how do you deal? We’d love to know in the comments below!

If you liked this, you’d love the ongoing Diary of a Partner of a Commercial Fisherman series here!

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    • I now have a lump in my throat. Thank you so much, Erin, for reminding me to take a step back. It can be easy to get caught up in details and forget the overall blessings, privileges, and opportunities. It’s a tough life sometimes, but definitely 100% us. Wouldn’t change it. We love you! AND THANK YOU FOR READING! xoxo