This is a continuation of the original Diary of a POCF series. Can you relate?
Confessions of a Captain’s Wife Trying Not To Lose It Pre Season
The alarm goes off at 4 am. Chris grabs his phone to turn it off but lingers a little longer to let his eyes adjust. The blue light silhouettes his face, slowly twisting from confusion to doubt to disappointment.
“FUCK!” he says.
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 California, and there’s still lots to do. Traps need ropes and buoys, and then the traps need to be taken to the harbor for staging, among other tasks that I can’t think of because it’s four in the morning.
I roll out of bed and offer to make breakfast since the day is off to a weird start. I heat the skillet to fry eggs, and as I crack the first egg, I break the yoke. I feel like the yoke, but I don’t tell Chris because he’s got a million other things on his mind. Instead, I silently worry that:
- 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 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. YET!)
- 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. The California deckhand licenses range from a couple hundred to around $500, so it doesn’t seem like a worthy investment for only a few days’ work.
- 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 call “May Day?”
I shudder away the thoughts as I accidentally scrape a hole in his toast with a hunk of cold butter. I place the fried eggs on top to cover it up.
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 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, your main concerns are finding a good captain with a solid boat (important!), packing enough warm clothes, and messaging your partner the processor’s address to send care packages. (As a partner, you say goodbye, maybe cry, then live your life as an un-single bachelorette.)
When Chris fishes spiny lobster in California, he’s the captain, and while the reward can be reasonable, the responsibilities are hefty, and that stress has a way of trickling down to the fisherman’s partner, too.
Local Fishery vs. Out of State:
I find living near the fishery is more stressful than Chris fishing in Alaska for months because the “out of sight, out of mind” defense I usually hide behind during sockeye salmon season doesn’t work in California. In California, I can see the ocean and the changing weather patterns as they happen. When the wind picks up, I know it.
Also, the homecomings and send-offs are more emotional for the spiny lobster season because they frequently happen instead of one big hello and one big goodbye at the beginning and end of a season.
When your partner’s the captain, along with worrying about his safety, the weather, and the price of fish (which are concerns no matter your fishery or position on the boat), more logistics come into play like:
THINGS ONLY CAPTAINS THINK ABOUT THAT PARTNERS END UP THINKING ABOUT, TOO:
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?
These questions loop through my head as I pack a sandwich and snacks for Chris to take with him. When he reaches for his hat, I surprise myself by grabbing and kissing him deeper than I usually would this early in the morning. As his arms wrap tighter, I take a moment to savor the bristly stubble on his chin and the sweet scent of coffee on his breath.
“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, pushing away thoughts that this could be one of the last times I 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!
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If you liked this, you’d love the ongoing Diary of a Partner of a Commercial Fisherman series!