Author Ali Farrell and her select photographer friends do an incredible job capturing what it’s like for Maine female fishermen in her book Pretty Rugged. “Good book of real stories of real women” is one review you’ll see on Amazon, and you’ll see why through this sneak peek of a story by featured fisherman Heather Strout:
“They were hauling along up in the river and had been hearing what they thought were cries for help. After hauling a few more pairs, my dad noticed a boat up ahead that was in gear, just doing tight circles. That didn’t look right, so my dad stopped hauling and went to see what was going on. He noticed a fellow fisherman trying to hang on to the hauling side of his boat while it was doing circles. He had been there for a while and was losing his grip and his strength…”
Are you wide-eyed, like me, yet? Let’s give Ali take the lead…
Meet Author Ali Farrell!
Thank you so much for chatting with us! I’m interested in learning about your experience as a kid. I read in an interview that your mother produced and sold lobster tanks, and your father fished off the shores of Newfoundland. What is your earliest memory of being a child of a commercial fishing family? Did you grow up with other kids who could relate?
My father actually started his own construction company in Rockland, ME, when I was pretty young, so I don’t remember a whole lot of the typical fishing lifestyle that most fishing families had. Most kids grow up working the business alongside their parents from as soon as they can bait a bag or paint a buoy. I never did any of that- my summers were geared towards having fun, whereas a child in a fishing family would utilize their summer to help their parents get through the busy season and make money while it’s there.
I loved hearing about their childhood within a fishing family. So many of them had similar “daddy daycare” situations where they stayed in a playpen on the boat, napped through the hauls, and watched in amazement with every trap hauled to see what treasures would come up. Once they were old enough to get to work, they all started immediately working the family business. They didn’t have a summer like most kids their age, as they worked hard, day in and day out, while the weather was good.
“Sadie remembers her and her sister spending “daddy daycare” hours in lobster totes aboard their father’s boat.
As they grew too big for the tote playpens, they’d find the best napping area above the engine box where the warmth and purr of the engine, combined with the rocking waves of the sea, helped them drift off to sleep.”
Congratulations on your book, Pretty Rugged! Can you explain the concept and layout of the book? (More writing or more photos?) And how can we purchase it and the calendar?
Thank you! The book and calendar can be purchased right on the book’s website: PrettyRuggedBook.com.
Pretty Rugged is a coffee table style book that dives into the gritty lives of females in the commercial fishing industry in Maine.
Aside from the beaming photography covering the pages, readers can expect to see many true stories of dangerous situations they face out on the water, the realities of the fishing lifestyle, family history on generations of local Maine fishermen. They’ll also learn about both the fishing communities and the current state of lobster fishing in North Atlantic Waters.
After being with these amazing women, how do you feel the women fishermen in the book differ from male fishermen you’ve known or know?
These women take their jobs insanely seriously. They have something to prove, and they make that clear with their superior work ethic. The many male captains that I’ve spoken with have agreed- if you’re lucky enough to have a woman working on the stern, you’ll see the hardest working and most dependable sternman out there.
Take Paula Lunt, for example. Paula is a fifty-four-year-old grandmother who currently fishes eight hundred traps alone in her 32’ Holland F/V Endurance. No sternman to help her, no drinking beers and goofing around with your buddies. She works her ass off, and her success in the business makes that clear.
What was your creative process to focus on completing the book?
When it comes to getting writing done, I definitely work best in the morning with coffee. However, I found the best way to hear stories in a comfortable setting was to meet these fishermen at their local pub, have a few cocktails, become friends, and share stories!
Tell me about Sea Street Publishing and what made you start your own publishing company. Why did you choose this route over a traditional publisher?
I chose to self-publish for a few reasons. While getting ready to publish, everything was shut down due to Covid. Publishers were saying it would be 6 months to a year before they could even review and confirm anything. I’m very impatient, and I know some of the women in the book wanted it immediately for various reasons. I also wanted to have complete control over the stories in the book. I felt it was important to have their stories be in their own words as much as possible. I wanted their personalities to come through. My editor said a publisher would most likely change a lot of that.
Please tell us about Captain Virginia Oliver! She’s 100 years old and still fishing?! What is she like? Did she offer any great advice?
Captain Virginia Oliver, F/V Virginia of Spruce Head, ME Age: 100
When I sat down for coffee with Virginia in downtown Rockland, I felt all eyes on us. I realized I was sipping coffee with an extremely well-known figure in the Rockland community.
As of 2020, Virginia is one hundred years old and currently still fishing three days a week during the fishing season. She’s lovingly known as “The Lobster Lady,” “Ginny,” and “Mom” throughout the community. Virginia has a smile, laugh, and positive outlook that will make you feel as though you’re immediate friends.
Virginia comes from a long line of fishermen here in Maine. She isn’t sure who the first generation of fishermen were in her family, but she does know her grandfather fished off Andrews Island, ME, in the early 1900s.
When Virginia was seven or eight years old, she’d take her father’s boat to tell the fishermen to come into work when her father needed them. She would also help with all the wharf duties, such as weighing the lobster and fueling the fishing boats.
Although she was the only woman fisherman she knew of growing up, she didn’t feel it was strange at all, as she was born into the lifestyle and lived it every day.
Her grandfather was the owner of a large portion of the twenty-five acre Andrews Island, along with most of the businesses it held. The local store provided basics like milk, bread, sardines, and lobster, along with gas, Kerosene, and rope. They had a sawmill on the island and even a dance hall where people could walk from Crescent Beach in Spruce Head at low tide. Getting back home, however, was not quite as simple once the tide came in.
Virginia fondly remembers her parents, and others, keeping the young kids in a big box while they danced. Virginia has three sons who still fish, ages seventy-eight, seventy-six, and seventy-four.
She says “it’s no big deal” that she’s a female in the fishing industry or that she’s been fishing for over ninety-three years. Fishing is a way of life, and once you’re a fisherman, you’ll always be a fisherman. She currently fishes with her middle son, Max, and has two hundred of her own traps, along with six hundred of his.
She says it’s important to keep busy, be independent, and not worry about what other people think you should do. Like most true fishermen, even at one hundred years old, Virginia has no plans to stop fishing.
I was surprised to read that some women fishermen have other big-time jobs, like attorneys, state representatives, even active and breastfeeding moms! What common thread do you see with all of these women? (A.k.a. What is a similar feature of their superwomen gene?)
These incredible women don’t stop. They don’t take no for an answer and don’t conform to what’s “normal.” They don’t stop at just one job; they don’t think twice about simultaneously being the best single parent as well as the best in their male-dominated profession.
They can fix a boat engine, breastfeed their child, haul some traps and change a diaper within the same hour. They don’t seem to see or accept boundaries. They do this all without a complaint because it is the life they signed up for. They are a fisherman- it’s in their blood, and to them, it’s simply their lifestyle.
Within the book, you’ll see off-season accomplishments such as pilots, attorneys, marine biologists, state representatives, aquaculture farmers, construction workers, wharf management, substitute teacher, property management, sports coaches, marathon/triathlon participants, and advisors on numerous councils.
So I guess the similar feature of their superwomen gene would be not accepting typical boundaries or expectations. The word is their oyster, and they’re going to go for it.
How do you stay motivated to create? What advice can you share for women wanting to get into the creative field?
Honestly? Having 34 fishermen and 9 photographers constantly checking in on the progress will keep you pretty on track. I wanted to make everyone proud of the project.
My best advice for someone thinking of getting into the creative field is to START. Open a blank word doc and just start typing. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, bad, confusing- just start typing, and it will all begin to come together over time.
What are your thoughts on commercial fishing?
Fishing is a lifestyle, not a job. To be a successful fisherman, you must devote your life to working extremely hard in very dangerous conditions. Just this year alone, we have lost 6 of our local Maine fishermen to capsized vessels. The next time people are trying to haggle their local fisherman down on a lobster price, I hope they recall the dangers both the fishermen and their families face each morning.
Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs in the United States. Fatality rates are 23 times higher than the average U.S. workers. Sinking vessels and falling from a fishing vessel are the top 2 causes of fatality.
Another danger lies in Maine’s unique coastline, loaded with jagged, rocky ledges scattered throughout the waters. The great state of Maine has five thousand miles of coast if you include all the 3,166 offshore islands. About 2/3 of those islands are an acre or less, which leaves a lot of land lying right below the waterline at high tide.
As you can imagine, with all these obstacles, combined with mother nature’s grasp on the conditions, even the most seasoned sailor can run aground, especially if they’re cruising around outside of their normal fishing areas.
Within the normal day-to-day routines on the boat, injuries are quite common. Between the weather, gear malfunctioning, gear shifting in rough conditions, and unexpected accidents, a lot can happen out on the water. Many fishermen in the book have stories covering these moments.
“Heather recalls one of their days out on the sea: “They were hauling along up in the river and had been hearing what they thought were cries for help. After hauling a few more pairs, my dad noticed a boat up ahead that was in gear, just doing tight circles. That didn’t look right, so my dad stopped hauling and went to see what was going on. He noticed a fellow fisherman trying to hang on to the hauling side of his boat while it was doing circles. He had been there for a while and was losing his grip and his strength. After assessing the situation, their only option was for my dad to sail his boat at the same rate of speed, doing the same circle as the other boat. I remember my sister telling me how scared she was when my dad looked back at her and said, ‘When I get up to the boat, I will tell you when, and you jump.’ That took guts to jump from one moving boat to another, but it had to be done! So, no second-guessing the decision, when he said jump, she did. She managed to get aboard his boat and pull the throttle back and take it out of gear. My dad quickly jumped aboard, and it took them both to haul him back in over the side. I remember them saying he had nothing left in him, no more strength. He lay on the floor and just thanked them. I believe after he regained his composure, my dad and sister got back in their boat and finished hauling . . . the other guy regained his strength, took his boat, and went home.”
What are you currently working on?
My next book is about halfway complete. It is a children’s book about a little girl who grows up lobstering with her Dad in Maine. You will see real fishermen from the area portrayed in the book, as well as many of the locations we know and love. The book is called A Lobstergirl Can, and we hope to see it completed by this Summer.
What is your biggest takeaway from Ali’s interview? What resonates with you the most? Please share in the comments below!