My whole life has had the same expectation to be the person standing on the dock and waving goodbye either to my dad or my husband, but I was never allowed to be the person on the boat going off on the fishing adventure.
From my early age this bias was evident: men could go fishing and women stayed home keeping everything else going until the boat’s return.
In fact, my brother was often forced to go fishing as a punishment whenever he was suspended from school or due to any other general disruption at home with our mom. His punishment of knowing he would spend the next few days puking off the side of the boat rail. But even with his complaints about the sea, he would tell me of the best adventures, like seeing sharks at night and porpoises swimming off the bow and how it felt to be with our dad and his colorful crew.
As I got older, my dad became more open to idea of his young daughter going out on the boat with him, and had finally committed to idea that once I became a teenager, I could go out on a “summer trip” when of course the ocean was flat.
This was the approval I wanted more than anything. To be just like the boys my age allowed to out on their first fishing trip and experience all the same special times they bragged about.
For a long time, these thoughts were out of reach and dreams of fishing in the Pacific Ocean were forever on hold. My father died young from lymphoma cancer and my life continued without him and far away from fishing. I thought my chances of experiencing a fishing trip were done.
Thankfully, life always has a way of surprising me and our own family was drawn back to this archaic way of life when my husband made his career change into fishing. I had told Jon over the years of my strong desire to experience life at sea. With his help the perfect time had presented itself during a beautiful spell of sunny summer weather in 2020 and the trip was set.
With our children at home with Jon’s parents, I packed my bag, with the same care I had seen during my childhood. The sturdy duffle bag was packed with sweatpants, long shirts, and gloves all the necessities for a successful trip and hopefully slightly comfortable greenhorn at sea.
We loaded the truck, and I could feel the nervousness creeping into my stomach, but it wasn’t the same feeling from my childhood of doing something new or against parental approval, but more visceral as my maternal instincts began light up.
I was no longer a preteen girl setting off on an adventure with the ever-securing feeling of my father close by, but 38-year-old women, with responsibilities to children and home. Now the thoughts of me selfishly setting off with the only other parental unit, for some sort of long missed youthful trip creeped in and I felt selfish and wrong.
I kept my husband annoyingly busy with constant talk of cancelling the trip as we made our way down to the dock. Thankful, my husband all too familiar with my anxiety knew exactly how to reassure me and build my confidence for the journey.
We finally made it to the familiar dock and where I had spent so much time before with my father going up and down the steep ramp and avoiding the seagulls above and sea lions below. I tossed my duffle over the stainless steel boat rail and secured my footing on a scupper as I tossed myself up and over. My husband quickly changed into captain mode, ordering the crew around and preparing our vessel before the unfavorable tide change would occur and causing much unwanted delay.
I made myself busy with organizing our belongs in the now very noticeable small full-sized boat bed, that was to share with my husband. This led to a quick realization of how much better the bed would have been as a scrawny teenage girl, than now as a king-sized-bed accustomed married woman.
I pushed my internal complains aside, as I felt the boat make a slight jarring movement backwards and knew were underway. The thoughts of the kids came back to the forefront and decided to join my husband in the wheelhouse for much needed distraction.
I climbed up the dark wooden ladder and bright reflection from the water blinding me with the change, as it lit up every space around Jon. I sat in the chair next to him and he began to show me the workings on how to navigate the F/V Captain Raleigh and reading the plotter system, we quickly cruised out the ends of the jetty. The waves were noticeably larger than when just cruising inside the bay, and the bow was slowly bobbing up and down in a soothing rhythm.
We continued our journey northward passed the Columbia River and we were heading all the way up to northern Washington, where Jon had heard from recently returning captains of the exceptional shrimping. The wind picked up during the afternoon and added to my challenge of cooking dinner in a moving galley, but thankfully settled down when the sun sank into the horizon.
Jon began to make the plans for wheel watch assignments with the crew and quickly volunteered for an equal time in the captain’s chair. My surprised husband made sure I understood all I was signing up for, but I pushed him hard for the opportunity to become acting captain for a few hours.
As I settled into the large black leather chair I only noticed the sound of lapping waves and the purr of the diesel engine and my mind began to wonder about the feelings my own father must have felt, so far from home and knowing he had gone by the same visible buoys and had seen the same distant Washington shoreline.
As we passed by Westport the radio became alive and my attention turned to conversations over the airwaves and their entertainment they provided me, over the strange darkness all around me. Conversations of captains complaining about the fishing, the long day, and their crew, were all too familiar to this seasoned fishing daughter and now wife. The radio reception slowly began fading as we continued north on our journey.
As I gazed outside at the clear night and the very calm water, I noticed how the full moon’s brightness had slightly pierced the top layer of the ocean, allowing for a glimpse into this secret world below us. The small, strange creatures moving upwards and alongside the boat, only staying for a moment before falling behind and then finally out of sight. Time goes by quickly and I hear the familiar sound of my husband climbing the stairs and it pulls me from my thoughts. Jon makes some coffee for himself, and I move from his captain’s chair, as our change of roles takes place. I tell him all about my novice captain experience and my other observations about ocean at night and I slowly feel my body tire during our conversation.
I make my way down the ladder and into the still warm full-sized bed and lay my head down on the soft pillow. My body is tired but my mind still humming along with my now realization that while I will never be able to experience fishing as a child alongside my own father, but I was unexpectedly understanding him as an adult, because I was experiencing fishing now as an adult and parent. The feelings of being away from your own little family and only the vastness of the oceans solitude there to comfort you along the way. For the first time in years, I felt his closeness near me and quickly drifted into sleep.
Jennifer Stevenson is a nurse who comes from a second-generation fishing family. She is a former president of Newport Fishermen's Wives, a non-profit group supporting the Oregon fishing community.