Transitions Then and Now

Every so often I like to read from the 1998 Oregon Sea Grant publication on the lifestyle of the commercial fishing family. I relate to so much of it (actually, all of it!) as a daughter, wife, mother, and former crew member in our fishing family. I’ve found the information helpful and relevant at every stage of our fishing family as we continue to transition and evolve.

I found the following two quotes from the article The Ebb and Flow of Fishing Family Life to be of particular interest this time around:

“So, although wives often feel great joy about their husbands’ homecoming, they also are concerned about how to assimilate husbands back into the family.”

“As they come closer to home, many fishing husbands feel happy to return, but also…concerned about fitting back into family patterns.”

When I first met George and he was flying back and forth to Dutch Harbor and the Bering Sea, our time together at home was pretty easy. It consisted of vacations in Florida, going to movies, shopping for and reading books, and setting up chairs on the balcony of his beachfront condo to drink glasses of wine at 4 p.m. every summer afternoon.

The livin’ was pretty easy, so the issue of “transition” was never an issue at all.

Flash forward almost a decade, and transition takes on a whole new meaning!  While my husband has been gone, I’ve had our household running like a tight ship in which everyone and everything has its place. George has his own ship in which everyone and everything has its place. Being able to assimilate and integrate the two–our life together–upon his arrival home takes time, space, and patience.

I’ve learned that the less “comments” we make, the better. Here’s a random sampling of comments from last week:

 “So, the kids are allowed to throw toys around now?”

 “I wouldn’t have given a time out for that.”

“So…at what point are you going to stop working on the boat?”

“I have to get this done now. I don’t have any time.”

“Why are you grumpy?”

“I pulled my back yesterday and I can’t move it.”

Ahh. I’m actually smiling to myself. Like I said, the best idea is to give everyone the space and time they need to adjust to being together as a family, and take it easy. Time off and sunshine still await. And nothing in the world can beat the excitement of an (almost) two and three-year-old when they first lay eyes on the daddy they’ve waited for so long to come home, or the weeklong celebration of friends, family, and crew.

It’s a good time!

Pictures of the Final 2009 Blackcod & Halibut Delivery

The sun came out and made for a warm and gorgeous day during the final delivery of blackcod and halibut!  Here are a few pictures of the delivery.





Brett and John

Brett and John








The Best Weekend Ever!

It’s not often that a weekend comes along that can’t be improved upon in any way—but this weekend was one of those. It just keeps getting better, too. For example, I just received word that due to good weather and smooth sailing, George will arrive home tonight rather than tomorrow morning, as originally scheduled!

That’s the icing on the yummy chocolate cake that was my weekend with sunshine, family, and friends. We had a couple of parties, saw the usual suspects at the seafood festival on the Village Green (where the little ones got to go “fishing” and make crafts), and then we ate snacks and blended frozen drinks for the lot of us right here at home.

George and the crew will unload the final pounds of halibut and blackcod quota tomorrow morning, and I plan to be there to take pictures of the delivery to post on the blog a little later on. This weekend was a wonderful prelude to the homecoming of the boat and crew, and the week ahead is sure to be great as well. Can’t wait!

To Call or Not to Call…

I congratulated myself just this morning for not giving in and calling the satellite phone even one time during the 2009 blackcod and halibut season. For that matter, I don’t believe I called it during this year’s crab season, either.

My congratulations were a little premature, however, since I gave in tonight and called the satellite phone three times (and have yet to receive an answer).

When George and I were newly dating and he was a young partner/captain in a Bering Sea vessel, we managed to ring up a $3000 satellite phone bill in one month, which was taken care of by what I liked to call “magic money.”  Later on, when George bought our family operation, we racked up a $1500 satellite phone bill in one month. That phone bill was not taken care of by magic money, but we were unencumbered and didn’t have many other expenses, so it wasn’t a real crisis.

I never forgot the shock of opening those bills and reading the amount due, however, and learned my lesson. Since then, I’ve made it a point to never call the satellite phone unless I am genuinely worried or have “unbelievable news” that absolutely cannot wait. Since neither of those is the case very often these days, our satellite phone bill remains quite small.

The last time I talked with George, he thought he’d be across the Gulf of Alaska and into Southeast Alaska (where he’d have cell coverage) on Tuesday. I didn’t worry when he didn’t call yesterday, and I didn’t think much about it today. I definitely don’t think too much about these things, because once I do, I overthink.

George is an eternal optimist. His Tuesday is anyone else’s Friday. My dad said George was going to have good weather, so I have to assume the delay means they’re in the middle of catching the rest of the quota and will soon be on their way to cell coverage…and then home.

The task now is to remember what G always says when he answers the phone after I’ve tried calling 50 times and started to worry: “Everything’s fine, hon. Just like it always is.”

It’s Certainly Not for Everyone

I’m starting to think that maybe I’m the crazy one. You know why? Because I actually do love this commercial fishing way of life, and I always have. Maybe it’s because it is five-generations deep in my blood, or because this is the way I grew up, or because this is the way my relationship with George has gone since the day I met him. Hey, he was already a captain when we met, and I was writing for National Fisherman magazine. Commercial fishing is what we do.

That’s not to say it is an easy way of life. It is extremely difficult at times.  George misses us when he is far away at sea, and we miss George when he is gone. But we don’t wallow, complain, or otherwise bemoan his work or our lifestyle. On the contrary, we thrive in it. We enjoy the coming and the going, the thrill of the hunt. It keeps things fresh and exciting. As for the things that don’t go well or the seasons that are more difficult–we work through them, and they make us stronger as individuals and as a family.

Our toddler, Eva, is excited that her daddy is a fisherman. She knows that he is “at work” on the boat in Westport or Alaska, catching crab or some other kind of fish. We don’t make a big show of sadness at George’s departures, even if that’s how we feel. Eva talks to George on the phone each time he calls, and George and I keep our conversations brief and upbeat whenever possible. That is what sets the tone for the house and the kids. I learned the strategy from my own parents, who taught by consistent example in all of these areas.

No, it isn’t easy being home alone. I do have a lot of anxiety and I feel overwhelmed at times. (The issue of childcare and the solo parent will be the subject of an upcoming post!) But I seek help when I need it, and I refuse to complain about George’s work or our way of life. I’m proud of George and what he does, just as I was proud of my dad and what he did, and of my mom and what she did. We’re all doing what we need to do to find fish, pay bills, raise children, and run a household.

It’s a lifestyle that is unpredictable and sometimes lonely. One can become unnerved by that, or one can rise above and be grateful that at the very least, his or her life is never stale or boring. Something new is always around the bend, whether it’s a new season, a homecoming, a departure, a vacation, or any other thing. There are always new stories to share, laughs to be had, and long-awaited hugs to receive.  I wouldn’t trade or wish it any other way.

“Over the Hump”

I’ve been getting the impression from recent calls that we are “over the hump” in this year’s longline halibut and blackcod season. In fact, those were the exact words spoken by Brett the other day. Now, I was sworn to secrecy after speaking with the captain and crew a few days ago, so I can’t say much more other than most pre-season worries seem to be over and we can all breathe a little easier.

The boat is still a few weeks out from “fishing its way home,” but the light at the end of the tunnel is beginning to shine. I got a call from George this afternoon, and laughed when he told me about the annual f/v Vis picnic held yesterday.  I especially liked the part about how, after standing around in the freezing cold and wind for a game of horseshoes and a steak barbecue began to seem a little silly, they moved the “picnic” indoors to a bar with a fireplace.

I’m breathing a little bit easier myself these days. I trimmed some of my writing obligations in order of importance, and my parents finally returned from their trip.  I also thought, for the first time since my first child was born three years ago, that it might be time to lighten the load of my parents and me. I decided to bring in a little extra help by way of a kind and fully capable babysitter.

A girl has got to be able to get her hair done, write a story, or go teach Jazzercise every once in a while, right?

I’m already looking forward to the post-season homecoming and party. Spring is in the air and a little R & R is right around the corner!

Making Dents in the Blackcod/Halibut Quota

Twitter has turned out to be a fun vehicle with which to give quick updates on what’s going on in the life of our commercial fishing family. The connection between Facebook and Twitter is not without its quirks, but I think it will improve in time.

It’s been fun using the service again after having canceled it not too long ago. When my sister, Cassandra, recently overhauled the interesting Vis Seafoods blog  and began to use Twitter, I decided it was worth another try.

(By the way, if you are on Facebook or Twitter, be sure to “friend” or “follow” me!)

George called home tonight and sounded just fine. They caught a decent-enough chunk of the halibut quota and some blackcod as well. He was in the middle of telling me how he received the care package the kids and I sent and loved the pictures, when he had to run off and take care of something regarding today’s delivery.

He plans to head back out to sea as early as tomorrow, which is great news. The more the weather cooperates and the quicker the fish are caught, the sooner they come back home. Speaking of coming back home:  I think my Hawaii-vacationing parents are due home at some point from their much-needed rest and stay in the land of natural Vitamin D.

At this point, anyone’s homecoming would be very appreciated! :-) 



It takes a three-year-old to bring out a hat and add to the excitement of eating a peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich!

A New Header Picture and One Returned Envelope

I know everyone is curious about the new header picture on the blog and wondering whether it is a shot of my husband, George. In fact, it is not. It’s Kelli’s husband, Bryan!

I thought it would be fun to begin rotating photographs showing different scenes in the life of a fishing family operation in the header picture of Highliners and Homecomings. After all, I’ve had the same boat picture up for 17 months. It’s time for a change! (To be honest, I don’t like change and am not very good with it, but I think it will be fun.)

Also new on the blog is a Twitter addition. On the sidebar, beneath my Facebook profile, you will be able to read my Twitter updates. Twitter is like a micro-blog in which you can let everyone know what is going on in just 140 characters. Once the feature begins to work correctly, you should be able to read quick updates on the boat and our family as they come in.

Last but not least, the care package I sent to George in Seward was returned today. Apparently, it required .35 cents extra postage. Darn! I stuck another stamp on there and sent it back out. He should have his new pictures of the kids, Eva’s drawings, and a card from me waiting for him in Seward by the time he makes it back in about a week.

Home Cookin’ and Mt. Redoubt

There hasn’t been much to report in the eight days since the 2009 halibut and blackcod longlining season began.

Storms have kept George and the boat landlocked for about a week. However, as my dad pointed out, with the looming eruption of Mt. Redoubt and the canceled flights between Seattle and Anchorage, there probably isn’t much fresh halibut leaving the Gulf of Alaska, anyway. So, perhaps the Gulf storms have been a blessing in disguise. You have to stay positive, right? Right!

The crew did have one fun day last week when they drove to Homer to pick up a part for the boat. George surprised me with a colorful description of how it felt to drive through the volcanic ash from Mt. Redoubt.  He compared it to driving into a blanket of fog and said that the way the ash settled on of the snow around them, creating a top layer of brown and gray, was pretty neat. He described how incredible it was to look (from their seats at a local saloon) across Cook Inlet at the cloud of ash, smoke, and steam spewing out of the top of the gigantic volcano.  

Because George is not a big talker, I knew by the way he spoke of the events that they were sights to behold. The other event he shared was about a visit with dear and longtime friends of my family, Dani and Brian, who live in a cabin along the Kenai River in Sterling. Although George did not give the couple advance notice that three or four men were about to descend upon their cabin doorstep, Dani and Brian welcomed the group with characteristic open arms.

Everyone enjoyed the visit as well as the two homemade cakes and chicken noodle soup (made from scratch) that Dani magically prepared in a matter of minutes while the men were out in the shop, admiring Brian’s astonishing knife collection.

“It was fun to see them,” Dani wrote to me in an e-mail. “And I did my best to fill them up on some home cookin’ and laughter while they were here.”

That sums up the Dani and Brian that I’ve known my entire life. George was grateful for the generosity and welcome, especially on such short notice. It was an afternoon he won’t forget. (And because he doesn’t get much in the way of home cooking around here, I know he was doubly thankful!)

Happy First Day of Halibut Season

I’d almost forgotten that today was the first day of the halibut/blackcod longlining season until I read a short article about it in National Fisherman magazine this morning. I’ve only talked to George once since he left. We are hard people to catch in beween “boat stuff” and “baby stuff,” so we often just leave quick messages to let each other know how things are going, and call it good.

When George is at sea and I am at home, we both have jobs to do. If he is worried about how things are going at home, it makes it harder for him to do his job on the boat. If I’m worried about how things are going on the boat, I can’t do my job at home. Each person has to focus on what he or she has in front of her and not get distracted. We have to stay the course, no matter what.

Of course, I am always curious to know how the crew is doing, how fishing is, how George is. But I can’t and don’t sit at home and check weather. I don’t check prices, review catches, investigate landings, or otherwise involve myself in anything else related to the actual fishing-end of things. That’s George’s business.

While he appreciates my encouragement and support, he doesn’t need or want input from me in this area. He knows his business through and through and has the record to back it up.  He also knows that I have enough on my plate and that adding unnecessary strain to it would not benefit my little ones or me.

Do I get nervous about the risks? Yes. Do I think “What if?” Yes. Do I have nightmares? Yes.

Do I spend more than thirty seconds thinking about any of it? No.

I learned this strategy from my mom. She was as solid as a rock when my dad was at sea and had full faith in my dad’s ability to run a boat and navigate the sea. I never heard her express fear or concern about winter in Alaska, ocean conditions, or boat dynamics. She busied herself taking care of her children and the household. She knew that any outward fear she expressed would impact her children and be a detriment to all.

We didn’t even have cell phones, satellite phones, or e-mail communication back then; there was ship-to-shore radio and a pay phone at the top of the dock. We didn’t have minute-to-minute or day-to-day updates. For that matter, entire weeks would pass without word as to how it was going.

I only saw my mom “rattled” one time. It was after my grandmother had called, worried about a winter Alaska storm and the possiblity that my dad was trapped in the middle of it.

For some reason that time, my grandmother’s call shook all of us up. My mom became uncharacteristically nervous. My sisters and I were scared to death, worried about Dad. We couldn’t sleep and we fought back tears as my mom, grim faced, called the Coast Guard and asked them to locate Dad.

Of course, nothing was wrong. Dad was fine. Grandma had been overly-worried (understandably, having been a fisherman’s wife herself). We all breathed a sigh of relief and continued about our business.  Looking back now, I appreciate the lesson: Don’t allow people, news, weather reports, fear, or anything else to rattle you.

Don’t invite more panic and anxiety to take root in your day. Just stay the course, and steady as she goes.