A Trawler Life

1.Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it, etc.).

My name is Tony, I’m from southeast Michigan. Over the summer I worked as a deckhand on the tall ship Manitou. I’ve worked one season on board, and I’m 21. I had a myriad of duties including washing and polishing, cleaning heads, washing dishes, handling, setting, and striking sail, entertaining passengers, bartending on board, and frequent safety drills.


2.Why did you want to become a commercial fisherman?

I have always been misty eyed at the old sailing ships, and I felt a drive to go to bed sea.

3. How do you find a job working in a fishery? Are there classified ads that show openings, or do you really need to just go up there and ask around?

I emailed the company and asked them how their application process worked, the captain emailed me back to get my resume.

4. What are captains looking for when they hire someone as a deckhand? Any tips for landing the job?

Some drive and initiative, and pragmatism. My captain wanted to know that I could handle the physical and mental stress involved with my responsibilities and my 70 hour/week work schedule. He also wanted to know that I understood the needs of passengers.

5. What’s the hierarchy of positions on a boat? What does it take to work your way up to becoming a captain?

On my ship the crew was lean, with Deckhands, a lead worker, a cook, and a captain. The captain started off as a Deckhand. He got his merchant mariner’s license, he got his 100 ton captain’s license. That requires a certain amount of hours at sea and a written test.

6. You do this job seasonally. Can you make enough in a summer to last the rest of the year? If not, what do you and others do during the other months of the year? What is the average pay for a deckhand if you don’t mind sharing?

Nope, not on a tall ship. The pattern with tall ships (just like with sailors hundreds of years ago) is to go south and sail ships in warmer weather during the winter. I got a job sorting parts at the ford plant and I’m interviewing at Panera. I was paid $280 a week, with tips I made about $4,000 from mid may to September. I left early because I started my last semester at college. However, we lived onboard, and were served 3 meals a day by an absolutely amazing chef (Who had been a Deckhand on the Manitou before going to culinary school.)

7. What’s an average day like for you?

Wake up at 6:30. Breakfast at 7:00. On deck 7:30. Deck wash, rinse, morning chores, safety check, stock bar, clean morning dishes, polish. Get the chafe gear off the lines. Cast the holdoffs if the wind isn’t bad. Safety speech for passengers. Board. Cast dock lines. Set sail, serve drinks. Tacking and gybing around for an hour and a half. Strike sail, send dock lines. Say bye to passengers. Clean deck. Eat lunch. Safety speech for passengers. 2 afternoon sails. Dinner. Evening sail ends at 8, put the boat to bed (tally bar, clean the galley, furl the headsails, sweat up the centerboard, get chafe gear on all the lines).

8. What is the best part of your job?/What is the worst part of your job?

The best part is hitting 8 or 9 knots with a reefed main, feeling the ship heel over and watching the passengers get hosed down by spray off the hull. Going out on the headrig to tie down the jib topsail cause we can’t afford for it to blow out, with the water rushing underneath you and the wind deafening you. The worst part was trying to make it work with my girlfriend. We have a long distance relationship already, and when 14 or 15 hours of my day were spent working and 8 sleeping, that left maybe 1 for doing everything else.

9. What is the work/family/life balance like for you?

Like I explained, it’s pretty abysmal, there’s very little balance. The captain lives with his wife on shore and doesn’t work as long as the crew, and the cook lived with her boyfriend in a van on shore and didn’t work as long as the crew either.

10. What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?

That it’s easy. People would tell me sometimes that it must be a great gig, but it’s not for everybody, and most people probably couldn’t do the job. My time on board the Manitou was easily among the hardest and best in my life.

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