The job of  female deckhands goes far beyond standing watches, unloading fish and mending nets.

You will be the cook.
In addition to wheel watches, working
on deck, unloading fish, fueling up,
filling fresh water, mending nets,
grocery shopping whenever you come to town,
you will also prepare three meals a day
and two hearty snacks to go with coffee.
You must keep the kettle on the stove full
and the juice jug and two gallons of milk in the fridge.

You will learn to slice vegetables, prepare a marinade,
cook pasta and fillet a salmon
in twenty-minute intervals
while the net is out. You will learn
to ignore the other crew members sitting
at the galley table reading. You must know
how to create a corral in rough weather,
so pots of soup don’t end up dripping
down the firewall behind the stove. You will need
bungee cords to keep the cast iron skillet from sliding.
These cords melt if they touch the stovetop.
Keep a squeeze container of Aloe Vera gel
under the galley sink for the burns
on your hands and forearms.

The stove will blow out on windy days
when you’re exhausted,
your skin stinging with jellyfish.
The crew will say they’re not hungry on these days
but when you slide behind the Cape, it will be flat
calm and all of you will be starving.
Before relighting the stove
determine how much diesel has built up.
If it’s more than an inch deep,
turn off the fuel source
by flipping a breaker in the engine room.
You don’t have time for ear protection. Get down there
and back before someone hollers for you on deck.
Passing the engine, watch the straps on your raingear,
your ponytail, where you put your hands.

When cooking, remember all odors from the galley
drift directly into the wheelhouse. Fish sauce
smells like dirty tennis shoes. Once she smells this,
your skipper’s daughter will refuse to eat anything
she suspects has fish sauce. As a woman and cook
you will be expected to have a special bond
with the skipper’s daughter
and you will. Have art supplies in a shoebox in the galley,
a drawing tablet under a cushion, collect starfish,
Decorator crab, and Spiny Lump Suckers in a deck bucket.
Teach her what you know can kill her. When she cries
put your arm around her, kiss her
on the top of the head and let her cry.
Allow her to use your cell phone to call friends
in exchange for making salads, pots of coffee,
washing lunch dishes, carrying groceries to the boat.
Develop sign language for communicating
when she stands in the galley door
peering out at you on deck.

This isn’t what I intended.
I set out to give you advice for taking care
of yourself, now it’s about taking care of a girl
you’re related to by circumstance.
This is exactly what will happen.
You’ll notice a hum
more penetrating than the engine.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of Anglers Journal magazine.

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Key West was a beacon for the author and his friends, and tarpon were objects of desire.

Tom and the Fat Boys

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Secret Order of Scup

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Center Consoles

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A Rough Ballet

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