A Father's Legacy
Updated: Jan 23
By Hayley Brown, daughter of Capt. Joe Nickerson
On Thursday, January 23, 2020 Joe Nickerson and his crew, Chris Pinkham perished at sea.
We live in a place where it is not uncommon to know someone who is in the commercial fishing industry. We hear stories from time to time of tragic events that happen, but they always happen to someone else, it never happens to us directly. Until one day, it does and you're left dealing with a tragedy that seems more like a movie plot than real life.
I remember vividly the day the coast guard called my mom and informed her they were searching for the F/V Hayley Ann. I don’t imagine I will be forgetting that day anytime soon.
Many of the details regarding the incident were rather public, something I look at as a ‘blessing in disguise’ as I didn’t feel the need to explain what happened to anyone. People ask questions because not everyone has a connection with the industry.
There is so much I know my dad was willing to share with me but I just never listened. I regret that now.
Growing up I never thought twice about what my dad did for a living. It was normal, I thought nothing of it. It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I began to realize just how dangerous fishing is, but with the years of experience Dad had under his belt, why would I start to be concerned now? He fished on boats out of Dutch Harbor, Alaska - isn’t that basically Deadliest Catch? My dad survived that, no way anything was going to take him or the Hayley Ann down. I thought of Dad’s accomplishments as a superpower, even into adulthood.
I think stunned is the best way to describe my grief initially. I still struggle trying to comprehend this new reality. I can’t remember much about the days after we received the news -- moments that occurred here and there but it is mostly a blur. I remember trying so hard to stay strong for my mom. To this day I want nothing more than to take away her pain.
As an only child, we were a very close family. I loved spending time with my mom and dad even into adulthood. My dad was one of my best friends. Any problem I had no matter how small or insignificant he could “rig something up” and fix it.
I have felt a lot of guilt because I was able to have him around my entire childhood, but I know my son won’t have that opportunity. I feel my son has lost the opportunity to have the most amazing “Pampy” (That's what my son calls him.).
I struggle each day as my mind tries to play out the scenario of that day. I am haunted thinking of what he had to endure.
If I could tell any other child of a fisherman anything I’d say: please listen. My dad would passionately go on about what he did and I would roll my eyes and try to change the subject. He would tell me stories I wish I paid more attention to. I was blind to how much he loved what he did and how he just wanted to pass on his knowledge. He was so lucky to thoroughly enjoy his profession. I am sure my son would have listened intently, something I regrettably did not do enough.
To any fishermen, I ask you to please hug your family. We forget just how much is at stake. We trust your knowledge of the sea and experience. We forget how ruthless the ocean can be. I hope that my tragedy reminds you of how fragile life is, even for the most rugged fishermen.
F/V Hayley Ann Sea Bag
Fishing wasn’t a pastime or a or part-time job for my dad but a lifestyle. Like so many in the industry, it was the only lifestyle he knew. He was knowledgeable about what he did and shared that knowledge with anyone willing to listen. If you ever asked him how fishing was going, you knew just how passionate he was about what he did.
I worked with Sea Bags to design a beautiful tote in honor of my father's legacy and benefit the work of the Maine Coast Fishermen's Association.
These bags are so much more than just a reminder of my dad, his boat, and his crewman. They are a way to honor all of those who venture out into the ocean and risk it all to make a living. Working with MCFA and Sea Bags to create these bags and set up this fundraiser has been a wonderful experience and a way for me to focus my energy on something more than my grief.
You can learn more and purchase a limited edition bag HERE.
A note from MCFA staff:
We want to thank Hayley for writing this post, and for her continued support of MCFA. It has been an honor to get to know her and work with her to not just carry on her father's legacy but keep Joe's memory close in our hearts.
Together, we persevere.