The “Pretty Rugged” book cover features Captain Ariel Gilley of Southwest Harbor. PHOTO COURTESY OF HANNAH MCGOWAN AND ALI FARRELL

Islanders featured in new book about female fishermen 



Crew member Holly Masterson of Southwest Harbor holds a big catch.
PHOTO COURTESY OF HANNAH MCGOWAN

MOUNT DESERT ISLAND  “Pretty Rugged: True Stories from Women of the Sea,” is a new book by Ali Farrel that offers a glimpse into the lives of Maine’s female fishermen. The book features islander Holly Masterson of Southwest Harbor along with five other women from Mount Desert Island. True stories about the dangers, family history and realities of women in Maine’s commercial fishing industry ranging in age from 26 to 100 are woven throughout this 102-page read. 

Farrell, of Camden, was raised in the fishing industry. “When I was young, my father fished offshore and my mother produced and sold lobster tanks…my father had all kinds of stories from fishing off Newfoundland, and after talking shop with my female fishermen buddies, I decided they deserved to tell their stories to the world,” she said.  

Following a lengthy delay due to the pandemic, the book was released in the middle of December. Farrell said that the impact to the seafood market brought on earlier in the year by the strict coronavirus shutdown affected her ability to issue her book in the spring of 2020, as she had intended. “For the book, I couldn’t get out to take photos if they weren’t fishing,” she said. 

Crewmember Holly Masterson of Southwest Harbor said that the book’s documented depictions of the female fishing lifestyle could not be more accurate. Although she has earned her captain’s license, she is currently a crew member on a boat owned by David Horner.  “There are four or five of us that are profiled from the island in the book, which is really cool,” said Masterson.  

In addition to Masterson, the book features other islanders such as Captain Lindsay McDaniels of Northeast Harbor, Captain Ariel Gilley of Southwest Harbor, Captain Abbe Baker Pettegrow of Southwest Harbor, Sarah Leiter of Bass Harbor, and Giulia Cardoso of Bar Harbor. Gilley, captain of F/V Queen B, said she is honored to be in the book, let alone on the cover. “You have no idea how excited I am that women are finally getting recognition in this field,” she said. 

While searching for female fishermen online, Farrell found Masterson, who was willing to help with her project. “Before the pandemic hit and they canceled school for two weeks, we met at a restaurant called Cuzzy’s in Camden,” said Masterson. The two ended up talking for hours over a couple beers.  

“It was really fun to help Ali with the book,” said Masterson. Farrell said Masterson had so many incredible stories, both about fishing and life on the island, which was something that interested her right away. “Holly… a kid that grew up in a fishing family and lived the genuine fishing lifestyle was exactly what I was looking for in this book,” Farrell said. She was lucky to learn about Masterson, who has her hands in other business ventures, too, in addition to fishing, which include real estate, piloting and gardening.  

“I read all the different profiles of each woman, all the 23 women, there could be a long story about each and every one of them,” said Masterson. Masterson’s “Pretty Rugged” profile features entrepreneur success tips she learned while lobstering with her stepfather, Dave Horner. To Farrell, these women from the island who fish are not the typical fisherman one would picture in their mind. “They are smart, driven and always searching to expand and upgrade their business,” she said. Farrell said she mostly loved hearing about what the ladies do off the water. 

“These small fishing communities are often portrayed in a certain light – a light which typically conveys anger and rowdiness, although if a fellow fisherman or his family finds themselves in need of help, you will see an army of people ready to give their support, no questions asked,” said Farrell. In addition to writing her third book, Farrell donates her spare time to the United Fisherman Foundation, which supports fishermen and their families through education and advocacy.  

“Pretty Rugged: True Stories from Women of the Sea” can be purchased at Sherman’s Maine Coast Book Shops, Barnes & Noble and Walmart, as well as online at Amazon and bookshop.org. For more information, visit prettyruggedbook.com. 

Ninah Gile

Ninah Gile

Reporter at MDIslander
Ninah Gile, an MDI native, covers the town of Bar Harbor. She is glad to be back in Maine after earning a bachelor's degree in San Diego from the University of California.

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