A person living in Maine’s mid-Coast area might hear for years about Allyson Fuehrer of Freeport and her life at sea, before actually meeting her. In her sphere, this strong, capable, hard-working Maine woman has lived large, found, and made her own distinctive success. For instance, she volunteered for several summers as a crew member on a tuna fishing boat out of Perkins Cove in Ogunquit. She attended Maine Maritime Academy and holds her USCG Second Mate Unlimited Tonnage license. Now employed as third mate for Crowley Maritime, Ally works on the Washington, an 800-foot-long crude oil tanker running from Valdez, Alaska, to ports in Washington and California. She is on-duty on the ship for 75 days straight, then comes home to Maine for 75 “Saturdays.” She has been working with this schedule for the past 4 years.
Ally was born and raised in Freeport, where her parents have always had boats. Since Ally is an only child, her parents would simply take her with them on all of their adventures, both at sea and on land. Ally remembers being around seven years old when her mother worked as a fisheries surveyor. During this time, her mother had to drive around to many fishing ports in Maine and survey fishermen on what they caught that day. Ally would ride around with her, which sparked her curiosity for fishing at a young age. A few years later, when she was ten, Ally’s father started deep-sea fishing on the Bunny Clark, a party fishing boat that still runs out of Perkins Cove in Ogunquit. Ally told her father that she wanted to join him, and after weeks of pleading, she finally did. She immediately liked it. When looking at the trajectory of her life, Ally laughs and says, “Being an only child speaks volumes. This whole thing is their fault.”
I sat down to talk with Ally over dirty martinis and nachos. She explained to me, “I like being on the water. Fishing and lobstering is exciting because you don’t know what’s on the other end of the line. There’s that kind of anticipation.” After high school in Freeport, Ally’s growing passion for fishing and the ocean led her to attend Maine Maritime Academy. At MMA there were fewer than ten women in her regiment, in a graduating class of over 200 people. Despite being one of only a few women, Ally says she liked the school a lot, and she was easily able to make a good group of friends through soccer and other extracurriculars. To young women who are thinking about attending MMA, Ally’s advice is, “You have to want to be there, and know that your school is mostly men and your future job will be mostly men, and you have to be okay with that. The girls that truly want to go there do great things.”
Ally, 27, knows what she is talking about. She works in a male-dominated field. The work itself becomes the great leveler. When describing her daily life at sea on the Washington, she says she stands a total of eight hours of bridge watch, which includes navigating the ship, followed by four hours of deck work, which includes inspecting lifesaving equipment and doing maintenance. When the ship is in port, Ally and the other mates stand cargo watch, loading the oil, and discharging ballast water or vice versa. In thinking about her job, Ally stresses what a difference her co-workers make: “We have a great crew. It becomes your second family. You’re living, eating, working, and doing laundry together, so you get to know people quite fast. It’s a good ship. I’m really happy there. It makes the time go by faster when you have good people around you.”
Ally was thrilled to find her lifelong idol, Linda Greenlaw, on the cover of Maine Women Magazine’s June issue. Ally has met Linda a handful of times growing up and emphasizes, “She paved the way 20 years ago. She’s always been a role model, and I just like how she’s a fisherman and just does the job. It’s not about the fact that she’s a woman, or that she isn’t. It’s how it is, and it’s okay.”
In her “off” months living in Portland, Ally continues to be the inspiring and independent Maine woman that she is. She spends her free time working on the Bunny Clark deep sea fishing charter boat, where her love for fishing was born, as their first-ever female deckhand. When asked why she chooses to still work during her time off, Ally says, “I love fishing and I love that boat. That’s really what it comes down to. It’s hard work, but I have so much fun doing it. Fishing can be intimidating. Many people just assume it’s not accessible if they didn’t grow up on the water doing it, but on the Bunny Clark in Perkins Cove, it is. People get so happy when they catch a fish, both kids and grown adults. You can’t help but be excited, too!”
What ultimately attached Ally to the Bunny Clark was the people and the community fostered by the boat. The captains and crew members turned from role models to friends whose opinions Ally now values the most. “They taught me the value of hard work,” she says. “They embody it.”
Last spring, Ally planned a trip for herself, for her off months. She attended an all-female surf camp in Costa Rica, never having surfed seriously before. This particular camp advertised itself as a destination for women who wanted to have a solo travel experience. As a result, everyone at the camp was looking to make friends and meet new people. Ally recalls that every woman had their own story of why they chose to have an individual surfing adventure. “The other girls did much cooler stuff than I did,” she remarks. Ally remembers her time in Costa Rica fondly, saying she would absolutely do a similar trip again when it becomes safe to travel. While she was in Costa Rica, she also got her first ever tattoo—an ocean wave, on her foot.
Since then, Ally and I have tried our hand at surfing Maine’s southern coast, including during a major hurricane in which we had to convince the lifeguards on duty that we were capable swimmers. One afternoon this past July, Ally and I casually (or so I thought) went shopping at Liquid Dreams Surf Shop in Ogunquit. Thirty minutes later, Ally walked out of the store with a brand-new beginner, brilliantly turquoise surfboard. I continue to be struck by her decisiveness and confidence in the face of such potentially intimidating activities as surfing and deep-sea fishing.
When Ally isn’t fishing, surfing, or working, you’ll find her on the hunt for the best dirty martini in Southern Maine. So far, the winner is Katahdin Restaurant in Portland. When asked if Ally will stay in Maine forever, she answers with a decisive, “Yes!” It is clear that despite loving to travel, Maine will always be her home, even though, ironically, she is allergic to lobster.
For more information on the Bunny Clark deep sea fishing trips, visit their instagram @the_bunny_clark. (Ally runs this Instagram page for the boat.)