Timm Timoney is about to pass a healthy-size snapper up to her husband, Edward "Tim" Timoney, as they unload their catch.

Fisher family

Tim and Timm Timoney
share names and a love
of the sea

For fisher folk Tim and Timm Timoney, their boat -- always in need of repair and maintenance -- is like the offspring that never left their parental care.

It's the couple's only child, Sean, who has successfully cut the home line to fish waters on his own. He's perpetuating a way of life that began with the building of a sailboat in the back yard of the family's former Northern California home.

Spending a rare weekday morning relaxing on the deck of the blue-and-white, fiberglass-hulled Laysan on the waters of Kewalo Basin, husband and wife reminisced about their life at sea, around Hawaii and along the California coast.

Today, all the Timoneys are in water within a 1,200-mile radius northwest of the state, but back in 1983, Edward "Tim" Timoney decided he and wife Timm would "put down our watery roots in Honolulu."

Tim and Timm are sitting on their boat's deck in a plastic lawn chair and the lid of the hold, where bottom fish like opakapaka and onaga are iced down before the couple heads back to Honolulu's Pier 38 fish auction.

The boat's house, while small, is roomy enough for two, and their refrigerator is covered with photos of their grandson. A large pot of spaghetti sauce simmers on a portable stove, and a dining counter has a Janis Joplin CD box set on it. Tim's computer bears a map of the immense area the Laysan traverses -- as far as the tiny Pearl and Hermes Atoll.

Tim Timoney ends a fishing trip to the Northwest Hawaiian Islands with a review of his log books. Tim and wife Timm were gone for more than two weeks and had just unloaded their catch from their fishing boat, Laysan.

The Timoneys started fishing on the West Coast, delivering their catch to fisheries in California and Hawaii. Sean, now 37, remembers going on these extended trips up to age 5.

"I was not a water baby as a child," he said via e-mail during downtime on a fishing expedition for big-eyed tuna. "Every toy that I dropped or threw overboard was gone forever! I remember the one time when my dad fell overboard, I was so freaked out that my mom had to lock me inside before she could get the boat stopped and Dad back on board. In my world when things went over, they never came back!

"Most people would think that being out on the ocean fishing is the exciting part, but for me (it was) the everyday thing. What I remember being the most excited about was going into port. We went to a lot of different ports up and down the West Coast. That was always fun and new.

"I remember drifting off the coast somewhere, not being able to get the main engine started. Dad took the starter motor apart and stuck some paper towels in it and got the engine started. For the longest time, I thought he was a magician.

"I also remember when we were salmon fishing, we caught a huge squid. (I wasn't very big at the time, either.) My mom handed it to me, tentacles first, and it wrapped around my life jacket and would not let go! Creepy."

Timm said her son's first job, coincidentally enough, "was taking heads off of squids," but gives Sean credit for adapting to life at sea. As a toddler, "he learned to walk on a boat and got his sea legs right away during a sailing trip to Mexico.

"Sean read a lot," she remembered. "Most of his toys were water toys -- pails, buckets, funnels -- although Lego was big with him, too. When he later got skipper jobs as a young man, it didn't surprise me. He was sharp, responsible, knew how to navigate and is an excellent mechanic. Like his dad, he can fix anything."

While Sean was mostly home schooled by his folks -- with the help of correspondence courses made for kids with "traveling parents" -- he occasionally went ashore to attend public and alternative schools.

"I remember when we came back from a San Diego sailing trip in 1972, and he went to a school in Point Loma there for one year with children of Portuguese fishing families," Timm said. "When I was told it was a bilingual school, I thought the other language was going to be Spanish, but instead it was Portuguese."

Timm visits the Honolulu fish auction, where the couple's catch will eventually be sold. The Timoneys share similar names, although she says some people call her "Mrs. Tim." Actually, Timm's name is the real deal, while her husband's given name is Edward. "Tim" is a nickname.

BACK IN the 1960s, Timm, who worked at Pacific Bell in Berkeley at the time, met her husband-to-be through mutual friends. He was a bank accountant who was developing a sense of wanderlust and was building his own sailboat in the back yard of his Lafayette home in the East Bay.

After the vessel was completed and introduced to water, Timm "learned to sail and pilot a boat. ... It was simply going under the Golden Gate Bridge and turning left!"

Tim and Timm married in September 1967; he was 30 and she was 20 -- and already pregnant with Sean, who was born in April.

After leaving their respective jobs, the Timoneys took a year sailing around Baja down south in the Gulf of California. Their fishing life together didn't start until Timm bought for her husband a wooden 33-foot yacht that was in lien. After learning to fish on a neighbor's boat, they converted it into a fishing boat.

They went "harbor hopping" in California (and later Oregon), pulling in salmon, albacore and bottom rock cod. Their current "baby," the Laysan, was built 25 years ago in Alameda, Calif.

It wasn't until 1981 that they added Hawaii to their extended fishing trips.

"We've survived both the good and lean years," Timm said quietly.

Sean attended schools in Alameda and Lafayette, staying with both sets of grandparents through the age of 16, when he left the California public school system to live and fish here.

At 18 he became one of the youngest skippers of his own fishing crew.

Timm said that high school was not an interesting place for her son. "He was a real bright kid, but we had this unconventional lifestyle. Since I struggled through college -- my parents assumed I would go to college -- we put no pressure on Sean, so we didn't worry about his finishing high school.

"He did go to Acalanes High School in Lafayette, which is an academically strong school in an upscale suburb. It was his friends who kept him there."

And, just like his parents, Sean met his future wife in California when he was 18. She, too, went to Acalanes and hung out with the group of friends he left behind when he moved to Hawaii. "She moved to California the same year I left, so we ... (met) just through mutual friends."

Edward "Tim" Timoney passes a snapper to Rosalino Claro, who will load it onto a flatbed truck for a trip to the fish auction.

Now with the Timoney family gathered in one place, Timm said, "we're thankful he stayed in Hawaii. The grandkid is a kick in the pants" whenever he comes on board, wearing his life jacket.

"Aiden is much more of a water baby than I was," Sean said via e-mail. "(My wife and I) recently started taking him out on the one-man. He's just started to enjoy boogie-boarding on his own board and likes to pretend to surf with it, too."

"He can't wait to go fishing," Zo‘ said in her e-mail correspondence from sea. "He builds boats with blocks at school with his friends and then goes fishing for 'tuna tuna.' He's helped Dad unload a few times, spent a day at the Honolulu Harbor Festival in 2003, literally sitting in the Hawaii Longline Association fish display along with all the fish, and will never pass up an opportunity to go for a boat ride to get ice from the ice dock."

Timm said, "With us being gone and coming back, it's felt like we've been married three times as long as in actual years."

Still, this is the life they chose, although some recent changes have been outside of their control.

"Fishing for a living here is more precarious now," Timm said. "Under the current political climate, 'green groups' are trying to convert the whole northwest area of Hawaiian Islands into a sanctuary because of the coral ecosystem. Somehow they see people like us as endangering it. And here we're members of the Sierra Club ourselves!

"We provide people with high-quality protein, doing sustainable fishing using hook and line. If this happens, the area is supposed to be regulated, but who's going to enforce the rules?"

Timm Timoney unpacks fish from ice aboard the Laysan.

The Timoneys and their son also expect to have occasional observers from the regulatory National Marine Fisheries Service on board. Boats are picked at random, with observers boarding to collect data and measure their catches.

And the family does occasionally make radio contact at sea.

"I cannot remember being any closer than a couple of hundred miles in recent years," Sean said. "One time, I was broken down, and they brought out the parts I needed to get going again. Another time, years ago, when I was working on a lobster boat and they were bottom fishing, they came over for dinner! (But) visual contact with them at sea is very rare."

Tim said: "You can't help but feel the isolation when you're out at sea. On our last trip, we felt the brunt of the storms that hit the state. And we have to get the fish to auction in a timely fashion. We have a reputation of bringing in good fish, but we only had 3,000 pounds, which is relatively small.

"It's hard physical work, shoveling ice onto the fish. We keep in shape when we're not out with walks in Ala Moana Park and going to the gym. And we like to hike a lot during the occasional neighbor island vacation. Whenever we meet friends from California, they just shake their heads that we're still doing this."

With the boat rocking gently in dock, Tim said, with confidence, "But the way I feel now, I could go another 10 years."

"Yikes!" Timm responded, then laughed and nudged her husband with affection.

The Timoneys' son Sean and his wife, Zo‘, also make their living off the sea. He is skipper of a Pacific Ocean Producers boat; she is an office worker for the company. Their son, Aidan, is 3 years old.

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