Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Seaworthy by Linda Greenlaw

Sebastian Junger, author of The Perfect Storm, described Linda Greenlaw as "one of the best captains, period, on the entire east coast."  Now, after ten years away from the helm, Greenlaw has gone to sea again and chronicles her return to the Grand Banks in Seaworthy - A Sword Captain Returns to the Sea.

From Publishers Weekly (via amazon)
After a 10-year hiatus from blue-water fishing, Greenlaw went cautiously to sea, seeking a payday and perspective on her life. Thanks to The Perfect Storm phenomenon (both book and film), she was celebrated as America's only female swordfish boat captain. She was now also a mother and an author who relished a new challenge, traveling 1,000 miles from her Maine home with an eager crew of four guys—three of them experienced sailing buddies—looking for swordfish on the 63-foot, six-and-a-half–knot steel boat Seahawk on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. It was a 52-day trip—and a sensational misadventure. Nearly everything that could go wrong, did, including her arrest for illegally fishing in Canadian waters. Greenlaw chronicles it all—a busted engine, a malfunctioning ice machine, squirrelly technology—with an absorbing mix of nautical expertise and self-deprecation. After inspecting the Seahawk, Greenlaw calls it rough, but stable and capable. Then she writes, "Although I was referring to the boat, I couldn't help thinking the same could be said of her captain." From mishaps to fish tales, Greenlaw keeps her narrative suspenseful. Between bad luck and self-doubt, she moves from experience to wisdom, guiding both crew and readers on a voyage of self-affirmation.

On returning to the sea
The obvious risks inherent in commercial fishing--like those to life, limb, and livelihood--are concerns of mere mortals.  Real fishermen risk other things that are less easily explained.  In my present situation, the risks involved in returning to something I'd once felt so passionate about were many and not as tangible as fears for personal safety or pocketbook.  I risked falling out of love with fishing itself.  I'm good at catching fish.  Is this why I like to do it?  What if I were to suddenly realize that I did not enjoy the hunt?  What if I were absolutely turned off by blood and guts?  What if my heart didn't race with the tugging of a fish on the line?  And, God forbid, what if I'd lost the ability to catch fish?  My entire identity and self-definition were at stake.  Disillusionment, should it occur, would hit hard.  The half-full glass was not my style.  Perhaps the same scenario could be seen as enlightenment.  Either way I spun it, learning the truth was worth the risk, I concluded.

On making decisions
Maturity can't hold a candle to youthfulness.  Unless, I considered, it's a mental/emotional thing.  This endurance test would certainly go beyond physical.  Mentally I needed to be stronger and wiser.  Decisions were once based on gut reaction.  I'd often made the right decision for the wrong reason.  I'd done things purely from the strength of knowing that I could.  Now maybe I would be more thoughtful with the realization of the possibility that perhaps I could not.  I hoped that the past ten years had taught me something.  I must be smarter now than I was when I'd last captained a swordboat.  But what about quickness of mind?  Would I react to emergencies fast enough?  I had always prided myself on my mental reflexes in the face of danger or disaster.  I had always been confident beyond reason.  Maybe it was healthier to be wiser, more mature, and less confident.

On swordfish (vs. clams)
When I say "I love swordfish," I am not necessarily commenting on them as a meal, although I surely do enjoy them in that capacity.  Swordfish are the most interesting creatures!  They are fascinating and intriguing in their unique combination of fish and sword--like a unicorn, but real.  The facts and figures surrounding swordfish perhaps explain what makes them so worthy of my life-time pursuit of them.  The speed at which they travel, the distances they cover in their migration, and their strength all contribute to the quality most frequently attributed to them, elusiveness.  I can't imagine a life spent digging clams or trapping slime eels--they're just so...ordinary.  What's to know about a clam?  You traipse around the clam flats looking for holes in the surface of the mud.  One hole, one clam, as my Aunt Gracie used to say.  You see a hole, you dig, and you find a clam.  Big deal.  A clam does not possess the ability to dodge the digger.  Swordfish, in contrast, are mysterious and challenging and sexy.  You never hear stories about the giant clam that got away.  Clams have no personality.  You've seen one clam, you've seen them all.

On a relationship with fish
This game is a dance of sorts, or a collaboration.  We, the fish and I, both have our jobs to do.  Any given day it's a toss-up which of us is doing our job better.  Sometimes I feel like a gallant saltwater cowboy busting broncos.  Other times I just wait for my horse to be shot out from under me.  Damn fish.  I laughed to myself.  Our relationship is weirder than any I'd had with humans of the opposite sex.  And I'd had some weird ones.

On a sunrise
Darkness waded in cautiously and headed west.  Hesitating waist-deep, then plunging into the murky chill, the diving night splashed light onto the opposite horizon, which swam like spawning salmon up the riverlike sky.  The sun hatched as if it were a baby chick, pecking from within the shell until fully risen, yellow and warm, and as unsure as I was.  Quite a grand entrance....

Ahhh phrases
Ripe and one sliver shy of full, the cantaloupe moon shone a flashlight beam along our path as we steamed east through the Gulf of Maine. 
Far from worrying, I didn't have a care in the world as the Seahawk glided effortlessly along, bobbing slightly as if nodding her head or tapping a foot to some unheard music. 
My mood wasn't made any lighter by the bickering that rose from below.  The crew sounded like young brothers in the backseat on a long car ride. 
When he sang a ballad about the hardships of life at sea and harsh treatment by superiors, I felt as transparent as the gal in "Killing Me Softly."
I am a fan of Linda Greenlaw's writing and have attended three of her book readings/signings.  Each time as I sat in the audience, I marveled at the tenacity and strength of this seemingly slight woman standing in front of me.  She fishes, hauls lobster traps, cooks, manages crews of salty fisherman (some loyal and hardworking; others, not so).  And, she writes--from the most technical details on commercial fishing and seamanship, to the mysterious escapades of Jane Bunker, and finally to a turn of phrase about the moon or the ocean that causes you to stop reading and just be in the moment of that phrase.

Yes, if Linda Greenlaw writes it, I will read it.

Rating:  4/5 (Non-fiction Scale)

Dedication:  This book is dedicated to the hardworking men of the Seahawk:  Arthur Jost, Tim Palmer, Dave Hiltz, Mike Machado, and Nate Clark.

First line:  The cell door closed with the mechanical, steely sound of permanence.

Books by Linda Greenlaw
THE HUNGRY OCEAN: A Swordboat Captain's Journey
ALL FISHERMEN ARE LIARS: True Adventures at Sea
THE LOBSTER CHRONICLES: Life on a Very Small Island

Jane Bunker Mystery Series

Co-written with her mother, Martha Greenlaw

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