A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea
Viking Adult, 256pp, $25.95
Like The Hungry Ocean, published in 1999, Linda Greenlaw's latest book, Seaworthy is an account of Grand Banks swordfishing. Also, like the earlier book, Seaworthy is somewhat freighted with controversy. Critics wondered, did she write her first book just to "cash in" on Sebastian Junger's account of the perfect storm? On the contrary, Greenlaw had an engrossing tale to tell. The Hungry Ocean was a great "up close and personal" account of some of the many voyages she made as a member of the crew and then as sword boat captain. (Reviewed here)
Ten years later, she accepts the captaincy of the Seahawk, a 63' broken down has-been of a patched up excuse for a sword boat and once again heads for the Grand Banks in search of swordfish which have, in the interim, recovered their numbers and can again be legally fished. This voyage which is ably recounted in Seaworthy produces its own cloud of controversy when Greenlaw, the former highliner, drifts into Canadian waters and is subsequently arrested, jailed and fined...big bite of news for the media.
I feel that her transgression was a perfectly plausible accident. What I don't understand is why she was on such a wreck of a boat in the first place. It had broken down and had to be towed to Halifax for repairs on its way to the fishing grounds. Some part of the boat and its equipment was always malfunctioning, freezing up, or falling off. Greenlaw and her crew were constantly improvising just to keep the tub afloat and moving forward.
When the Seahawk drifted over the line her captain was engrossed on deck helping the crew extricate a school of sharks from the boat's long line because the boat had lost its steering...again...and couldn't perform the appropriate maneuver to ease the task for the crew. She was thoroughly distracted and not where she needed to be which was at the helm.
She left the swordfishing world ten years ago at the top of her game...as captain of the Hannah Boden, a 100' queen of the fleet. The Seahawk is un-affectionately called the Shithawk by her crew.
Like her other two non-fiction books about her life at sea (she also writes charming "who-dun-its" set in Maine), Greenlaw mixes action with introspection, examining her motives and her decisions sharply. She admits to experiencing ennui in her life on land and also to an approaching gap between her expenses and her income. So the motives, excitement and money, are the basis of her decision. Once aboard, she relishes her leadership role even if it degenerates into problem solving 24/7. She clearly enjoys the camaraderie of the crew and writes of them with lively appreciation of their talents as well as their quirky personalities. Most of all, she is exhilarated by being back on blue water. She is convincingly-- where she wants to be and enjoying the heck out of being there. And that enthusiasm is what makes reading this book a real pleasure.
Her account of her arrest is sparse and short. It's not a good time and she doesn't dwell on it. On the last page of the book she reveals her sentence...a fine of $35,000.00 and her catch. She goes on to admit that it was probably a poor decision to go out in a "shaky" boat which lacked essential gear and electronics, and even that she was a "rusty" captain. But she reaffirms her love of the job in the last line: "I guess I find it impossible to say no when somebody says, "Let's go fishing!"