Seaworthy – A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea, by Linda Greenlaw

Reader alert: If you are against commercial fishing of all sorts – read no further. If you have tolerance for some well-regulated and sustainable fisheries, such as the swordfish fishery on the eastern seaboard of the U.S., then keep reading.

I have all of Linda Greenlaw’s books – except the cookbook she co-authored with her mother, Martha Greenlaw. ┬áIn total, there are four memoirs: The Hungry Ocean; All Fishermen are Liars’ The Lobster Chronicles; and the most recent, which I finished last evening, Seaworthy. I was so hoping that Seaworthy would be as good a read as her first memoir, The Hungry Ocean.

It is not. And I really dislike saying that. I guess when you’ve been dazzled by a writer before – lifted right out of your quiet life and flung down atop lashing waves and roaring winds – you’re hoping you can feel that level of excitement again. Remember the movie The Perfect Storm (2000), with George Clooney? Remember how terrifying it was to watch? How that last sky-high wave swallowed the swordfish fishing vessel and all her crew? Well, Linda Greenlaw was featured as a “character” in that film, and also in the earlier, eponymous non-fiction book (1997), by Sebastian Junger. The only woman swordfish captain on the Eastern Seaboard, Greenlaw was also a “high-liner,” or high producing captain, respected by her seagoing male peers and crews alike. You went on a boat she captained, and you made money. Lots of it. You also came home safely, unlike the captain and crew aboard the Andrea Gail, another sword fishing boat out of Gloucester, MA, which disappeared in the “perfect storm” of late autumn 1991 – never to be seen again.

I spent many years in and around the commercial fishing world in British Columbia. I worked on trollers, and I wrote about the entire fishing fleet, both the commercial fishermen and later, the sport fishing world. So I know a bit about the men and women who fish for a living in northern waters, and about the vessels they go to sea in. I am happy to tell you that in some parts of the book, Linda Greenlaw entertains me wonderfully well. This is one “fishy” (successful) captain; she knows fish, is fascinated by them, and oddly, respects them. She has spent a lot of time thinking about the ways of fish – and also about the term “lucky,” which she both accepts and rejects, as it is applied to her career. It wasn’t “luck,” after all, that made her decide to return to port and miss the deadly storm that sank the Andrea Gail … it was a carefully calculated decision, which put safety ahead of monetary gain.

I may not have been shaken up by Seaworthy – but damn, I still liked sharing time with Linda Greenlaw again. Her passages about the feelings that fishing evokes – elemental, immense feelings, which go straight back to earliest times, man against “beast,” look, see, there’s the harpoon raised high and descending – were as exciting and as precise as ever. There is an undeniable thrill to “the hunt” – if not to the killing and then “butchering,” or cleaning of fish. If you haven’t fished in this way, I may be leaving you cold and queasy by now. If you have fished this way … yeah, go ahead and read the book. You’ll enjoy it.

Greenlaw is a dependably crisp and evocative writer. She is also candid when she writes about her quirky and competive nature. Uncommon people living uncommon lives are always interesting – to me, at any rate. I enjoyed even the quietest of her memoirs, Lobster Chronicles. She always reminds me that well-written memoirs, like the best of fiction, are the ones we remember.

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