Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea
By age 47 Linda Greenlaw had led a life that by any counts would seem like two lifetimes to the average person. Average is something Greenlaw is not. Made the only female captain of a swordfishing boat at age 24, she retains that status and has earned the accolade from Sebastian Junger, author of THE PERFECT STORM, in which she is featured as “one of the best captains, period, on the entire east coast.” She was 29 in 1991 as she and her crew set out for the Grand Banks in the face of one of the deadliest winter storms in history that caught her and her companion boats in the deadly North Atlantic. She never could have dreamed that nearly 20 years later, she would find herself in a completely different kind of adventure --- one of a legal nature --- when she hit the sea.
Greenlaw had continued deep water fishing until 1997, but the scarcity of swordfish in the North Atlantic forced fishermen to seek alternative income sources, so she bought her own boat and turned to lobstering. This brought about a more land-based life, so she purchased a home off the coast of Maine on tiny Isle au Haut and took a foster daughter under her wing. In her spare time she wrote five books, two of them hitting the New York Times bestseller lists. Between setting and hauling lobster traps and family responsibilities, she traveled on book tours and made personal appearances. After 10 years, she began to hear the siren call of deep water fishing as newly minted rules governing the once free-for-all deep water fishing industry brought about a resurgence of the Atlantic swordfish population. This wily predator, whose only natural underwater enemy was the shark, had fought its way back, and its human hunters were returning to the North Banks in search of this popular delicacy and formidable challenger to their skills.
By then, Greenlaw’s world was safe, quiet, predictable, even humdrum, so when an old friend who owned a fleet of boats called to say, “I need a swordfish captain for this season, Linda. Will you do it?” she caved. With little time to hire a crew and re-fit the Sea Hawk to make it seaworthy, they were soon headed for the Grand Banks off the coast of Newfoundland. Within three weeks, she found herself being escorted by the Canadian Coast Guard to a Newfoundland port, booked and placed behind bars, wondering if perhaps she might have picked more adventure than she had bargained for.
The title of the book, SEAWORTHY, applies equally to Greenlaw and to the creaking boat Sea Hawk. She knew she was a little out of shape, because the difference between hauling lobster traps off the Maine coast and setting 40 miles of lines in the stormy North Atlantic brought that fact home immediately. She quickly restored her skills and was fit and sound within a few days. The Sea Hawk was not. Soon to acquire a much less romantic, non-nautical name by her motley but hardworking crew, the bucket of rusty parts and wheezing engines tempted almost all of them to jump ship each time they pulled into a port for repairs. Only Greenlaw’s newfound maturity, pit-bull tenacity, and the sense of humor of her first mate kept them on board for the big prize --- a payload of swordfish.
SEAWORTHY finds Greenlaw at a philosophical point in her life. This introspective examination of her own reaction to the near disasters that beset her and her crew surprises her as she recalls how she would have acted in her younger, more fiery years as a sea captain. She realized, with each new snafu, that she had mellowed in her nearly 30 years at sea, yet her fierce drive to overcome the elements and the setbacks heightened the camaraderie and loyalty between her and her crew. Her awareness and appreciation of her prey has been heightened, too, by the years.
SEAWORTHY is laced with Greenlaw’s own special agility with words, spinning tales of the joys, beauty and terrors that await any deep water fisherman, whether for sport or for a living. Even if your fishing experience is limited to hanging a line over the side of a row boat, or trekking along a mountain stream, the thrill of that tug on the line, that breaking of the surface of a sinewy, battling fish, is brought vividly to life.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 23, 2011