Thursday, June 17, 2010

a review of "Seaworthy" [44]

Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea by Linda Greenlaw
(Viking, ISBN 978-0-670-02192-5)

I make no secret of a certain fondness for things of the sea, and no secret that one of my favorite author about the sea is Linda Greenlaw.
She first became know to us when Sebastian Junger's, in his 1997 best-seller, "The Perfect Storm," called her "not only one of the only women in the business ... but one of the best captains, period, on the entire East Coast." For many of us, that book was the beginning of a certain fascination with long line swordfishing and several books since then by Ms. Greenlaw have fueled our interest. Happily, with the publication of Seaworthy, we have another installment in the story.

It has been ten years since Greenlaw last captained a swordfishing boat and her life has taken some different turns. She returned to Isle au Haut, Maine, took up lobster fishing, became the guardian of a teenage girl and wrote 3 non-fiction books about fishing, a delightful cookbook with her mother and two mystery novels. But still, when she got the call offering her a position as the caption of thw Seahawk, to undertake a 2 month fishing trip in the fall of 2008 for swordfish, it is not an exaggeration to say that she jumped at the chance.
"At sea—it's more a feeling than it is a place.
It was this feeling, the state of being at sea, that I hadn't experienced in ten years. This sensation is the result of living the total contradiction of burden and freedom. I am the captain, I thought. The freedom to make all decisions, unquestioned and without input, was something that I had missed during my sabbatical. To be held ultimately, although not solely, responsible for the lives and livelihoods of a loyal and capable crew was strangely exhilarating and empowering. But high hopes and expectations were weighty loads. It's the willingness, and not the ability, to bear that burden that separates captains from their crew. Right here and right now, as the Seahawk plodded along, I was fondly embracing the burden of that responsibility. Just being on the boat made me feel good."
She signed up a eager crew of four experienced men, several of them her good friends and set out to pick up their boat. And so began the problems.

The Seahawk turned out to be...
"the rustiest of buckets, with sprung, busted and ancient equipment guaranteed to fail at any critical moment."
..and it was pretty much downhill from there. An engine breakdown that require a tow to Nova Scotia, constant equipment problems, the electrocution of a crew member and the near drowning of, things are never dull on the Grand Banks. But perhaps the highlight of the story...and a great story it Greenlaw's arrest by Canadian authorities, complete with handcuffs and a cell and a fine that left her actually owing money after two months work.

And yet for all that, we have no doubt that if she gets that call again, she will be packing her bag. Greenlaw is one of those few that maybe feel more at home on the deck of a boat a 1000 miles from home, waves crashing over them, than anywhere else. And that is maybe the most interesting aspect of her books for me, what makes these people, again and again, return to the sea. For all her new commitments and changes in her life, she can not get it out her blood, the thrill, the challenge of it all.
"Every time I believed I had swordfish figured out, they threw me a curve. They're clever, and elusive, and mysterious. Swordfish and I first engaged in this game of hide and seek in 1979. And thirty years later we're both still in the game."
Greenlaw wonders, at the beginning of her journey, how she will fare, captaining a swordfishing boat after a decade away, whether she will be up to the challenge. She is changed, yes. She is older, more mellow, more introspective. But she is, happily for the reader, as humorous as ever, as good a proponent of this industry as there is, and an excellent storyteller, totally Seaworthy.


  1. I really like Linda Greenlaw too. It's too bad more women don't know who she is, because she really defies a bunch of stereotypes, and is quite an engaging writer as well.

  2. I am so glad that you wrote this review! I was not familiar with this author, but when I saw a copy of The Lobster Chronicles at the library book sale last week, I decided to risk a buck and bought it for my husband (who also loves everything sea/ocean related). I think I made a decision :)

  3. I echo what Jill said, this woman is admirable for breaking all of the stereotypes. She is certainly an over-achiever! I remember reading about her cookbook...that must have been you that reviewed it!

  4. I've been waiting for your review of this book ---- and you've changed my mind about it after the so-so NPR review. I love that she did this and returned to fishing again. As well as her author career has gone, I've always had it in mind that she belongs on the water.

  5. well, I do admit I think the cookbook she did with her mother is fantastic. I love the book of it, the photographs, the graphic...not to mention the food and the stories.

    as to her other non-fiction, yes, I am a fan. I think she is a very good writer, she tells a great story and she is quite funny...which covers a lot for me with a writer. Perhaps her first book, The Hungry Ocean, was my favorite, but this is a worthy sequel.

    now, I must admit, in the spirit of full disclosure, her fiction is another matter IMHO....

  6. I'm embarassed to say I have not read any books by my fellow Mainer. Must remember to put Greenlaw on the list the next time I go to the library! Thanks for the reminder.

  7. oh Beth, you should be so ashamed. lol

  8. Nice :-) Great review. I've never read Greenlaw but you make it sound very appealing! :-)

  9. I do remember Linda Greenlaw from "The Perfect Storm" (what a good book that was!). I never did read any of her other books, but you're making a strong case for doing so.

  10. her books tell a chronological story, so I think it is best to read them in order. Start with The Hungry Ocean, go on to The Lobster Chronicles and then finish with Seaworthy, fitting All Fisherman Are Liars in wherever.


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