Review: Seaworthy, by Linda Greenlaw

Linda Greenlaw
Viking, 256 pages
June, 2010
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Product Description (from Publishers Weekly):
After a 10-year hiatus from blue-water fishing, Greenlaw (Hungry Ocean) 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.

The thing about Linda Greenlaw’s books is that even if you have no real interest in commercial fishing, her storytelling style is so engaging, that for a moment at some point, you’ll wish you were on the boat with her. Well, you will if you’re not me. I love scented bubble baths, mochas, and mani-pedis too much to ever live the rough life of a fisherman, though I’ll admit that it must be nice to spend weeks at a time without all those ads exhorting you to “watch this” or “click here.”

Like many people, my first introduction to Greenlaw was through the book and the movie The Perfect Storm, but my first introduction to her writing was one of her books about lobstering and living on an island – I still haven’t managed to read The Hungry Ocean (I really want to, though). So this book, Seaworthy was my first experience with Greenlaw writing about her first passion, sword fishing, and for a moment, even I did want to be there.

Greenlaw’s writing, though, is so vivid that you almost are there with her in the wheelhouse of her boat, listening as she leads her crew into a battle against the sorry shape of their boat, the fish, the sea, the weather, and the calendar. It’s her first time back on a sword boat in ten years, and she admits to feeling rusty, but capable. Her crew, made mostly of people who have spent their lives fishing, clearly has deep respect for her, and if their interactions seem casual to the reader, then it’s best to remember that this is not a ship at war, but a commercial fishing boat.

It was only a line item at the end of the acknowledgments that made me realize Seaworthy was somehow connected to the Discovery Channel’s series Swords: Life on the Line which I vaguely remembered seeing ads for (I’m so talented, I missed both season one AND season two, however, despite the fact that they follow Shark Week, and you all KNOW I LOVE Shark Week.). Netflix had season one streaming, however, so while I was in bed with a nasty cold over the weekend, I watched all eight episodes.

The events relayed in Seaworthy roughly coincide with season one of Swords but the book includes events not shown in the series, and also goes into more detail. I’m looking forward to the second season, when it’s available on DVD or in streaming format.

As for this book, I read it in Kindle format, so I’ll probably have to archive it to save space at some point, but it’s definitely something I plan to re-read. It was a wonderful memoir, full of jeopardy and laced with humor. That Greenlaw went back out on a sword boat the next year, explains much about both the author, and the book.

Goes well with grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup.