Is She Still 'Seaworthy'?: A Mariner's Misadventures

Seaworthy
Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns To The Sea
By Linda Greenlaw
Hardcover, 256 pages
Viking Adult
List price: $25.95
Read An Excerpt

Ten years after retiring from long-line offshore fishing for a life of lobster-trapping and writing on Isle au Haut off the coast of Maine, Linda Greenlaw succumbed to "a deep yearning to go out of [her] comfort zone one more time" and find out whether, at 47, she was still seaworthy. The woman hailed by Sebastian Junger in The Perfect Storm as "one of the best swordboat captains, period, on the East Coast," signed on to pilot the 63-foot Seahawk on two swordfishing expeditions that would span 60 days and take her some 1,000 miles from home, to the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. What she hadn't signed on for was landing (briefly) in a Canadian jail, or losing money on her venture.

Like The Hungry Ocean, Greenlaw's best-selling 1999 account of captaining the Hannah Boden, Seaworthy charts this trip from hiring crew to selling their catch, with a lively narrative mix of adventure, colorful character portraits and calamity. But the story she tells of perseverance over hardship this time around is quite different. Instead of a triumphant, safe return with a record catch, this excursion, while not ending tragically, does not end entirely happily, either.

Greenlaw notes repeatedly that she has changed, both physically and mentally, in the 10 years since she last fished blue water: "I had always hired from the neck down. But at the age of 47, I realized that I had changed and that perhaps my criteria for crew needed to change." Her four-man crew is more mature and stable than in the past, and she, too, is less volatile. She writes, "I had definitely developed a more thorough thought process in the last ten years, I realized. I was actually being considerate."

Another difference is that whereas the Hannah Boden was a sleek 100-foot vessel outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, the Seahawk is a 63-foot hunk of rust and outdated, malfunctioning electronics. In her eagerness to fish again, Greenlaw overlooks some minimum standards — and pays for her oversights: After just 48 hours at sea, she suffers the humiliation of requiring a tow back to Nova Scotia for engine repair. In the end, the boat seems held together by bungee cords and epoxy.

Linda Greenlaw i i

Swordfishing captain Linda Greenlaw (center) is also the author of The Hungry Ocean, The Lobster Chronicles and All Fishermen Are Liars. She lives on Isle au Haut, Maine. Dave Hiltz hide caption

itoggle caption Dave Hiltz
Linda Greenlaw

Swordfishing captain Linda Greenlaw (center) is also the author of The Hungry Ocean, The Lobster Chronicles and All Fishermen Are Liars. She lives on Isle au Haut, Maine.

Dave Hiltz

Greenlaw knows how to spin a good yarn out of nightmarish setbacks, including her arrest by the Canadian coast guard after the Seahawk drifts into Canadian waters. She comments, "My detractors accuse me of intentionally crossing the line for publicity or for a book opportunity, to which I say bullshit — not my style. It happened. I have now written about it. So call me a pragmatist. But don’t call me an opportunist."

While The Hungry Ocean offers a clearer picture of the nuts, bolts and economics of commercial fishing (and is less riddled with cliches), Seaworthy is a more reflective book, pondering not just the vagaries of nature but the nature of success and self-definition. Greenlaw's voyage of discovery culminates in several instructive moments, including her realization that "the standard by which I measured my own worthiness" had indeed grown beyond mere "seaworthiness."

Excerpt: 'Seaworthy'

Seaworthy
Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns To The Sea
By Linda Greenlaw
Hardcover, 256 pages
Viking Adult
List price: $25.95

Ripe and one sliver shy of full, the cantaloupe moon shone a flashlight beam along our path as we steamed east through the Gulf of Maine. It was glassy calm, and running lights glowed dimly on the stabilizing birds at the ends of the booms, rounding their edges to appear like jet engines under wings, red on port and green on starboard. This breathless night allowed us to haul the birds out of the water and gain a full knot in speed, as they normally ride below the surface to retard the roll of the boat and they slow us down in the process. The steady drone of the diesel two decks below added a soothing hum to the slow, gentle rocking of mysterious origin. The last of the lime green landmass had crept from the edge of the radar screen as the faded umbrella of city lights closed over our wake. 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. I was confident. And confidence is a key to success.

I tweaked a knob on the autopilot to correct our course two degrees and remain on a perfect heading according to the numbers displayed on both GPS's. As I eased myself back into the captain's chair, Arch pulled himself up the narrow stairway and into the dark-paneled wheelhouse beside me. "Everything is secure below. Timmy is in the engine room doing a few things, Dave is reading a magazine at the galley table, and Machado is sleeping," he reported. "I really like Machado. He's so funny! I think he'll more than make up for not being around to help at the dock. You got a great crew!"

"Thanks, Arch. I know I do." I meant it. Confidence in my crew fed my personal confidence. I believed that this was the best crew I had ever sailed with. Certainly the most mature; we probably wouldn't be plagued by the usual crew problems that stem from basic personality differences and lack of sleep. I wouldn't have to break up any fistfights or garnish any wages as punishment for poor behavior. Small squabbles could be annoying, I knew. And nothing was more exasperating than trying to reason with real, solid, mutual hatred when both parties are virtually connected at the hip for an extended voyage. Liking one another was huge. As far as work ethics go, nothing beats the older, more experienced guys. It's very much like the "young bull/old bull" thing. Four of the five of us owned and operated our own boats, so we already knew the basic moves that otherwise needed to be taught. Mike Machado was the only non-captain aboard, but he was also the only one other than me with any Grand Banks fishing experience. And between the two of us, I suspected that we had racked up more miles along the salty way than any pair I could think of. "Yes," I said, "I think we have a winning team aboard. Just the right combination of talents and strengths."

"Speaking of talents and strengths, here I am," Tim said laughingly as he popped his head through the back door of the wheelhouse behind Archie. "The engine room is looking good. The water maker is cranking out, and the ice machine is making great ice—lots of it. I just shoveled. How's the list?" he asked, referring to whether or not the boat was leaning. I looked directly at the bow to determine that we were indeed not listing to either side and gave a silent nod. I was happy to forgo the usual lecture on the importance of keeping the boat on an even keel and the dangers inherent in not doing so, which is why I'd asked Tim to compensate by moving ice or fuel.

"Why didn't you tell me? I would have helped you shovel," said Archie.

"You take care of the galley, and the rest of us will handle the shoveling. Thanks for dinner, by the way. It was great," Tim said. I was relieved that Timmy had understood without having to be told that Archie was valuable in many ways and that none of his assets were in evidence on the end of a shovel. At his age and with the range of experience and breadth of knowledge that Archie had concerning just about anything, I didn't want to waste him in the fish hold. Again, I was appreciating the maturity level of my shipmates. I knew that Archie and Tim had a mutual liking and respect for each other, reminding me of father and son.

"I'm gonna call Marge tomorrow and get a recipe for chicken," Arch said. "Do you mind if I hook up the satellite phone in this corner? It's the only place the antenna wire reaches. Everyone can use it to make calls." He was twisting the small coupling at the end of the rubber-coated wire that came through a hole in the aft bulkhead and terminated in the corner he'd mentioned. The five of us had a lot in common, I realized. Our similarities went beyond the fishing gene. Food was of utmost importance, as was family. So a call home for a chicken recipe was a no-brainer. "I'm gonna fix that computer on my watch tonight. Did you find the manual for the weather fax? I know I can get that going. I bungeed the hell out of our stateroom. These things are coming in really handy so far," he said as he pulled a short loop of bungee cord out of a hip pocket. "These and the two-part epoxy . . . I can keep us going with this stuff." I had always known Archie as a guy with a short attention span. I guess you'd call it adult ADD.

Excerpted from Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns To The Sea by Linda Greenlaw. Copyright 2010 by Linda Greenlaw. Excerpted by permission of Viking Adult.

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