Linda Greenlaw,
The Hungry Ocean
(Hyperion, 1999; 2006)

Linda Greenlaw achieved some measure of fame as a supporting character.

In the book and movie The Perfect Storm, the focus was on the captain and crew of the Andrea Gail, the luckless swordfishing vessel that was lost in an amazing turn of weather. Throughout, Greenlaw was the voice of reason, captain of the Gail's sister ship Hannah Boden, who tried to warn her friends of the coming danger and, when it was all over, brought her ship safely home.

Now, Greenlaw tells her story in The Hungry Ocean, a less thrilling but equally fascinating tale of a four-week swordfishing run over the Grand Banks.

Writing with the casual, conversational style of a story told over coffee and breakfast, Greenlaw describes the details of preparing for and executing a swordfishing expedition. She describes at length the supplies needed and the work that must be done to prepare for the water. She explains the crew dynamics, worries about the persistent illness of one crewman and wrangles over the racist attitudes of another. She frets over the readings as she steams northeast in the ocean and fills in the logistics on temperatures, currents and competing boats. She admits to occasional lies regarding fishing conditions in her wake.

She also recalls yarns from her earlier days, before she captained her own ship and sailed with others. She conveys the feeling of complete, utter exhaustion that is par for the course on a cruise of this nature. By the end of this book, you'll know how to clean a fish, whether you want to or not. Greenlaw also describes in great detail the act of bringing a struggling swordfish aboard. Some readers might blanch just a bit at the rough handling:

A dorsal fin cut the surface; then hell broke loose as the fish slashed wildly with its 3-foot-long sword. The fish's bill and back were lit up in blue and purple, and its sides flashed in silver and pink. With two short jerks, Kenny and Ringo sunk their gaff hooks into the head of the fish and pulled it toward the door in the rail. The fish thrashed, and the water flew. Grabbing a 24-inch steel meat hook, I reached through the door and placed the hook into one of the fish's eye sockets.

Ow. Ew.

But there's more, from slovenly fishing captains to the perils of going to the head (that's the bathroom in lubberspeak) in rough weather. All in all, it's a satisfying fisherman's tale about the ones that got away -- and the ones who made it to the fishmarket back home in Gloucester.

by Tom Knapp
23 September 2006

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