Thursday book: Here comes the perfect swordfish

THE HUNGRY OCEAN BY LINDA GREENLAW, HODDER & STOUGHTON, pounds 14.99

YOU CAN forget The Perfect Storm. Now for the perfect swordfish. "It was by far the largest swordfish l had ever seen; I anxiously waited for the gaffs to be driven deeper into its massive head. My blood surged with excitement and I was intoxicated with the size of the fish now within our reach." Just another day in the life of Linda Greenlaw, who is not only a swordfish captain, but one of the best fishermen (she loathes the term "fisherwoman") on the Grand Banks of Newfoundland.

If it hadn't been for the sideways fame she won for being the one who got away from the Hallowe'en gale of 1991, when her sister ship the Andrea Gail and its six-man crew were fatally trapped in the eye of the storm, we would not even know Greenlaw's name. But intense public interest after the success of Sebastian Junger's book persuaded her to write her own story. Not of that once-in-a-lifetime hurricane, but of an ordinarily successful, month-long fishing trip.

There is, in truth, no need for either extraordinary fish or extraordinary weather. What Greenlaw regards as normal life is astonishing enough. This is a woman who regularly wrestles with swordfish and sharks ("I tugged a shark over the rail and threw it on to the deck body-slam fashion"). She rules her crew of five men with tough love. When she hauls a drunken crewman out of the icy water by his hair, she "gave one big heave and he flopped like a dead fish on the fibreglass deck". When the man on watch fails asleep, she averts disaster herself, then punches him on the jaw. That she is none the less popular and respected is nicely reflected in the way that, for all her bronzed, blonde good looks, the crew all call this redoubtable 37-year-old "Ma".

Greenlaw got hooked early on (sorry) on one of the world's toughest ways of making a living. She was only 12 when she went for a holiday at her grandfather's house on the coast of Maine, and saw a boy "not much bigger than myself" working with a lobster fisherman. That day she decided that she wanted to be a fisherman, and never faltered in her resolve.

Fishing paid her way through college. Then she started work in earnest on the Grand Banks, first as a cook; she was promoted to deckhand when a crewman was injured and she showed that she could cope. By the time she was 23 she was captain of the Gloria Dawn; 12 years later, she commanded the 100-ft-long Hannah Boden, the best-equipped boat in the Grand Banks fleet.

The Hungry Ocean is a calm, unhectic book in comparison with The Perfect Storm, written with a direct honesty and low-key modesty. But the course of the trip she describes, and a punctuation of anecdotes of other trips, make it clear that Greenlaw is a shrewd fishing tactician who excels at reaching lucrative shoals of fish that other boats fail to locate. Supportive to those in need, she is also a ruthless adversary. When she feels a shade guilty about misrepresenting (on the captains' evening radio round-up) how many fish she is catching, in order to keep other boats off her patch, she explains that "I lied for the sake of the livelihoods of my crew, my boss and myself, but mostly I lied because I had worked long and hard to be the best, and it felt good to be number one. Getting to the top of the heap was a painful journey, and I planned to stay there."

As captain, she has to soothe frictions between members of the crew, and make the unpopular decision not to scuttle home when gales threaten or fishing seems fruitless. Nor is getting home much fun. Imagine returning from a 30-day trip with a record- breaking load of 527 swordfish, 118 big-eye tuna and seven mako sharks, to be told by your intractable boss that you have just three days to turn the boat around and get out there again.

She is nonchalant about being the only woman in one of the ultimate men's worlds. "I never anticipated any problems stemming from being female, and never encountered any... I may be thick-skinned - or just too damn busy working to worry about what others may think of me."

So where's the love interest? Greenlaw is oddly resigned to the fact that there is no room for Cupid in the hold of a sword-boat. In truth, it's hard to imagine who could compete with "a streamlined and muscular missile with a bayonet - strong, swift and agile". All she seems to see of her home on Isle au Haut, Maine, is a promise in the distance; only occasional ship-to-shore calls connect her with her family and friends. There's a story there, but she doesn't tell it, and in fact I rather liked the elbow room this reticence gives to surmise.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Burr remains the baker to beat on the Great British Bake Off
tvRichard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
Arts and Entertainment
Kristen Scott Thomas in Electra at the Old Vic
theatreReview: Kristin Scott Thomas is magnificent in a five-star performance of ‘Electra’
Arts and Entertainment
Swiss guards stand in the Sistine Chapel, which is to be lit, and protected, by 7,000 LEDs
artSistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Hewer, Lord Alan Sugar, Karren Brady are returning for The Apprentice series 10

TV
Arts and Entertainment
There has been a boom in ticket sales for female comics, according to an industry survey

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Winona Ryder star in 'Girl, Interrupted'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Thomas Pynchon in 1955, left, and Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix in Paul Thomas Anderson's adaptation of his novel, Inherent Vice

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Nicole Scherzinger will join the cast of Cats

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Italian couples fake UK divorce scam on an ‘industrial scale’

    Welcome to Maidenhead, the divorce capital of... Italy

    A look at the the legal tourists who exploited our liberal dissolution rules
    Time to stop running: At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity

    Time to stop running

    At the start of Yom Kippur and with anti-Semitism flourishing, one Jew can no longer ignore his identity
    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    Tom and Jerry cartoons now carry a 'racial prejudice' warning on Amazon

    The vintage series has often been criticised for racial stereotyping
    An app for the amorous: Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?

    An app for the amorous

    Could Good2Go end disputes about sexual consent - without being a passion-killer?
    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid. Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?

    Llansanffraid is now Llansantffraid

    Welsh town changes its name, but can you spot the difference?
    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    Charlotte Riley: At the peak of her powers

    After a few early missteps with Chekhov, her acting career has taken her to Hollywood. Next up is a role in the BBC’s gangster drama ‘Peaky Blinders’
    She's having a laugh: Britain's female comedians have never had it so good

    She's having a laugh

    Britain's female comedians have never had it so good, says stand-up Natalie Haynes
    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LED lights designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows

    Let there be light

    Sistine Chapel to ‘sing’ with new LEDs designed to bring Michelangelo’s masterpiece out of the shadows
    Great British Bake Off, semi-final, review: Richard remains the baker to beat

    Tensions rise in Bake Off's pastry week

    Richard remains the baker to beat as Chetna begins to flake
    Paris Fashion Week, spring/summer 2015: Time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris

    A look to the future

    It's time travel fashion at Louis Vuitton in Paris
    The 10 best bedspreads

    The 10 best bedspreads

    Before you up the tog count on your duvet, add an extra layer and a room-changing piece to your bed this autumn
    Arsenal vs Galatasaray: Five things we learnt from the Emirates

    Arsenal vs Galatasaray

    Five things we learnt from the Gunners' Champions League victory at the Emirates
    Stuart Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    Lancaster’s long-term deal makes sense – a rarity for a decision taken by the RFU

    This deal gives England a head-start to prepare for 2019 World Cup, says Chris Hewett
    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence