Thursday book: Here comes the perfect swordfish
THE HUNGRY OCEAN BY LINDA GREENLAW, HODDER & STOUGHTON, pounds 14.99
Thursday 15 July 1999
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.
Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Stuart Baggs dies: Apprentice star 'The Brand' found dead aged 27
- 2 Whoopi Goldberg tells Cara Delevingne to suck it up: 'She's not famous. I'M famous'
- 3 1000 people played Foo Fighters simultaneously to try and get them to play their city
- 4 Every club should be like Labour – you can’t join as a new member unless you’re already a member
- 5 Doctor Who: Christopher Eccleston says why he left the BBC series after just one series
Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn – or a return to a Labour government
Labour leadership contender Jeremy Corbyn says 'we can learn a great deal from Karl Marx'
Is Britain really full up? Are migrants taking our jobs? Leading academic answers the most common anti-immigration claims
Public anger after French sunbather beaten up by gang for wearing a bikini in Reims park
Labour leadership: New poll shows party is now even 'less electable' than under Ed Miliband
While we fixate on Calais, the Home Office is quietly deporting dozens of migrants on 'ghost flights'