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From Barnes & NobleThe Barnes & Noble Review
When Sebastian Junger tried to interview Linda Greenlaw for his bestselling book The Perfect Storm, he could never find her. She was always out fishing. He was researching the events that led to the disappearance of the Andrea Gail, a swordfishing boat that went down off the coast of Nova Scotia in October 1991. Six crew members died in the storm.
He heard stories about Greenlaw, who had been a commercial fisherman for 17 years and was rumored to be one of the best swordfishing captains around. Then he saw a woman in work boots strolling along the waterfront in Massachusetts. "She was straight-talking, humble, and seemed utterly in love with what she did," he writes. "In a business that leaves many people hardened and bitter, Linda was a wonderful exception."
The Hungry Ocean is Greenlaw's own memoir of one trip as captain of the Hannah Boden, one of the most well outfitted and successful swordfishing boats in the offshore fleet. It was the sister ship to the Andrea Gail, and Greenlaw recounts steaming through the fog one week after the Halloween storm. She and her crew scoured the gray water for a raft that might have kept the six men alive. All they found was a plastic drum with the ship's initials, which was not what they were hoping for.
Offshore fishing is one of the most dangerous jobs around, even when the weather does cooperate. The Hungry Ocean is a no-nonsense account of what it takes to bring back a ship with its hold full of 50,000 pounds of swordfish -- from the backbreaking process of hauling in lines to deftly navigating racial tensions among crew members. Greenlaw may be the only female swordfishing captain in the world, but she never considered her gender to be particularly relevant when commanding a crew or steering a ship.
She discovered her hunger when she was 12 years old on the coast of Maine. She abandoned the woods and bayberry bushes where she had built forts and wandered to the ocean instead. She watched a boy picking lobsters from a trap, listened to the lapping of the sea in a hermit crab shell, and was hooked for life.
At the age when most teenagers dream of tooling around in the family car, she gravitated toward her dad's 40-foot powerboat. She took her first offshore job at the age of 19, working her way through college as a cook. When one of the crew members injured his back, she took his place on deck, where she has remained for nearly two decades.
Greenlaw is at her best describing the minute details, combined with the pure excitement, of catching monster fish. After days of bad weather and temperaments, everyone on the boat knows when the fishing is about to get good. The water temperature breaks just right, the baitfish slap the surface of the water, and spirits rise. The crew is rewarded for 20-hour days and little sleep with every hook that lifts a gleaming, purple-blue swordfish onto the deck.
Greenlaw combines the day-to-day events aboard an offshore boat with stories of past trips. Her challenges include not only life-threatening weather but also drug-addled crew members and other captains moving in on her turf. The Hungry Ocean also hints at some of the things she has given up in her life -- romance, normalcy, and a home base. That's why taking time off from fishing to write a book seemed alluring, she writes in the introduction. But the departure from her true passion proved temporary.
"One year later...I wonder daily if the opportunity to write this book was a blessing or a curse. Writing has proved to be hard work, often painful. I can honestly say that I would rather be fishing." Jennifer Langston