Linda Greenlaw ’83 became a well-known fisherman in 1997 when Sebastian Junger lauded her abilities as a swordboat captain in his book The Perfect Storm, a chronicle of the “Halloween Storm” of 1991, in which six men were lost at sea. In 1999 Greenlaw published The Hungry Ocean, which became a bestseller. She’s been busy ever since—publishing five other books, from a mystery novel to a cookbook.
So who is Linda Greenlaw—fisherman or author?
In Seaworthy, her latest book, Greenlaw is back fishing the Grand Banks after a 10-year absence from swordfishing. Seaworthy captures the grueling thrill of long-line fishing from the 63-foot Seahawk while detailing life for a month a thousand miles offshore.
Greenlaw’s fluid narrative shows the complexity of managing crew and boat while navigating unforeseen variables, for the Seahawk voyage was anything but smooth sailing. Serious engine trouble, a hold filling with water, and Greenlaw’s well-publicized arrest for fishing in Canadian waters were just some of the hurdles Greenlaw faced with tenacity, maturity, and single-minded perseverance.
Seaworthy also gets us into Greenlaw’s fisherman’s head. The book dives deep into what it means to be a captain, which Greenlaw writes is a “total contradiction of burden and freedom. … 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 … 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.”
That willingness, however, was a long time coming. Before the Seahawk voyage Greenlaw hadn’t caught a single swordfish in 10 years. Instead, she was lobstering and writing books on her adopted home of Isle au Haut, Maine, and doing book tours around the country. While she knew she had a good gig, the desire to catch swordfish never waned. And always in the back of her mind was the nagging question of her identity.
“I’m introduced every night on book tours as a best-selling author,” she said in an interview in Bucksport, Maine, before yet another book signing. “How come they’re not introducing me as a fisherman?”
After she agreed to captain the Seahawk, the fears set in. “I felt like my entire identity was at risk. What if I don’t like it anymore? What if I’m totally disenchanted with what I say I am?” she recalled feeling. “I still feel like a fisherman. What if I’m not?”
In other words, was Linda Greenlaw still seaworthy?
Greenlaw, originally from Topsham, Maine, had been a summer kid on Isle Au Haut, six miles off the Maine coast, where her grandfather, Aubrey Greenlaw ’20, lived. (Aubrey’s three sons attended Colby as well: Charles ’50, George ’55, and James ’57, Linda’s father.) Greenlaw herself was 19 and a student at Colby when she made her first swordfishing trip.
At 5' 4", she may not appear capable of wrestling 100-pound swordfish, but her slight frame belies her grit. With more than 30 years experience fishing everything from lobster to crab to squid to tuna, Greenlaw says swordfish are the most exciting and challenging fish to catch. While there’s money to be made, she “fishes sword” mostly because she loves it. The distance from shore, fishing with the lunar cycle, and managing the changing parameters of tide, temperature, and current add significantly to the adventure.
The Hungry Ocean chronicles this love and captures the essence of her 20 years swordfishing. The hungry ocean “refers to the ocean’s ability to totally consume,” she said. “When I wrote that book, I felt as though my life had been consumed for twenty years by something I have loved to do.”
“Seaworthy is so much more mature and totally different,” she continued, referring to the book’s exploration of the willingness to captain. “It was like all my life ‘seaworthy’ had been the most complimentary adjective that I could aspire to or attribute to anyone.” Although her voyage aboard the Seahawk wasn’t the “noted comeback” she wanted, she proved to herself that her identity is intact. She is a fisherman, she knows, and seaworthy.
This fall Greenlaw is again swordfishing the Grand Banks. When she returns she’ll begin another book, not about fishing but about how she became legal guardian of a young girl, now 18, who was a newcomer to Isle au Haut.
So who is Linda Greenlaw—fisherman or author?
“My checkbook says I’m an author,” she said. “but my heart says I’m a fisherman.”