Linda Greenlaw is a renowned swordboat skipper and best-selling author. When we first meet this fearless Mainer in her latest book, “Seaworthy: A Swordboat Captain Returns to the Sea,” she has added an unlikely role to her resume — prisoner.

Escorted in handcuffs, Greenlaw is walking to a prison cell in St. John’s, Newfoundland, where she has been arrested and her boat seized for illegally entering a Canadian fishing zone.

If Greenlaw wanted to test herself after a decade away from the sea, this episode wasn’t quite what she had in mind. Yet it merely hints at the turbulence ahead. “Seaworthy” has drama to spare, with more theatrics and suspense, both natural and man-made, than anyone could have foreseen.

When Greenlaw received the offer to captain the 63-foot “Seahawk” on a trip to the famed Grand Banks of Newfoundland, she couldn’t resist. True, her life had changed in the 10 years since her last blue-water trek. She had traded the high-wire act of swordboat fishing for a quieter domestic life that included lobster fishing, writing and parenting. Still, she was eager to get back in the game.

Greenlaw made several calls, and assembled a first-rate crew — four men, all friends and colleagues, who were older (ages 36 to 66) and wiser than those she’d led before. In the past, she says, “I had always hired from the neck down.” A more seasoned Greenlaw, however, regarded this trip as a mental challenge, and would hire accordingly.

The older-wiser theme is one that Greenlaw milks to colorful, sometimes ironic, effect. We learn repeatedly that Greenlaw, at 47, is a vast improvement over her younger self, whose snits and foul mouth were often on display.

Yet even now, a crew member has to dissuade the incorrigible captain from posing commando-style for a photo, with a gun she swipes from the stash of the Canadian officials who, after arresting her, lie asleep nearby on her boat.

No doubt it helps to be older and wiser when faced with the onslaught of hurdles that loom on this trip. The Seahawk proves to be a disaster-in-motion, with its engine, ice machine and radar in disrepair. The boat goes from one major malfunction to another, losing critical fishing time and requiring an ego-deflating tow back to shore.

While the boat’s troubles mount, the fishing also proves problematic. Greenlaw’s command of swordfishing dazzles in its breadth and complexity. She easily juggles an array of tools, assessing tides, phases of the moon, ocean depths and professional hunches.

All of this comes to naught when her boat gets “sharked,” its lines tangled in shark-infested waters.

What keeps the Seahawk — and the story — afloat amid so many mishaps is a remarkable crew. These four hulking men become a model of teamwork. Their mix of outsized personalities and keen skills, plus vital infusions of humor, manage to keep morale high.

On balance, Greenlaw’s two-month odyssey doesn’t qualify as the trip from hell — after all, everyone survives. But it’s a close call. One crew member nearly dies in stormy seas; another endures a medical crisis. Oddly enough, such incidents, with their adrenaline surge, reveal part of swordfishing’s allure.

“During this trip a presidential election would take place, and we wouldn’t vote, and the results hardly caused a ripple — literally — in our waters,” Greenlaw says. “People could die, be buried and eulogized without our ever hearing that they’d been sick. We would live, breathe, eat, and sleep swordfishing.”

“Seaworthy” isn’t the fantasy comeback tale that Greenlaw had hoped for, which may serve the book well. Adversity suits this scrappy, no-nonsense author, who seems to thrive in dire conditions. The result is a fast-paced, lively adventure.


Joan Silverman writes op-eds, essays and book reviews for numerous publications. She lives in Kennebunk.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.