Working at jobs we see as rewarding and fulfilling never happens for some of us. We can go through several careers and jobs before some of us find the right path. The really lucky among us see their opportunities early on and focus on making their work life fit their DNA. Linda Greenlaw, the swordfish boat captain featured in The Perfect Storm book and film of the same name, is one of those really lucky people. Part of her success in combining her commercial fishing career with writing about it, is her ability to analyze and take most of the opportunities that come her way.
Greenlaw went to Colby College in Maine as part of a multi-generation of Colby graduates. Her parents saw her graduating from Colby and moving on to law school. In the process of paying her tuition at Colby, Greenlaw found work as a cook on a swordfish boat when she was 19. What started as fishing for tuition became her passion and she worked her way up to captain in just three years. Her career path changed from law to commercial fishing. The 67-foot Gloria Dean was her first job as captain.
Swordfishing boats usually spend a month offshore working with the lunar system, setting out hundreds of feet of hooks before the full moon when the temperature changes and the tide runs hard. The all-male crews are selected by the captain. Speaking of crews, Greenlaw says, “One thousand miles out, you’re stuck with them, and that’s the way it is.” An experienced captain on a good boat with everything up to date and in good repair, helps the captain sign on a good crew, as the prospects for making a good payday at the end of a 30-day trip are better with a good boat. Greenlaw captained good boats with good crews. Her trips were financially rewarding to the crews.
While Greenlaw was making a name for herself as one of the best swordfishing captains on the East Coast of the US, it was the book, The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger that propelled her into the limelight as a survivor. She had the last radio contact with the captain of the Andrea Gail, the sword boat that was in the worst part of the storm. Greenlaw could have been there with her boat, but chose to move away from the worst part of the storm.
Sometimes called the no-name storm or the Halloween Gale Storm, the nor’easter that absorbed Hurricane Grace evolved into a small, unnamed hurricane. The storm turned south and weakened but moving over warmer waters gave it new life as a subtropical storm. It became a full hurricane with peak winds of 75 miles an hour but the National Hurricane Center never named it. The storm destroyed or severely damaged 100 houses in Massachusetts and an equal number in Maine. A buoy off the coast of Nova Scotia recorded a 100-foot wave, the highest wave ever recorded there.
When Sebastian Junger’s book became a best seller in 1997, featuring Linda Greenlaw as the swordfisherman who survived with her boat and crew, publishers invited Greenlaw to write her own book. Her first book, The Hungry Ocean was published in 1999. Periodically giving up swordfishing for lobstering and writing, Greenlaw was arrested in 2008 on a swordfishing trip for fishing on the wrong side of the line for the 200 mile limit around Canada during the taping of the second season of the TV Show, Swords: Life on the Line. After the arrest in mid-ocean it took two days to get the boat to shore, giving the boat’s owner time to get bail money in place for her arrival in Newfoundland. She was processed and barely in a jail cell long enough to describe it in Seaworthy.
Although she says writing is hard and not what she likes to do, Greenlaw has combined inshore fishing, lobstering and writing. Since the first book, The Hungry Ocean was published and made the New York Times Best Seller List, she has written Lobster Chronicles, All Fishermen Are Liars, Seaworthy, Lifesaving Lessons, several detective novels and two cookbooks written with her mother.
In 2010 Greenlaw made a deal with the Hannaford Supermarket chain with over 100 stores in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts and eastern upstate New York. By cutting out the distributor/middleman, Hanafords could afford to pay Greenlaw a higher price for her entire catch and the stores could sell her name to promote customer recognition and sell the quality swordfish she supplies at a lower price – a win-win for the fisherman and for Hannafords. Hannafords sold over 20,000 pounds of swordfish in the first week of their connection. Working with the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, Hannafords will carry only traceable and sustainably harvested seafood in their stores.
Although Greenlaw loved the swordfishing life, she had always seen herself marrying and having a family. Lobstering and writing provided a more stable background for relationships to grow and although out of order, she did ultimately get the marriage and family she hoped for. Her daughter came by way of Greenlaw becoming legal guardian for a teenage girl who had worked for her one summer painting buoys. The girl’s mother gave her up to a person who abused her and the girl ultimately thought of Greenlaw as her mother.
When Greenlaw got used to being responsible for the girl she withdrew from a long=term relationship that was not heading toward marriage. Cooling of her relationship from boyfriend to friend gave her a chance to look at other possibilities. After delivering a friend’s boat to WESMAC, the Surry, Maine boatbuilder, she anchored and waited for a ride to shore. The President of WESMAC rowed her ashore and there was enough interest on both sides to start a romance. Eight months later when she told her parents she was marrying Steve Wessel, they questioned her haste. She said, “I’m 5l – how long do you want me to wait?”
Now, as Linda Greenlaw Wessel, she can lobster when she wants to or work at WESMAC as a broker, do boat deliveries or sea trials. Having a more financially secure future has enabled Greenlaw Wessel to enter a partnership with Seth Cote of Perry’s Lobster Shack that offers “Lobster 101.” Greenwood will take up to six people out on her 20 year old wooden lobster boat, the Earnest. The tour takes people out and shows them how lobstermen bait their traps, set them and haul them, allowing passengers to participate in each part of the process. She also does Sunset Cruises, a Cocktail Cruise and a Floating Picnic Cruise. A two-hour cruise for six people costs $500.
Of all Greenlaw Wessel’s books I liked the first one, The Hungry Ocean, the story of a swordfish captain’s trip from leaving the dock to the return a month later, published in 1999. I like authenticity and you feel you are along for the ride. What comes close in the “you are there” feeling is her description of the jail cell and her feelings about being there in Seaworthy.
You catch early on in her books Greenlaw Wessel’s incredible work ethic. She says she has never worked with or for anyone from whom she has not learned something. How lucky we fish-eaters are that this small band of commercial fishermen is committed to the long and dangerous days offshore and weeks away from home and family that provide us with fresh fish.
Ginger-Garlic Pan Roasted Swordfish
A colorful and tasty way to cook swordfish is to pan roast it.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
For 12 oz. (2 pieces – 6 oz. each) of swordfish
In a bowl add a clove of minced garlic
½ tsp. of lemon zest (or lime)
1 tsp. grated red pepper
2 tsp. chopped parsley
2 tsp. cut up chives
½ tsp. grated ginger (Spice World Squeeze Ginger saves time & energy) and
3 tablespoons of butter – blend.
Heat l/2 tbsp. butter and 1/2 tbsp. olive oil in ovenproof skillet.
Brown swordfish for 2 or 3 minutes, turn, roast in oven 10 minutes.
Add seasoned butter mixture to skillet and cook until bubbling.
Transfer to serving dish and pour butter sauce over swordfish.