PORT TOWNSEND — If you go tonight to hear author Linda Greenlaw talk about her life as a sword-boat captain, don’t ask her this question: How does it feel to be a woman in a male-dominated profession?
It’s the question she always gets asked at book signings, readings and press conferences, always by a woman. It’s not one she thinks is relevant, so she has evolved several stock answers:
“I’ve never been a man, so I don’t have any way to make a comparison,” she might say. Or she might respond, “I may be outnumbered, but I’ve never been dominated.”
Greenlaw, who lives in Maine, still goes sword fishing out of Gloucester as one of four captains featured on the Discovery Channel television show, “Swords.”
Greenlaw is also the author of The Hungry Ocean, the Port Townsend Library’s 2010 Community Read selection.
Greenlaw speaking tonight
Today, she is speaking to students at Port Townsend High School and will speak about her life wresting a living from the hungry ocean as well as read from the book, answer questions and sign books at a free public program tonight, starting at 7 p.m. at the Port Townsend High School, 1500 Van Ness St.
On Wednesday, Greenlaw was not outnumbered by the people she met at The Blue Moose cafe in the boat haven: women who are boat captains, shipwrights, riggers and sail makers and have all faced the same question.
“That’s why I only hired women the first 10 years,” Carol Hasse said.
“I knew that if I had a man as an employee, even as a janitor, people would come in and assume he was the owner.”
Hasse owns Hasse Sails, the second-oldest marine trades business in town, at Point Hudson. Also at the lunch were Kaci Cronkhite, Diana Talley, Lisa Vizzini and Kelley Watson.
Cronkhite is director of the Wooden Boat Festival and organized a Community Read program on the revival of marine trades in Port Townsend at the Northwest Maritime Center.
Talley owns Taku Boatwords and Vizzini is co-owner of Port Townsend Rigging, both in the boat haven.
Kelley Watson started commercial salmon fishing in southeast Alaska and now runs a commercial fishing tender, a job she has held for three years.
She said that being recognized as the person in charge is a problem: even after being told Watson was the captain, a female harbor master wrote down the name of Watson’s partner and crew member as captain when they came into port.
When she read Greenlaw’s book, Watson said she found it amazing that Greenlaw wrote that she didn’t have any problems being a woman fishing boat captain.
“Thick skin — you need to have thick skin,” Greenlaw told her.
Vizzini, who said she spent her honeymoon on a commercial fishing boat, also did commercial fishing and ran a tender. Cronkhite is a boat captain and an author.
Both she and Greenlaw wrote chapters for a collection of sea stories by women, published by Barbara Sjoholm, titled Steady as She Goes.
Kronkhite said the Port Townsend area probably has more female licensed captains than any other town in the country — 30 answered a request for boats and captains to participate in a course called “Women Take the Helm.”
Greenlaw said there are a fair number of older women at the helm of commercial fishing boats in New England — they took over the job when their husbands went to jail for drug-running in the 1970s — but not many young women are taking up the profession.
Greenlaw said she has never had a woman crew member on one of her sword-fishing trips but is going to pitch the idea to the Discovery Channel of having an all-woman crew for an upcoming season of “Swords.”
And she recruited Watson for the crew.
Port Townsend/Jefferson County Reporter-Columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at 360-379-5688 or firstname.lastname@example.org.