Community Read author gives no quarter

PORT TOWNSEND — She’s wrestled 650 pounds of thrashing swordfish intent on cutting its way through the deck.

She’s stood her (fishing) ground when challenged by other boat captains.

She’s faced high winds and high seas, dealt with disgruntled crew, drugged crew and even dead crew, and never flinched.

You don’t want to cross swords with Linda Greenlaw.

That’s what David Palmquist of Sequim attempted Thursday night at the Port Townsend High School, where several hundred people gathered to hear Greenlaw, author of The Hungry Ocean, speak at the culmination of the Port Townsend Library’s Community Read program.

A commercial swordboat captain, Greenlaw talked with humor and candor about her childhood in Maine, her love of fishing, her dislike of writing and public speaking, and the pitfalls of book touring.

Afterward, she took questions from the audience, including one from Palmquist, a former resident of Gloucester, Mass., the base of the swordboat fishing fleet.

Palmquist asked Greenlaw to tell the audience what people from Massachusetts call people from Maine.

Instead, Greenlaw told them what people from Maine call people from Massachusetts — a derogatory term for an anatomical feature, with an “M” in front of it.

Parents appalled

Greenlaw, who said she fished her way through college, said her parents were appalled when she took her degree offshore, i.e. went swordfishing.

But she wanted high school students, who she talked to earlier that day, to know that education is never wasted, and that she uses it every day.

She also passed along four things she learned on the deck of a boat:

•SEnSThe value of hard work, persistence and determination.

•SEnSThat the single most important word in the English language is opportunity, which knocks but you have to get up and answer it.

•SEnSTo live your life deliberately, as Henry David Thoreau prescribed.

•SEnSThat gender is not an issue unless you make it an issue.

“I don’t want to be known as the first, only or best female sword-boat captain,” she said.

“Being female is not an accomplishment. Being female was sheer luck.”

Greenlaw, who said her resume consists of “I fish. I write books about fishing,” was, as the captain of the Hannah Boden, the last person to be in radio contact with the Andrea Gail, the swordboat that sank as depicted in The Perfect Storm.

The book and movie by that name changed Greenlaw’s life.

Book contract offers led to a year onshore writing The Hungry Storm, which led to agents, television interviews and a 60-city tour.

Literary life

On Thursday, she related stories about her initiation into literary life — the publicist who advised her to be herself, then hired a media trainer after her first interview; the cosmetics saleswoman who asked what makeup she used (“ChapStick”); the misunderstanding she had with her male editor, who she thought was introducing her as “my adorable author.”

When she mentioned it to her publicist, the publicist explained that the editor was saying “my tourable author.”

“Then she told the editor what I said,'” Greenlaw said.

Greenlaw now balances writing — her seventh book is out this spring — with swordfishing trips in the fall as one of four captains featured on Discovery Channel’s “Swords” reality show.

Greenlaw said the scariest thing she ever faced at sea was going below and finding an elderly crew member, Uncle Patty, dead in his bunk. Dealing with storms didn’t compare, she said.

“You’re too busy to be scared,” she said.

Library director Theresa Percy presented Greenlaw with a golden horseshoe, mounted in a frame, a takeoff on the one presented to the most successful swordboat captain every year.

Percy also announced the winner of the Hungry Ocean award for best crab cake as judged by Greenlaw, the Point Hudson Cafe, and the winner of the raffle, a half-day cruise for six aboard the schooner Martha, Steve Wilson.

Now in its fifth year, the 2010 Community Read was sponsored by the Friends of the Port Townsend Library, the Port Townsend Jefferson County Leader and a grant from Humanities Washington.

People from Massachusetts, by the way, call people from Maine “Mainiacs.”


Port Townsend/Jefferson County Reporter-Columnist Jennifer Jackson can be reached at 360-379-5688 or

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