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Books Chat

Author Linda Greenlaw on her experiences in "The Perfect Storm"

July 5, 2000
Web posted at: 4:00 p.m. EDT

(CNN) - Linda Greenlaw was the fishing-boat captain described in "The Perfect Storm," the acclaimed movie and best-seller. Greenlaw has been fishing commercially for more than 18 years and may be the only female ever to captain a swordfishing boat.

In her first book, "The Hungry Ocean: A Swordfish Captain's Journey," (Little Brown & Company) Greenlaw describes her real-life experiences as she and her crew were forced to contend with one of the worst storms to hit the New England coast.

"The Hungry Ocean" recreates the way of life of commercial fishermen and the enormous challenges they face. It also expresses Greenlaw's love of the sea.

Chat moderator:Thank you for joining us today, Linda Greenlaw, and welcome.

Linda Greenlaw: Hello, audience.

Chat moderator: Please tell us a little bit about your background.

Linda Greenlaw: I've been a commercial fisherman for 20 years, 17 of those years chasing swordfish around the North Atlantic Ocean. The only thing I've done other than fishing is write a book, "The Hungry Ocean." I'm getting a lot of attention recently from Warner Brothers' portrayal of me in "The Perfect Storm," the movie.

Chat moderator: What prompted you to write this book?

Linda Greenlaw: The opportunity to write the book came to me because of the portrayal of me in Sebastian Junger's book, "The Perfect Storm." Two or three lines about me in Junger's book have changed my life more than any ocean storm I have ever encountered, or any amount of fish I have ever caught.

Question from samuel: How accurate is the movie compared to your experience as written in your book?

Linda Greenlaw: The things that were most realistic in the movie to me were No. 1, the swordfish, which were all manufactured from rubber, but they looked amazingly real. They had one fish that was hydraulically driven, but you could've fooled me, it looked like a live fish. The weather scenes were very realistic, in that it looked like real water, real waves, real boats; however, I have never been on a boat that's gone down, so I don't know how realistic those scenes were of the Andrea Gail.

Chat moderator: Where did you get the title for the book?

Linda Greenlaw: "The Hungry Ocean" comes from a Shakespearean sonnet. It's taken out of context, but I love the title. I have learned over the last year of book-touring that the title means different things to different people. To me, the hungry ocean refers to the ocean's ability to totally consume. I have been fishing for 20 years; I have been consumed by it. I know it sounds cliche, but to be drawn to, taken with, and ultimately consumed by something you enjoy is very fulfilling. I like the way I feel when I'm at sea. I'm passionate about catching fish.

Chat moderator: Are you treated differently from other captains because you are a woman?

Linda Greenlaw: I don't think so. I get a lot of questions about sexual harassment and discrimination; in my experience, I have not been a victim. I have not been mistreated. If anything, being a woman has been an asset, because any self-respecting fisherman will not be outworked by a woman. Being a hard-working female has brought out the best in my crews.

Question from Sunny1-CNN: How did you manage to save yourself and your boat during the storm?

Linda Greenlaw: I was 600 miles east of where the Andrea Gail is suspected to have gone down. By the time the storm reached my position, it had diminished from what is portrayed in the book, "The Perfect Storm." I like to think that there is something that separates those who survive from those who do not, something other than luck. If I believed that luck had a hand in my survival, I would also have to believe that eventually my luck would run out. I wouldn't dare go to sea.

Chat moderator: This type of storm is said to be rare. What are the possibilities of a storm of this type occurring again?

Linda Greenlaw: I hope that it's a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence. It's very unusual for three separate systems to combine in one storm, very unusual for a low pressure system to back up or move to the west. I hope there is no chance it will occur again in my lifetime.

Chat moderator: Do you have any stories to share with us about working with your crew?

Linda Greenlaw: I have 20 years of stories about working with crew. Swordfishing crew members are colorful characters, and I tell many stories in my book. For the most part, I have enjoyed the men that I've worked with, although, I do write about some bad experiences.

Chat moderator: How would you describe the dangers of commercial fishing?

Linda Greenlaw: Commercial fishing is the most dangerous occupation in the world. Severe weather coupled with fatigue account for personal injuries, which are unfortunately, not uncommon aboard a commercial fishing boat.

Chat moderator: Is there any competition?

Linda Greenlaw: Absolutely. Commercial fishing is highly competitive. Everyone wants to catch the most fish, the biggest fish, and get back to the dock first to receive the best price.

Chat moderator: If you had to do it over again, would you be a captain? If you weren't a captain what would you be?

Linda Greenlaw: If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't change much. Being the captain of a swordfishing boat is very challenging and, as proud as I am to be the author of a best-selling book, nothing makes me prouder than saying that I am a fisherman. I enjoy working outside, and I love being on the ocean, so if I weren't fishing, whatever I would do would be working on the water in some capacity.

Question from Were: Is it true the waves during the height of the storm were 70 to 100 feet high?

Linda Greenlaw: Yes, there was a weather buoy in the area where the Andrea Gail is suspected to have gone down that recorded waves in excess of 100 feet.

Question from Christy: The fishing lifestyle seems to take its toll on one's personal life. How has it impacted your personal relationships?

Linda Greenlaw: I'm 39 years old, not married, never been married, would like to be married, and would love to have children. I've had some nice boyfriends, but there's just something about "Thanks for dinner, see you in 30 days," that isn't conducive to many second dates. I am currently fishing for lobster, which has me home every night, so I'm working on it. Swordfishing is very difficult on all relationships.

Question from Haley-CNN: Were you ever contacted by those involved in making the movie "The Perfect Storm?"

Linda Greenlaw: Yes, I was paid a consulting fee. I was asked questions by the researcher for the screenwriter, and was asked to read the first draft of the script. Warner Brothers also made my book, "The Hungry Ocean," required reading for all involved in the making of "The Perfect Storm." I feel that most of the input I had was through the actors reading my book.

Chat moderator: Why are we so fascinated with extreme weather conditions?

Linda Greenlaw: I think the fascination is with the adventurous life, more than severe weather. These adventure books seem to be a real hot trend right now. I think the reason for that is that most people don't have much adventure in their lives. By reading books, people can live vicariously.

Question from Doug: I would expect that, as in flying, it is the captains responsibility to be informed about weather that may affect his vessel. What do you do to stay ahead of potentially threatening weather?

Linda Greenlaw: Most commercial boats are equipped with a single sideband radio, weather fax, and satellite receivers with which a captain can draw his or her own weather conclusions. Even with all the high tech equipment, the best indicator of what my weather will be is the man west of me, what he has, I will get.

Question from Bobg: What was it like for you when you just started out and weren't the captain?

Linda Greenlaw: First time as a crew member, it was tough. I learned later, by watching other first-time crew members, that it is just the way things work on a fishing guy, that the green guy, the inexperienced hand, usually gets the dirty jobs and gets teased somewhat. It's just part of the business.

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Question from How: How many other women currently work on swordfishing boats?

Linda Greenlaw: None that I know of. I think that commercial fishing is not something that young women consider an opportunity; they just don't think of it. I am optimistic that the books and the movie will change that. I'm not very big and I'm certainly not very strong; there's not a job on the boat that I can't do.

Chat moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

Linda Greenlaw: I think people can get a real glimpse of the realities of commercial fishing by reading "The Hungry Ocean," "The Perfect Storm," and/or going to see the movie. I think it's nice that people are taking an interest.

Chat moderator: Thank you for joining us.

Linda Greenlaw: Thank you very much; talk to you again.

Linda Greenlaw joined the chat via telephone from Maine. CNN provided a typist.

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    CNN -- The actual 'Perfect Storm': A perfectly dreadful combination of nature's forces -- 6/30/00

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