Sebastian Junger: The Perfect Storm

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Sebastian Junger The Perfect Storm
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    The Perfect Storm
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Thea says come by any time, and Chris hangs up and goes back to the bar. Bobby's hangover has alchemized into a huge empty hunger, and they finish off their beers and leave a buck on the bartop and head back outside. They drive across town to a lunch place called Sammy J's and order two more beers and fishcakes and beans. Fishcakes are Bobbys favorite food and he probably won't see them again until he's back on shore. The last thing fishermen want to eat at sea is more fish. They eat fast and pick up Bugsy and then drive over to Ethels. Chris has had a falling out with Ethel's boyfriend, and Chris is going to move out everything she has stored there. It's still raining a little, everything seems dark and oppressive, and they carry boxes of her belongings down one flight of stairs and pack them into the Volvo. They fill the car with lamps and clothes and house plants and then squeeze themselves in and drive across town to the projects on Arthur Street.

Thea doesn't go for Bugsy; as it turns out, she's already got a boyfriend. The four of them sit around talking and drinking beer for a while, and then the men have a terrible realization: They've forgotten the hotdogs. Murph, who is charged with buying food for the trip, won't get hotdogs on his own, so if they want any they'll have to get them on their own. They drive to Cape Ann Market and Bobby and Bugsy run into the store and come back a few minutes later with fifty dollars' worth of hotdogs. It's midafternoon now; it's getting close. Chris drives them back down Rogers Street, past Walgreen's and Americold and Gorton's, and turns down into the gravel lot behind Rose's Marine. Bobby and Bugsy get out with their hotdogs and jump from the pier to the deck of the Andrea Gail.

Watching the men move around the boat Chris thinks: this winter Bobby'11 be down in Bradenton, next summer he'll be back up here but gone a month at a time, and that's just how it is; Bobby's a swordfisherman and owes a lot of money. At least they have a plan, though. Bobby signed a statement directing Bob Brown to give his settlement check from the last trip to Chris, and she's going to use the money—almost $3,000—to pay off some of his debts and get an apartment in Lanesville, on the north shore of Cape Ann. Maybe living out there, they'll spend a little less time at the Nest. And she's got two jobs lined up, one at the Old Farm Inn in Rockport, and another taking care of the retarded son of a friend. They'll get by. Bobby might be away a lot, but they'll get by.

Suddenly there are shouts coming from the boat: Bugsy and Bobby are standing toe to toe on the wharf in the rain, wrenching a jug of bleach back and forth. Fists are coming up and the bleach is going first one way, then another, and at any moment it looks like one of them's going to roundhouse the other. It doesn't happen; Bobby finally turns away, spitting, swears, and goes back to work. Out of the corner of her eye Chris sees another fisherman named Sully angling across the gravel lot toward her car. He walks up and leans in the window.

I just got a site on the boat, he says, I'm replacin' some guy who backed out. He looks over at Bobby and Bugsy. Can you believe this shit? Thirty days together and it's startin' already?

THE Andrea Gail, in the language, is a raked-stem, hard-chined western-rig swordfisherman. That means her bow has a lot of angle to it, she has a nearly square cross section, and her pilothouse is up front rather than in the stern, atop an elevated deck called the whaleback. She's seventy-two feet long, has a hull of continuously welded steel plate, and was built in Panama City, Florida, in 1978. She has a 365-horsepower, turbo-charged diesel engine, which is capable of speeds up to twelve knots. There are seven type-one life preservers on board, six Imperial survival suits, a 406-megahertz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), a 121.5-megahertz EPIRB, and a Givens auto-inflating life raft. There are forty miles of 700-pound test monofilament line on her, thousands of hooks, and room for five tons of baitfish. An ice machine that can make three tons of ice a day sits on her whaleback deck, and state-of-the-art electronics fill her pilothouse: radar, loran, single sideband, VHF, weather track satellite receiver. There's a washer/dryer on board, and the galley has fake wood veneer and a four-burner stove.

The Andrea Gail is one of the biggest moneymakers in Gloucester harbor, and Billy Tyne and Bugsy Moran have driven all the way from Florida to grab sites onboard. The only other sword boat in the harbor that might be able to outfish her is the Hannah Boden, skippered by a Colby College graduate named Linda Greenlaw. Not only is Greenlaw one of the only women in the business, she's one of the best captains, period, on the entire East Coast. Year after year, trip after trip, she makes more money than almost anyone else. Both the Andrea Gail and the Hannah Boden are owned by Bob Brown, and they can take so much fish from the ocean that Ethel's son Ricky has been known to call in from Hawaii to find out if either one is in port. When the Hannah Boden unloads her catch in Gloucester, swordfish prices plummet halfway across the world.

So far, though, Billy's second trip on the Andrea Gail is off to a bad start. The boys have been drinking hard all week and everyone's in a foul mood. No one wants to go back out. For the past several days almost every attempt to work on the boat has degenerated either into a fight or an occasion to walk across the street to the bar. Now it's September 20th, late in the season to be heading out, and Tyne can barely round up a full crew.

Alfred Pierre—an immense, kind Jamaican from New York City—is holed up with his girlfriend in one of the upstairs rooms at the Nest. One minute he says he's going, the next minute he's not—it's been like that all day long. Bobby's somewhere across town with a black eye and a hangover. Bugsy's in an ugly mood because he hasn't met a woman. Murph is complaining about money and misses his kid, and— the last straw—a new crew member walked off this morning without any explanation at all.

The guy's name was Adam Randall, and he was supposed to replace Doug Kosco, who'd crewed on the previous trip. Randall had driven up from East Bridgewater,

Massachusetts, with his father-in-law that morning to take the job; he pulled into the dirt parking lot behind Rose's and got out to look the boat over. Randall was a lithe, intensely handsome thirty-year-old man with a shag of blond rock-star hair and cold blue eyes. He was a welder, an engineer, a scuba diver, and had fished his whole life. He knew an unsafe boat when he saw one—he called them "slabs"—and the Andrea Gail was anything but. She looked like she could take an aircraft carrier broadside. Moreover, he knew most of her crew, and his girlfriend had practically told him not to bother coming home if he didn't take the job. He hadn't worked in three months. He walked back across the lot, told his father-in-law that he had a funny feeling, and the two of them drove off together to a bar.

People often get premonitions when they do jobs that could get them killed, and in commercial fishing—still one of the most dangerous pursuits in the country—people get premonitions all the time. The trick is knowing when to listen to them. In 1871, a cook named James Nelson shipped aboard the schooner Sachem for a fishing trip to Georges Bank. One night he was awakened by a recurring dream and ran aft to tell the captain.

For God's sake get clear of the Banks, he begged, I've had my dream again. I've been shipwrecked twice after this dream.

The captain was an old salt named Wenzell. He asked what the dream was. I see women, dressed in white, standing in the rain, Nelson replied.

There was hardly a breath of wind and Wenzell was not impressed. He told Nelson to go back to bed. A while later a little breeze sprang up. Within an hour it was blowing hard and the Sachem was hove-to under close-reefed foresail. The hull started to open up and the crew manned the pumps.

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