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Authors: Redmond O'Hanlon

Trawler

Acclaim for
TRAWLER
by Redmond O’Hanlon

“Redmond O’Hanlon is one of the literary world’s well-known eccentrics…. Trawling’s a risky business, but it makes for a rollicking read.”

—National Geographic Adventure

“Like a Melville novel,
Trawler is
full of marine arcana and admiration for the dangerous work of seamen. They do most of the talking—long, often ribald soliloquies, laced with Scottish curses, about watery graves, fishing friendships, the love of a good woman and homosexuality in the 19th-century Royal Navy…. [O’Hanlon’s] delight in his mates’ erudite company and his faith in their ability to bring him safely back to port gives his writing a new emotional scope.”

—The New York Times

“It has been years since reading a book made me a pest to be next to because I was laughing so hard as I devoured it…. It’s just the thing, this book, for that airport connection gone bad, that too-long commute on the bus, that escape from a world far too troubled of late. It is a book to keep handy: Its delight is dependable.”

—Lynda V. Maps,
The Seattle Times

“Redmond O’Hanlon is the poet-wag of natural science, owlish and darkly humorous, and intrepid unto a benign madness…. Along with the humor, the erudition and the bouquets of delirium,
Trawler
is a reminder that there is plenty to be said for rambunctious adventure, much excitement to be had in the chase.”


San Francisco Chronicle

“Reads like a black-box transcription of minds trying to stay afloat while crushed by remorseless labor, cold, stress, sleep loss and fear of sudden death [and] O’Hanlon is just the man to guide us through this meltdown…. He paints a memorable and unexpectedly tender portrait of men who perform one of the world’s most demanding jobs.”

—The Washington Post Book World

“An atmospheric account of men absorbed by hard work, a story about where seafood comes from and the mysteries of the deep ocean, a tale of giddy exhaustion, lore, superstition, lust, camaraderie, courage, science, and getting the bills paid.”

—Los Angeles Times Book Review

“A treat for readers…. A wonderfully real and roiling account of the sea in storm, the wet slimy icy busy hold of the ship, the riotous cacophony of men’s salty voices, the ancient human fear of being afloat in a gale … the manic phases of sleep-deprivation, and even such absorbing ideas as the role of fish fats in brain development and the birth of life on Earth in the tidal grunge of warm shallow seas.”

—The Oregonian

“About once every four or five years, an erudite, self-deprecating and half-mad natural historian from Oxford launches into one of the world’s wildernesses. The result … is always something to look forward to…. In place of the traditional travel narrative the book becomes a jumble of argument, ideas and descriptions of strange fish.”

—The Independent
(London)

“O’Hanlon takes a natural historian’s delight in documenting the instinctive behavior of his traveling companions.”

—The Telegraph
(London)

“This is sea therapy: it is men stripped bare at the furthest ends of the earth…. [O’Hanlon] is the best kind of shipmate: funny, wise, garrulous and generous; his book [is] salted with memorable anecdotes and wit.”

—The Guardian
(London)

Redmond O’Hanlon
TRAWLER

A fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society of Literature, Redmond O’Hanlon was the natural history editor of
The Times Literary Supplement
for fifteen years. He lives near Oxford, England, with his wife and their two children. “Among contemporary travel writers,” according to
The Washington Post,
“he has the best nose for the globe’s precious few remaining blank spots…. Long may he trudge and paddle.”

ALSO BY REDMOND O’HANLON

No Mercy
A Journey into the Heart of the Congo

In Trouble
Again A Journey Between the Orinoco and the Amazon

Into the Heart of Borneo

Joseph Conrad and Charles Darwin
The Influence of Scientific Thought on Conrad’s Fiction

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The writer wishes to thank Olga Tsatolou, Max Peterson Linda Hopkins, Graham Porritt, Pat Kavanagh, Tony Lacy, Zelda Turner, Claire Pollack, Emile Brugman, Ellen Shalker, Gary Fisketjon, Liz Van Hoose, Sarah Robinson, Lexy Bloom, and Richard Drake.

To my wife, Belinda

R
EDMOND
, you’ve got to get up here, fast. There’s a storm coming in, big style! I have the satellite maps. Force 11, maybe more. Straight for Orkney. And Jason, the
Norlantean
skipper—he’s called on Cellnet. He’s north-west of Shetland. He says the weather’s horrendous. And getting worse. Perfect! Just what you wanted! He says we sign on at Scrabster, Saturday, two days’ time, 7 a.m., no later. OK? Good. So pick me up at home—19 Pilot Square, Fittie. Be there! And remember
—nothing green.”

The speaker was Luke Bullough, probably the toughest (and certainly the most modest) young man I’d ever met. A biologist at the Marine Laboratory, Aberdeen, a member of the Aberdeen lifeboat crew, he was a man with a vast experience of the real sea: as a research diver in Antarctica; as a Fisheries Patrol officer in the Falklands; on trawlers and research ships in the North Atlantic. Whereas me? Well, I’ve crewed very small sailing dinghies in races round plastic buoys in sheltered bays; and, oh yes, I almost forgot, I’ve taken passage on those cross channel car-ferries.

So this is it, I told myself, as I sat heavily down on the chair beside the telephone, by the front door of the small, snug, safe, warm house; by the door that let on to the ancient, stable, peaceful, comforting landscape of Oxfordshire. Yes, here’s the defining moment—the one telephone call you’ve spent nine months trying
to persuade to come your way. And I know, I thought (my head, I’m ashamed to say, in my hands) I know—you were all set to spend six or eight months in the swamp jungles of New Guinea; and how easy, how deeply attractive that now seems—mere rainforest, something you really
do
know about.

But a year ago, my daughter Puffin, then twelve, became so ill she had to spend five months in the Oxford hospital for children—and her wise National Health Consultant Mary Ellis (she’d seen it all before) said to me: “Redmond,
no;
you are so wrong; fathers
do
matter; and
no,
you can’t disappear for eight months, not now—and, if you do, you may well have your daughter’s death on your conscience.” So I brought forward a secret, passionate project that I’d been saving for my Zimmer-frame old age:
The Wild Places of Britain.
And then months after the contract was signed, it dawned on me (a dawning horror) that yes, hang on, wait a moment, it’s not that absurd, there really is a wild place in Britain, wild in world terms, wild however you look at it; and it’s called the deep sea; the continental shelf edge, the abyssal plain, the British North-east Atlantic.

A slow image of an imagined fear came back to me: eight-years-old, on a family holiday in Orkney, standing on the cliffs in a wind that you could lean against, looking out to sea, my father handed down his binoculars: “Look at that,” he said. “And remember. Those men, they don’t know it, but they’re
brave.”

Through the magical device, the lenses that let you make friends with the most distant birds, I got spookily close to a big blue trawler—one moment it was there on the upthrust of a wave, the next it was gone, surely for ever, into the trough. To be on that boat, I’d thought—and being there became a recurrent childhood nightmare—to be there, that’s what fear must mean, that’s what fear
is.

Eight years later, all of sixteen, after a tour round southern Ireland on my first motorbike, a 250cc. Royal Enfield (“Redmond O’Hanlon? The name is right! Young man—that’s a shilling off t’bill”) I decided to confront the horror. In the little fishing-port and ferry-terminal of Rosslare I signed on, as cabin-boy and
apprentice deck-hand, on a trawler. We’d put to sea tomorrow. I sent a telegram to my parents.
RUNNING AWAY TO SEA STOP PLEASE COLLECT MOTORBIKE FISHGUARD STOP
.

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