First Vintage Departures Edition, January 2006

339 pages, $14.95

Quotes that can’t be reported in a family newspaper

Scientist and author Redmond O’Hanlon is not new to adventure — he has written books about challenging the wilds of Borneo, Amazonia and the Congo — but he’s new to the sea.

His most recent book, Trawler; A Journey Through the North Atlantic, chronicles in great, salty, fishy detail his memorable trip aboard a commercial fishing trawler in the North Sea under near-hurricane conditions.

The weather was no accident. O’Hanlon purposely sought to take his trip at the worst possible time of year, so when the call came that the wind was coming up, a terrible storm was predicted and a Scottish trawlerman was heading out into it in January, O’Hanlon packed his bag and climbed aboard.

Jason Schofield, skipper of the Norlantean, would challenge the terrible seas for a good reason: Not that he was crazy, necessarily — although it clearly helps — but because he had a huge mortgage on the boat and a family to support.

“And the bank? Do you think they know or care about the weather? Does a Force 11 or a Force 12, a junior hurricane — does that appear on your statement?,” asked scientist Luke Bullough, by way of explaining to O’Hanlon how he had found the author the ideal skipper to meet the needs of his proposed book project.

“Of course not! And that’s the point — that’s why he’s perfect for you! He has to go out in the January storms. But he’s exceptional, he’s very successful, he’s driven — he can think his way toward the fish.”

So, having found the perfect skipper, the by-now reluctant, then-51-year-old, self-described pudgy scientist takes his readers from the comfort and warmth of a breakfast restaurant in Fittie to the cold steel decks, cutting room and too-infrequently encountered bunks of the Norlantean, for the ride of his life.

Throughout the book, the landlubber scientist receives a wealth of fisheries science information from young Luke, a PhD candidate and biologist at the Marine Laboratory in Aberdeen.

Conversations between the pair, and crew members Robbie, Bryan and Allan, are recorded in more detail than any normal person could possibly remember and range wildly, rarely with a natural segue, over every conceivable topic from fish to sex charms in Borneo, including relationships, superstitions and the mania of sleep deprivation.

Readers interested in fish or fishing will naturally love this book because O’Hanlon captures all the rigors and pain involved in commercial offshore fishing. Besides, O’Hanlon’s detailed recording of their conversations imparts Luke’s wealth of fish information. As a scientist who does a lot of his research at sea, Luke also speaks knowledgeably and with firsthand experience about commercial fishing.

And O’Hanlon doesn’t spare himself in the remembered conversations. He is tagged with the nickname “Worzel” by crewmembers because he resembles an ungainly children’s book character, Worzel Gummidge. He records the insults heaped upon him, some intended seriously, others merely the usual scattershot, no-holds-barred banter of the sleep-deprived trawlermen. Many of the conversations are screamed around meals in the galley, or the cutting table on deck.

The trawlermen’s colorful language is duly recorded as well, meaning many of the quotes can’t be reported in a family newspaper. But for those with a taste for salt, the dialogue is often hysterically funny, sometimes philosophical or sad, and frequently scientific, although couched in laymen’s terms. Americans will probably be more delighted with the language than U.K. readers, who may be familiar with insults such as,” You big girl’s blouse.”

Readers will learn of fish most have never heard of, and some that no one, including the fish scientist, Luke, had ever seen. There’s talk about garfish, jelly wolffish, Luke’s own snotfish, rabbit fish and the perfect sex life of the deep-sea anglerfish.

Tales around the table include stories about the worst things that ever came up in a net — another skipper, one of Jason’s friends, hauled up the bodies lost in a Chinook helicopter crash.

Luke is also an Aberdeen lifeboat man, part of crew of volunteers who are awakened whenever there’s a disaster at sea to head out into the night, in the worst of weather, trying to rescue people they sometimes know cannot be rescued. Lifeboat men are all heroes in Scotland, so Luke is held in high esteem for his bravery, as well as his skills as a trawlerman and his knowledge as a scientist. However, such men have limited love lives, apparently, so Redmond/Worzel embarks on a many-page effort to solve his friend’s romantic problems by insisting Luke’s only good match would be a district nurse in Shetland.

Trawler is rollicking, riotous and packed full of interesting information. One critic describes the author as “half mad” and another “the poet-wag of natural science” and there’s no doubt he’s all of that and more. Brave enough to take to the sea and brave enough to recount how terrified and inept he was and funny enough to remember to let the reader in on Dougie’s seasick cure.

Some of the crewmen are detailed like the main characters in a good novel. We want Luke to find his district nurse, or at least happiness in some form. We want Jason to survive, fish well, and make his mortgage payments. We want Robby to star in his own BBC television series so we can watch it on PBS. We want Worzel to take another trip somewhere and write us another book.