COMING BACK ALIVE: The Final Voyage of the La Conte on Alaska's High Seas

Spike Walker, Author
Spike Walker, Author . St. Martin's $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-312-26971-5
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-312-30256-6
Ebook - 320 pages - 978-1-4668-0537-8
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Walker spends about half of his narrative assembling a cast for his tale of seafaring disaster on the southern Gulf of Alaska fishing grounds: a five-man crew of earnest commercial fishermen; a leaky trawler, La Conte; helicopter crews and—surprise!—an anomalous winter storm. The January 1998 storm was the worst in the state's history, and La Conte took in water and sank, leaving its crew to the mercy of 100 mph winds and 90-foot seas. Walker (Nights of Ice) ably describes the Coast Guard's heroic rescue of the ship's crew along the rugged Alaskan coast. The episode in which the crew is finally forced to abandon their vessel in 40-degree water, and to stay lashed together long enough for three Coast Guard teams to attempt wind-whipped rescues, is harrowing and suspenseful. Still, too many adverbs slow down the narrative and strain to convey tension. Walker tracked down and interviewed the La Conte's survivors and other participants in the operation, and his portrayal of the fringe existence of commercial fishermen juxtaposes society's typical disdain for them with the loyalty and stoicism of these five men. But he manages only a pat resolution: "[t]he relationship between fishermen and the sea, and the airborne alliance of those sworn to watch over them, continues today all across the vast ocean reaches and tidelands of Alaska." Map not seen by PW. Agents, Rand Koler and Lance Rosen. (Aug. 6)

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