Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Last Man Off: A True Story of Disaster and Survival on the Antarctic Seas, by Matt Lewis

Plume, May 2015

Matt Lewis is a newly graduated marine biologist looking for his first job when he takes a position as an Observer on a commercial fishing vessel in Antarctic waters. He's a little disturbed when he first sees his new home and workplace, the Sudar Havid, an aging and much-modified fishing boat of Dutch ownership and South African crew. In the coming weeks, though, he gets to know the crew, the boat, and the life, and is fully a part of the crew by the time they run into real trouble.

They're a good half full of fish, and newly refueled off the Falklands, when they run into stormy weather and rough seas. Being so heavily laden gives them less maneuverability, and the captain and the fishing master are reluctant to stop fishing and reorient the boat. As the boat takes on water, Matt and others struggle to get the pumps started, without success. When the captain gives the order to abandon ship, it's late, and a desperate scramble. That's when the real struggle to survive begins.

Lewis lets us get fully acquainted with the boat, its officers, and its crew before we face the terror and hardship of abandoning ship and trying to survive in poorly equipped life rafts in heavy seas. We also see the rush of competitor commercial fishers--competitors under normal circumstances--to provide rescue in a part of the world where all the authorities are too far away to help. In disasters, the fishermen only have each other.

Matt Lewis tries to be as honest as possible about both his crewmates and himself, in their strengths, weaknesses, and faults in the crisis. This is both an exciting adventure, and a thoroughly human story, that held my interest all the way through.

Recommended.

I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via Penguin's First to Read program.