Something about the way he sized me up from the deck of his boat, his stance, his stabbing glare—a look that told me he and he alone was the boss, off shore and on—made me hesitate, even when he finally asked us in a gravelly voice to come aboard. But as we began to take that step over the rail and onto the boat he stopped short, turning abruptly to look me in the eye and catching just a glint of my momentary panic.
“So, you want to be a fisherman,” he said, more of a wager than a question.
Then, without waiting for a response he quickly turned, leading us into his kingdom, the beginning of my long and desultory alternative education. My introduction to the sea.
(Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas. Dave Atcheson)
Having never even seen the ocean, an adventurous youth takes his first job at sea aboard The Lancer, with Darwin Wood, a vestige of the past, a man so confounding, so complex and so frightening, that it’s hard to believe the young man walks away from the experience unscathed. Forced to buddy up with an accused murderer in order to cope, he begins to question his deeply ingrained ideas of success and status, the resulting conflict finally resolving itself 15 years later, in the least likely of places: on the Bering Sea, aboard a boat in peril, during a night of terror that would reshape the lives of everyone involved.
This is a story that in some respects shares many of the themes expressed in works of nonfiction such as The Perfect Storm or Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild. Yet it is vastly different from these in that it delves into a side of Alaska rarely seen, taking not only an intimate look at life at sea, but an insider’s view into one of this state’s small communities, and the myriad of upstarts, dropouts, and rogues that color its landscape.
“This book is so much more than an adventure story. Dave Atcheson is not just a gifted storyteller but a writer of great intelligence, insight, and compassion. Dead Reckoning probes with humor and humility important questions about the choices we all make in life and the values we find in the natural world and our relationships with others.”
-Nancy Lord, former Alaska Writer Laureate, author of Fishcamp and Beluga Days
Dave Atcheson is the author of National Geographic’s Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond and the guidebook, Fishing Alaska's Kenai Peninsula. He has written for a variety of periodicals, from Outdoor Life to Boys' Life, and is a frequent contributor to Alaska Magazine and past contributing editor for Fish Alaska Magazine. He lives in Sterling, Alaska and is a member of 49 Writers. Dead Reckoning, Navigating a Life on the Last Frontier, Courting Tragedy on its High Seas, is published by Skyhorse Publishing, and is available in hardcover, Kindle, Nook, and as an audiobook. He'll be speaking at the UAA Bookstore in Anchorage on Wednesday, Oct. 22, from 5 to 7 pm.