Book Review Of Seven-Tenths: Love, Piracy and Science at Sea by David Fisichella
A bit of background...
In my long ago past, that which for the main part I do my best to not recall, I worked for a defense industry company that built batteries for the military and to a lesser degree NASA. I was young and I enjoyed my work there, taking pride in the fact that I was working for the people who were behind things like the batteries on the Lunar Rover and those which allowed the Apollo 13 astronauts to make it home after their disastrous flight into history. I designed a battery while there, created things which helped the company and assisted in trouble-shooting batteries in the production lines for various vendors including the Navy amongst others.
Then, an unexpected thing happened. I was asked by the Senior Engineer to become a full Engineer over that Navy Aegis line and was subsequently told by my immediate supervisor that it would never happen. He liked me right where I was, thank you very much, as his lead trouble-shooter and finder of solutions to problems. He could see I was upset at being denied such an opportunity and attempted to mollify me by sending me to a couple of schools for additional training and giving me other duties and responsibilities. One of these schools was in Milwaukee while the other was in California. Little did he know that California would offer me an opportunity on the opposite coast.
For it was in California that I met a young man of the same approximate age as I, one David Fisichella. We were in the same class being trained on how to teach Naval Weapon Spec Soldering whose standards surpassed even the famed NASA specs. Two weeks spent together formed a friendship of sorts and after returning home I received a letter some months later asking if I knew anyone interested in a job. Raise my hand and shout "ME!" here.
So, we began to work together for another defense industry working on the R & D phase of a smart bomb. Then three years later close to 2,000 people were R.I.F.ed (Reduction In Force), which is a fancy term for being laid off, with me being among them. My life with this entity ended while his continued. Time passed and we failed to meet again.
Then a few years ago my youngest son had a class project involving Flat Stanley. I thought and thought of who we could send Stanley to and thought of Dave in Boston. I looked him up on line and found he now worked for WHOI (Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute). Now, Flat Stanley in Boston was one thing, Flat Stanley at WHOI was something altogether better! And so I made contact with him, received his agreement to help my son out and it wasn't long before Flat Stanley from Missouri found himself in Massachusetts, then the Netherlands! Bon voyage Stanley!
I have not exactly maintained an open line of communication with him since (I am not good at that sort of thing), but recently I did find he had written a book. Curious, I researched it and eventually bought it. Once I began to read it I found it unbelievably hard to put down and in short order finished it. To read a book and enjoy it is one thing; to actually know the person who authored it another; and to have worked with, been boating with, gone to a laser light show featuring music by the Grateful Dead and visited their parents' home for dinner yet another thing altogether. By the way, I still remember that dinner of pork roast heavy with garlic (a nice Italian home cooked meal! Yum yum!!).
And so I have decided to share my review of his work with you, gentle reader. I contacted Dave and asked his permission to which he responded positively, saying "Feel free to be brutally honest". I try to be honest in my assessment of books but generally speaking if I feel strongly enough to do the review, I liked it a lot.
- Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
The Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution is a private, independent, not-for-profit corporation dedicated to research and higher education at the frontiers of ocean science.
And so, with no further ado here are my thoughts on "Seven-Tenths: Love, Piracy and Science at Sea".
David opens his story with a passage wherein he is sick, really truly ill. His entire world consists of a porcelain cave. We are introduced to he and Amy, who we come to learn is now his wife. They are in a foreign country and he has contracted the illness while en route to a sea voyage centered on science for WHOI and thus does the story begin.
We learn that David had a good life, good job. But something was missing, something he could not put his finger on. On a whim he answers an ad requesting assistance for sailing on the ocean with the blind. Yes, blind people sailing. Personally I had never thought of this being something the blind did but I have now been made aware of an entire world I never knew existed.
After entering this world Dave found that something that had been missing: direction, enjoyment, life. After a period of learning and assisting he attended a dinner where he was to meet a woman who would have a profound impact on his life. Amy Bower is an oceanographer who happens to be legally blind. Finding common ground in the Sail Blind program allowed for small talk to grow into genuine conversation. Before the night was through and the conversation ended, Dave was offered a chance of a lifetime, and he knew enough to grab on with both hands and hold on tight. David responded to Amy's telling of tales and the ocean with a statement of liking to do something like that someday. Amy offered him the chance and he jumped on it. He was going on a research cruise for WHOI!
In the months leading up to the cruise he and Amy became close. When the time came for the cruise David asked for a month off at his job and was declined; here is what separates the men from the boys, the dreamers from the doers. Rather than accept no, he quit his job. Just walked away. David desired to do something different with his life and rather than accept being kept where he was, he stood up and said "No!" and dared to follow a dream, to literally sail off into the sunset.
The first voyage went well and he learned what life on the open sea was like, performing science experiments and being part of a team that really was a family for a month or so at a time. He explains in laymen's terms their scientific research and what the results could mean to the world at large. His writing has opened a whole new world to me about how this environment really works, how everything has a place and each and every nuance can and does affect the next. People, we hold the keys to the family car and are joyriding around without a thought; David and his coworkers at WHOI are desperately trying to understand what goes on and educate us on how we can make a difference. We need to listen.
David draws the reader into the story with his descriptions and experiences on the seas including one which I had heard of but not in great detail, the crossing of the equator in a ship: he gives great detail. I laughed until I had tears running down my cheeks at his telling of the events of his first crossing.
Not all of the stories will make you laugh, however. Take for instance the portion involving modern day pirates who are sailing our oceans today. Again, I would have never thought of having a security detail on board a ship sailing in the open ocean but the need was there and WHOI provided the security for the scientists. Then there are the drills and steps which need to be taken in the event of an actual boarding, which are involved and frankly scary to think of. Where can you run when you are on the ocean? If the pirate's boat is faster than yours you cannot escape. There are no police to call, no armed forces near at hand. You are alone in every sense of the word.
Imagine yourself on a ship, alone with only other scientists on board and the crew is there to run the daily operations of the ship, nothing more. A boat shows up with armed persons on board and they begin to shadow you. You speed up, they speed up. They then begin shouting at you in a language you cannot understand. They circle you, shouting and brandishing their weapons. Their words may not be understood but their actions are: stop the ship now. Then a hand-held rocket launcher appears. Your only weapon is a fire hose; that's it. If you can imagine these things then you are well on your way to being an oceanographer on this cruise. This is real. This is happening, and it is happening to you.
David brings his thoughts and feelings, his fears and revelations on this situation and a hundred other examples of life aboard a science cruise as he draws you into the story and carries you to its all too soon conclusion. As I said earlier, I would have liked for this book to go on much, much longer than it did.
Overall this is an interesting read, one filled with life lessons and experiences enough to make a landlubber like myself jealous. Only recently returned from Florida and its crystal clear waters I found myself transported a world far, far away while being inducted into a society I had no knowledge of but now find myself wondering what life aboard such a ship would be like.
This is a worthy read for anyone who has interest in the ocean, the environment or enjoys a life challenge.
Oh yes, he asked me to be brutally honest so here goes. Ready?
On occasion some of his sentences are short. Yes, short. In places he could have taken the two sentences and made them one connected by a comma he maintained two short sentences. That's it; that is the only critique I have in the entirety of this very enjoyable book. No other concerns or suggestions, no bad things to say at all. It is truly a wonderful book and I would feel this way whether I knew the author or not.
Pick it up; I promise you will enjoy it.