Paul Garrison

"Sea Hunter"

(Reviewed by Judi Clark APR 20, 2003)

"I didn't say I'm not a competent seaman. I said I'm not reckless."

Sea Hunter by Paul Garrison

David Hope is a charter boat captain, living on and sailing his 45' catamaran, Oona. At the start of the novel, he's alone on Oona, having just scattered his girlfriend's ashes at sea. Though her parents sent her ashes with a note saying this was her dying wish, he knows she never had a chance to request such a thing; she'd been in a coma for the past year ever since hitting her head on the deck of a floating oil rig. Mission accomplished, Hope has to get back to Tortola in the British Virgin Islands for one last paying charter for the season before he sails north to Maine to catch the summer business. So he's cranked out the main and jib and sets the catamaran flying home so that he can clean up and provision the boat. Though as soon as the sun sets he feels himself drifting off and each time he does, he wakes from the same recurring nightmare. Scattering Barbara's ashes seems to not have closed this chapter of his life. By dawn, he's feeling half dead.

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So once again he checks the radar alarm and sets his internal alarm to dose for ten minutes. Six minutes later he sees the strangest thing, an enormous dolphin leaps from the ocean, straight up on its tail and begins to spin. He thinks he may still be dreaming, and then he snaps really awake when he hears something crash into his boat. Sure enough there's a government buoy in the water and as he maneuvers for a better view, he sees that it has a whip aerial antennae and that the buoy was launched from the USS VERMONT. It is a sub-sunk buoy, sent to surface to broadcast a distress signal. So Hope gets on the radio and calls in a Mayday, then switches on his depth finder to see if he can see the submarine. He sees something that looks like a big fish, maybe a shark, swim about 250 feet under him and away. Then another buoy pops up in front of him and a flare behind him and he sees on the radar that the submarine is rising at a steep angle below him. I'll save the deft moves he makes with Oona to avoid collision for you to read, however, let me assure you that during this scene and many others in the novel, you have the sense that Oona is an extension of Hope and we experience his adroit skills vicariously.

So when Hope finally makes it back to Tortola, he finds out after he's purchased provisions, that his charter has cancelled due to an inadvertent case of food poisoning. AFter a day like this, he ends up drinking rum at his favorite local floating bar. He eyes a good-looking woman, makes some comments doomed for failure to her, and she leaves the bar. Then she returns a good hour later asking if she can hire him for a live-aboard charter for three weeks while she films the mating rituals of spinner dolphins. She's done her research and knows that he's provisioned and that the food will go bad unless he takes her up on her offer. Plus she's willing to pay the cash he's not going to see from the cancelled party. They strike a deal that he'll take her to "thirty north, forty-five west" but he'll drop her off in Camden, Maine rather than returning to Tortola - and she'll have three extra days for filming. She agrees, except there is one catch.

The equipment that Sally Moffitt needs for the film expedition needs to be "reclaimed" from the Italian mega-yacht sitting on the dock in front of them. Her husband is on board the boat with his new love interest, a woman older than her, but rich. She owns the yacht and is willing to fund her husband's next film. The Moffitt's have made six films together, but apparently Greg Moffitt's ambition is greater than any feelings he might have for Sally. Sally figures the rebreather on the Il Bacione is rightfully hers and she intends to take it back. Besides Greg can now afford all the equipment he'll ever need. David Hope isn't ready to sign up for larceny but Sally is not deterred. late that evening Hope watches her motor out to the yacht and board it. He cautiously readies Oona for a rescue, despite having said he wouldn't get involved. Well he does rescue her and we are treated to another hair-raising moment with Hope skillfully outmaneuvering the powered chase boat.

Now, David and Sally have no choice but to continue on and begin the three-week charter. Not too long into the trip the giant dolphin reappears and Sally films it, thinking she's collecting footage on a previously undiscovered species of Dolphin, a bigger prize than even her mating spinner dolphins. But what Sally and David aren't aware of is that this dolphin is actually owned by William Tree, a member of a very wealthy and powerful family who control part of the US government. Tree operates from a square rigged wind ship called Star of Alabama, which for all intent purposes appears to be an ocean going research vessel and does attract top notch researchers. This giant dolphin is actually a genetically-engineered mammal, a cross between a killer whale and a dolphin (killphin) and programmed to destroy nuclear subs. What William Tree cannot figure out is why the dolphin is attracted to the catamaran and how they are going to get this dangerous creature back. As one can expect, William Tree is ruthless and will not let anything get in the way of his project; meanwhile, Sally and David figure out a few things about this dolphin and its purpose.

If you like action-packed sailing novels, you will certainly enjoy this one. The author Paul Garrison is a sailor and knows his stuff. Although I've never sailed on a catamaran (sitting on one for drinks is as close as I've gotten), with the author's expert guidance I felt quite at home on this speedy little vessel. We experience squalls and perfect winds and even the doldrums. And as I've already said he skillfully gets us out of a few tight spots. Sally's job is also interesting; I found it fascinating to learn about the equipment required to do the underwater filming, the bravery involved and just how one does go about creating sound for the film. Though the characters aren't overly complicated, they are appealing. As one would expect in this kind of story, Sally and David each have some issues to work out and being together in a small space eventually does bring about change for each of them. Fortunately, the novel is more consumed with the high seas adventure than the interpersonal relationship, so the novel never slows. I do have one complaint about the book and that is that despite having all those provisions on board, the author rarely mentions food. Personally, I'm always fascinated by what people prepare while at sea. Overall though, I found this to be a very satisfying thriller and would think that anyone looking for a little pre-season sailing or a book to bring with them on this summer's cruise will do well with this one. Certainly, I'm curious enough to read this author's previous novels.

  • Amazon readers rating: from 7 reviews

Read a chapter excerpt from Sea Hunter at MostlyFiction.com



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About the Author:

Paul Garrison (pen name and alternate ego for auhtor Justin Scott) works with boats, tugs, and ships. Like his grandfather who wandered the South Seas in the last of the square-rigged copra-trading vessels, he travels where business takes him, and spends as much time as he can at sea. He is fascinated by the Far Pacific's violent past and volatile future, and the region's warrior men and women.

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