Door In Dark Water gives you an inspiring and frightening experience

I was right out there in the open ocean, feeling the powerful wind, worried about the approaching storm, hauling in tons of fish, exhausted after being at sea for 36 hours without sleep.

P.D. Callahan’s book, Door In Dark Water, is a well-written account of his years of commercial fishing, and I was most impressed with the way he puts the reader right on the boat with him. I thought I knew what that experience is like, until I read this book.

Here’s how he got hooked.

“Now, here is the greatest moment in this drama… It is experiencing a wildness that is both a heart-rending moment and a peak instant of excitement all at once.

“As you pull (the mackerel) explode in front of you all at once, four or five thousand leaping bodies in a loud splashing, water flying high enough to rain back down. You are standing in a heavy downpour of seawater and tiny mackerel scales. We know we have them. But it is so loud, you have to shout over the cacophony.

“My first haul had ripped open my understanding of living in the world. The fury of the mackerel poured in and eliminated the pallid glen of everyday life. I start fishing full time. Not befuddled anymore, I had crossed over, clear on where I was going: into the heart of this life, stocked with bright blood and nutmeg odor of gasping fish.”

Doesn’t that put you right on the boat, feeling that downpour of seawater and mackerel scales? It sure did put me there.

Callahan and his wife Joy lived in poverty while he pursued his love of the sea. Here’s a description of their house.

“We had a house heated by a used oil stove… which also served as our cook stove. But we had no running water, no front steps… a set of back steps that led to the outhouse (they were a little tricky in the dark)… With winter coming on, the house had no sheathing on the outside… No water. No flush. And a ten dollar oil cook stove to keep us warm for the winter. We were living in a house that was a half-, finished do-it-yourself project, and still as primitive as a shipping crate.”

Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?!

And consider this, the last paragraph in that chapter.

“Facing that winter for the first time I had a sense that we were up against forces we might not be able to shrug off, that our life was becoming less about love and more about struggle, that the darkness of despair and failure was tactile, or closer than I thought – maybe even visible in my peripheral vision.”

Despite all of that, Callahan conveys the excitement and challenges of deep water commercial fishing, often in boats that were just one wave away from sinking. I found it amazing, as I read each chapter, that he was still alive.

Here’s how he explains the hook of the ocean:

“I have stepped into a reality that will change my life forever, walked through some secret doorway to a place where career path and credentials and a map of the future are irrelevant, where the physical world is everything (all anyone thinks about and talks about): the corrosive and creative force of the sea, catching something alive and selling it for food and money, living to the next day, catching something alive and selling it for food and money, living to the next day and the next day.”

This book is an experience, and one you will not forget.

PHOTO: my grandsons Addison and Vishal fishing for mackerel in Rockland harbor.

George Smith

About George Smith

George stepped down at the end of 2010 after 18 years as the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine to write full time. He writes a weekly editorial page column in the Kennebec Journal and Waterville Morning Sentinel, a weekly travel column in those same newspapers (with his wife Linda), monthly columns in The Maine Sportsman magazine, two outdoor news blogs (one on his website,, and one on the website of the Bangor Daily News), and special columns for many publications and newsletters. Islandport Press published a book of George's favorite columns, "A Life Lived Outdoors" in 2014. In 2014, George also won a Maine Press Association award for writing the state's bet sports blog. In 2016, Down East Books published George's book, Maine Sporting Camps, and Islandport Press published George and his wife Linda's travel book, Take It From ME, about their favorite Maine inns and restaurants.