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A breath of sea air in a wired-job age

We stood in a tight circle, soccer dads in the fall of 1997 on a playing field bordered by granite boulders in Gloucester, Mass. Gusts off the sea, heavy with marine smells, drove a sideways rain that poured off the brims of our caps.

After 20 minutes, our away game was called. We might have waved the kids off sooner, and trudged back to our fogged-up cars, except that we'd been talking about Sebastian Junger's then-new book, "The Perfect Storm." (The movie version hits Friday.)

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That the story was local - it's about the 1991 maelstrom that ravaged Gloucester's swordfishing fleet - was part of its allure. But with so much news about clean, technology-driven jobs, it was also another reminder that many American workers still ply unforgiving, Old Economy trades.

Today's section is largely given over to some down-coast cousins of Gloucester's "longliners": crabbers of the Chesapeake Bay. These shore-huggers fret about rough water, too, but they worry much more about foreign competition.

Commercial fishermen buy into some technology. Global-positioning systems appear in the wheelhouses of their vessels. Online trading has begun to catch on.

But ultimately it's about hard labor - and mutual support.

Our cover-story writer, Neal Learner, got a taste of both. "By about 10 a.m. I was exhausted - having been up since 4:30 a.m.," he recalls. "With no place to lie down, I sat on a small ledge in the cabin, put a cooler behind my back, and slept sitting up."

When he awoke after half an hour, Neal says, waterman Homer Tyler was standing over him - offering a chocolate cupcake.

For the tale of a salt-sprayed trade, look right.

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(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society