An Alaskan author has published a new book about the adventurous life — and sometimes tragedy — of commercial fishing.

Dead Reckoning is Dave Atcheson’s third non-fiction book. In it the author, now based in Sterling, Alaska, revisits his early arrival in the state and his introduction to commercial fishing — and the harrowing near-disaster that changed the lives of everyone on his crew.

Downloadable audio.

DEADRECKONINGDave Atcheson will read from “Dead Reckoning” at 6:30 PM on Monday, March 9, at Old Harbor Books in Sitka.

Dave Atcheson’s story is near-universal for people who come to Alaska, propelled either by romance or economics, to try their hands at commercial fishing.

This is every new crewman’s waking nightmare.

“One of the deckhands on the Lancer, when I first got here, was wanted for questioning in a murder. And I buddied-up with him because I was so terrified of the old skipper who was a screamer — a notorious screamer.”

I think I know these guys, and perhaps you do, too. Atcheson’s found a way to craft a literary tale around the lives and experiences of people familiar to the residents of Alaska’s coastal communities.

And it’s not just the screaming skipper that might resonate with his readers.

“You could be having wheel-watch when the sun’s coming up and it’s calm and there are whales — and you couldn’t be in a better place. Of course, three hours later you could be in a really horrible blow and everything’s taking twice as long, and it’s really nasty — you know, you get all of that.”

Atcheson began his fishing career in Prince William Sound, but later worked in the Bering Sea seining for herring. He moved to Alaska as a 19-year old from upstate New York.

“And I was green as green can be, and looking for adventure. One of the chapters is called ‘Confidence and Nerve.’ You’re 19 and have a lot of nerve — that’s why I went out on a boat with no experience — but not a lot of confidence. You gain your confidence being out there over the years, and maybe your nerve wanes a little bit because you’ve seen people get hurt, or been through some hairy weather and that sort of thing.”

Atcheson says Dead Reckoning is one story in three parts: The compulsion of a young person to test himself on the ocean, the acquiring of experience, and then the self-reflection that — all too often — comes at steep price. For Atcheson, his moment came aboard the seiner Iliamna Bay, when his boat and two others were caught in an all-night gale. At some point, the Iliamna Bay heels over and the wind catches the seine net piled on deck, and it begins to blow it violently overboard, forcing the boat even farther over onto its side. The skipper prepares the crew to abandon ship. Atcheson watches this disaster unfold helplessly, but suddenly finds himself entangled in the net.

Atcheson says many fishermen have close calls, and endure mishaps of all kinds, but this experience was transformative.

“It goes to the next level, where you question your very existence all through your life in some ways. You call people you care about. It goes beyond, Oh I’ve Got a Renewed Respect for Nature. I think I knew the power of nature — I’d been through lots of storms — but this came within inches of losing my life, and that makes you take notice.”

Atcheson survived, obviously, and so did the Iliamna Bay, which required three days of repair at sea before limping back to Homer. Atcheson remembers telling himself that he was done with fishing, but on that voyage home a friend called needing help running his boat on the Copper River Flats. So Atcheson was back at work less than a week later, and fished for several more seasons.

Dead Reckoning is set in the late 1990s. Atcheson was just starting to think about becoming a writer when he was deckhanding, but he did not start pulling together material for this story until seven years ago.

“It took me a long time to distance myself from it, where I could write about it.”

Atcheson has published two other successful outdoor books: a guidebook called ‘Hidden Alaska: Bristol Bay and Beyond,’ and Fishing Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula — both from New York-based Skyhorse Publishing.

Atcheson works now for the University of Alaska at Kenai Peninsula College.

Dead Reckoning is available from book stores throughout Alaska.