After journalist Jessica DuLong was laid off from her dot-com job, her life took an unexpected turn. A volunteer day aboard an antique fireboat, the John J. Harvey, led to a job in the engine room, where she found a taste of home she hadn’t realized she was missing. Working with the boat’s finely crafted machinery, on the waters of the storied Hudson, made her wonder what America is losing in our shift away from hands-on work. Her questions crystallized after she and her crew served at Ground Zero, where fireboats provided the only water available to fight blazes.
Vivid and immediate, My River Chronicles is a journey with an extraordinary guide—a mechanic’s daughter and Stanford graduate who bridges blue-collar and white-collar worlds, turning a phrase as deftly as she does a wrench. As she searches for the meaning of work in America, DuLong shares her own experiences of learning to navigate a traditionally male world, masterfully interweaving unforgettable present-day characters and events with four centuries of Hudson River history.
A celebration of craftsmanship, My River Chronicles is a deeply personal story of a unique woman’s discovery of her own roots—and America’s—that raises important questions about our nation’s future.
Jessica DuLong, a U.S. Coast Guard-licensed Merchant Marine Officer, is one of the world’s only female fireboat engineers. She’s also a journalist whose work has appeared in Newsweek International, Rolling Stone, Psychology Today, CosmoGIRL!, Parenting, Today’s Machining World, and Maritime Reporter & Engineering News, and other publications. Her passion for the Hudson River took shape at her post in the diesel exhaust-filled engine room of retired New York City Fireboat John J. Harvey, where temperatures climb to 130 degrees. The 1931 vessel, dubbed “Ambassador of the Hudson,” now operates as a living museum, offering free public trips around New York Harbor and an annual whistle-stop tour up the Hudson River, with DuLong at the engine-room controls.
On September 11, 2001, Fireboat John J. Harvey was called out of retirement to pump water at the World Trade Center site. The John J. Harvey’s civilian crew, including DuLong, pumped water alongside FDNY crews for four days. Later recognized in the Congressional Record for “ensuring constant smooth running of the engines” during her service in the days following the attacks, she was also immortalized as a character in Maira Kalman’s award-winning children’s book, FIREBOAT: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey, and featured in Ben Gibberd’s New York Waters. DuLong’s boating and writing worlds first collided with the publication of her essay “Below Decks” in the anthology Steady As She Goes: Women’s Adventures At Sea (Seal Press, 2003)–a piece that was singled out in Publishers Weekly as “stylish” and a “high point” of the collection.