by Sebastian Junger
‘People often get premonitions when they do jobs that could get them killed, and in commercial fishing … people get premonitions all the time.’
If you’re the sort of person who dislikes a bit of water, this is not the book for you. Even if you’re a seasoned cruise addict or a fair-weather sailor, you might want to avoid reading it if you’re about to book your next trip!
The Perfect Storm is a true story, presented in novel format by an author who describes himself as a writer and adventurer. This is a really scary book, all about what happened when two of the most powerful atmospheric phenomena on planet Earth collided, and how human beings faced the terrifying consequences.
‘Hurricane Grace is still working her way north, and when she collides with the Sable Island storm … conditions will get even more severe, maybe as high as Force 12.’
The Andrea Gail was a swordfishing boat from Gloucester, New England, that put to sea on an average September day in 1991. Skipper Billy Tyne, Bobby Shatford, Bugsy, Murph, Alfred and Sully are tough, experienced, hard-drinking men with wives, families and girlfriends,who risk their lives in thirty foot waves every time they go out. This was to be a month long trip and two crew members have already called off. Sully (Sullivan) is a last minute replacement.
Turning for home on October 24th with a decent catch, Tyne intends to avoid Sable Island, a notorious 25-mile-long sand bar to the south-east of Nova Scotia. However, for some reason, he encounters the storm at its height and decides to ride it out – he has seen storms before – and radios his intention to the coastguard. It is October 27th. His last radio broadcast is received at 6PM on the 28th: ‘She’s comin’ on strong.’
Neither the Andrea Gail nor its six-man crew was ever seen again.
The Perfect Storm contains a lot of technical information. Climate, currents, cold and warm water effects, winds and freak waves are all presented in scientific as well as journalistic detail. Though the exact fate of the Andrea Gail is unknown, by the end of the book we have a clear picture of all the possible scenarios, and none of these makes happy reading. It’s all Poseidon Adventure stuff, and far from being fantasy! [Seventy foot high waves CAN overturn and crush relatively large ships.]
Sebastian Junger doesn’t confine his story to only one boat. He describes the plight of the Satori, a 32-foot sailing vessel crewed by Ray Leonard, Karen Stimpson and Sue Bylander. Caught in hurricane force winds and 30-foot waves, Satori is in real trouble. It’s Leonard’s boat and he doesn’t want to abandon it but the coastguard calls the shots and sends a rescue team. Against all the odds, with the use of helicopters and swimmers, the team finds the stricken boat and its crew is eventually hauled half-dead aboard the 1,600 ton cutter Tamaroa.
‘Spillane falls probably sixty or seventy feet … He plunges through darkness without any idea where the water is or when he is going to hit.’
Even now, Tamaroa‘s job is not done. She has to participate in the rescue of the crew of an Air National Guard helicopter that has gone to the aid of a lone Japanese sailor. But conditions are so severe that pilot Dave Ruvola can’t keep the helicopter in the air. It crashes in the sea. Ruvola, along with his teammates Spillane and Mioli are rescued. The fourth man, Rick Smith, is lost.
Junger has pieced together the story of The Perfect Storm from official records, general literature on ships and the sea, and from scientific works on oceanography. He visited Gloucester, and interviewed survivors, as well as family and friends of victims of the disaster. Peppered with accounts of other ‘perfect’ storms during the previous century, this fast-moving book takes the reader into the almost unbelievable world of nature at its unkindest. The author brings alive the dangers of commercial deep sea fishing, the indomitable spirit of the men and women who make it their living (and dying) and the incredible bravery of the coastguard and rescue services who try to keep them safe.