The Perfect Storm is a creative nonfiction book written by Sebastian Junger and published by W. W. Norton & Company in 1997. The paperback edition (ISBN 0-06-097747-7) followed in 1999 from HarperCollins’ Perennial imprint. The book is about the 1991 Perfect Storm that hit North America between October 28 and November 4, 1991, and features the crew of the fishing boat Andrea Gail, from Gloucester, Massachusetts, who were lost at sea during severe conditions while longline fishing for swordfish 575 miles (925 km) out. Also in the book is the story about the rescue of the three-person crew of the sailboat Satori in the Atlantic Ocean during the storm by the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Tamaroa (WMEC-166). The book was adapted for the film of the same title, directed by Wolfgang Petersen and released in 2000. The Satori is renamed Mistral in the movie, and the since-retired USCGC Tamaroa is portrayed by a newer, 210-foot medium-endurance cutter. Contents [hide]
2 Crew members on the Andrea Gail
3 Other important people
4 Book controversy
6 External links
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The book follows the lives of the swordfishing crew of the Andrea Gail and their family members before and during the 1991 Perfect Storm. Among the men boarding the Andrea Gail were Billy Tyne, Alfred Pierre, David “Sully” Sullivan, Michael “Bugsy” Moran, Dale “Murph” Murphy, and Bobby Shatford, each bringing their own intelligence, physical strength, and hope on board with them. The men were raised with the expectation that they would become fishermen. As “Sully” said, even before they had left for their long journey, “It’s the money … If I didn’t need the money I wouldn’t go near this thing.” Much of the early part of the book gives detailed descriptions of the daily lives of the fishermen and their jobs, and is centered around activities at the Crow’s Nest, a tavern in Gloucester popular with the fishermen. The latter part of the book attempts to reconstruct events at sea during the storm, aboard the Andrea Gail as well as rescue efforts directed at several other ships caught in the storm, including the attempted rescue of pararescuemen who were themselves caught in the storm. Lost from the New York Air National Guard HH-60 helicopter was TSgt. Alden “Rick” Smith. A week-long search off the South Shore of Long Island failed to find his remains. Surviving the helicopter crash were Maj. David Ruvola, Capt. Graham Buschor, SSgt. Jimmy Mioli and TSgt. John Spillane, the second pararescueman aboard. All six crew members of the Andrea Gail were missing, presumed dead. The ship and crew were never found. A few fuel drums, a fuel tank, the EPIRB, an empty life raft, and some other flotsam were the only wreckage ever found. Crew members on the Andrea Gail
Billy Tyne – Captain of the Andrea Gail. A good fisherman with a reputation of being a prosperous fishing captain. Billy was once married to Jodi Tyne who at the time of the story is Billy’s ex-wife. Robert “Bobby” Shatford – Born March 22, 1968, Bobby was a native of Gloucester, Massachusetts. In his high school years, Bobby played football. Before boarding the Andrea Gail, he lived above his favorite hang-out, The Crow’s Nest, where his mother,
Ethel, would tend the bar. Bobby was dating Christina “Chris” Cotter, whom he met through his sister, Mary Anne. Chris soon became his fiance. Bobby had two children from a previous marriage. He accepted the spot on the Andrea Gail because he needed money to pay the child support that he owed his ex-wife. Bobby planned this fishing trip to be the last one before settling down and marrying Chris. It was said that Bobby was not only the youngest fisherman on the boat, but the most inexperienced as well. Dale “Murph” Murphy – In the story Murph is 33 years old. He is from Bradenton Beach, Florida. He is physically described to have shaggy black hair, a thin beard, and Mongolian eyes. Murph has a 3 year old child and an ex-wife named Debra. Murph is the cook for the Andrea Gail. David “Sully” Sullivan – A hired fisherman who served to replace a worker on the Andrea Gail who dropped out of the job. Sully is well known in Gloucester for saving his entire crew on one fishing voyage. Michael “Bugsy” Moran – A crew member on the Andrea Gail. Described as an amiable person with a crazy reputation. Alfred Pierre – Described by Junger as, “An immense, kind Jamaican from New York City.” Before departure Pierre is described as going back and forth in deciding whether he is going on the fishing trip or not. He does eventually go on the trip. Pierre is also described to be shy yet well-liked. Other important people
Bob Brown – The owner of the Andrea Gail. Captain Billy Tyne is known for ‘hate talking’ to Brown and often sends messages to him through Captain Greenlaw. Junger describes Brown’s reputation in Gloucester as complex. He is known for being a successful owner but criticized for being a risk taker. To some he is known as “Suicide Brown.” Linda Greenlaw – Greenlaw is captain of the Hannah Boden (sister ship to the Andrea Gail) and a friend of Billy Tyne. The two captains were in radio contact with one another before the Andrea Gail went down. Charlie Reed – Former captain of the boat. Reed gives commentary throughout the book on the boats’ history. Book controversy
While there have been disputes over the context and research of the book, there have been controversies that surround the movie The Perfect Storm. Families of two crew members sued the film makers for the fictionalization of events which happened prior to the loss of the Andrea Gail. In 2005,
the Florida Supreme Court ruled against the family of Captain Tyne by a 6-2 vote.
It is a struggle as old as humanity itself and perhaps that is why the ongoing battle of human against nature resonates with such resilience in the hearts and minds of readers of the adventure tale. A solitary figure standing on a beach can rail against the elements of sand, sea, and rain and feel in control, but omnipotence rests on terra firma. Place that same person on a boat tossed about on a roiling sea, a sky reverberating with crescendos of thunder, water-bullets screaming from the heavens, and prayers for deliverance are the only words that pass humbled lips.
In October 1991, on the Grand Banks off the coast of Nova Scotia, the 72-foot swordfish boat Andrea Gail turns west to begin its journey home to Gloucester, Massachusetts. It’s been a successful run and the Gail’s hold is full of fish, but disturbing news over the radio puts captain Billy Tyne on alert. Storms are approaching and with a full hold the Andrea Gail sits low in the water. What transpires over the next few days forms the body of Sebastian Junger’s powerful and riveting THE PERFECT STORM.
Founded in 1623, Gloucester has always been a fishing village. The community’s penchant for tolerance, if not outright debauchery, brought hardened sailors from far and wide, and Gloucester’s population grew with its reputation. “If the fishermen lived hard, it was no doubt because they died hard as well. In the industry’s heyday, Gloucester was losing a couple of hundred men every year to the sea, four percent of the town’s population. Since 1650, an estimated ten thousand Gloucestermen have died at sea.”
The Grand Banks, in addition to being one of the richest fishing regions in the world, happens to lie on one of the world’s worst storm tracks, where low pressure systems that form over the Great Lakes and Cape Hatteras follow the jet stream right over these prime fishing grounds. If the occupation of fisherman isn’t dangerous enough, the added element of weather imbues the
job with a mortality rate much worse than that of a New York City police officer.
The Gloucester swordfisherman stalks an animal that wields the bony extension of its upper jaw in wild slashing movements that eviscerate anything in its path, be it the schools of fish through which it swims or the arms of a deckhand unlucky enough to have misplaced his gaff. The fish has been known to run its sword right through the hull of a boat.
Harpooning was the primary method of landing the swordfish in the 19th century, but modern swordfishermen play out nearly 40 miles of line rigged with over 1,000 baited hooks. One can be easily snagged by the hooks as they’re spooled in or out of the boat, and a deckhand’s dexterity and balance may be compromised by the rocking platform of the boat and the constant wash of seawater over the rails. So why would a person choose this occupation? The answer is simple — money. In the mid-1980s, an average weekly take for the lowest deckhand on a successful run was $10,000, but for every week like that, there were countless weeks that resulted in a bust.
Junger weaves this history lesson of the region, the fishing industry, and relevant meteorological data seamlessly with the personal lives of the crew of the Andrea Gail to fashion a thorough portrait of the quotidian existence of a Gloucester fishing vessel. The courage, hopes, and dreams of the six-man crew of the Andrea Gail compete with their fear and respect of the mighty Atlantic Ocean. In the claustrophobic atmosphere of the boat, exhaustion is a given and talk centers on the desire to be back home. None of them can know that on this journey each will come face to face with something the likes of which this region has rarely seen, “the meshing of three completely independent weather systems to form a hundred-year event… the perfect storm.”
From the dead calm that is an eerie precursor of the rage that will follow, “the Andrea Gail enters the Sable Island storm the way one might step into a room. The wind is instantly forty knots and parting through the rigging with an unnerving scream.” Moments later Billy Tyne radios other fishing vessels
in the area, reporting that the wind is “blowin’ fifty to eighty and the seas are thirty feet.” One last radio message is heard from the Andrea Gail — “She’s comin’ on boys, and she’s coming on strong.”
Junger’s prose comes on just as strong. With harrowing descriptions of the events that follow, including the courageous rescue efforts by the Coast Guard and the Air National Guard, Junger puts the reader in the middle of the action. Yet, for all the brilliance of his graphically detailed documentation of what transpired during those fateful hours, it’s Junger’s compassion for those who people this real-life drama that infuses THE PERFECT STORM with its heart, resurrecting the bodies of the ill-fated crew and making them rise from these pages.
The Halloween Storm of 1991 was a notorious example of the cruel indifference of nature. When all was said and done, all six members of the Andrea Gail were missing and presumed dead. Three independent weather systems combined for a storm that occurs only once every hundred years. Gale force winds and a number of rogue waves brought on by the cataclysm of a hurricane and Nor’Easter pounded and tortured the swordfish boat. While some had hailed Georges Bank as the most dangerous fishing grounds in the world, I do not think anyone on the Andrea Gail expected to die this way. I found this novel very haunting and found myself very angry at the end. These men had wives, girlfriends, mother, fathers…In general, all had friends and families that needed them and they left them behind upon their demise.
This book really made me feel horrible for the victims’ families and friends.The victims did not just simply die — they disappeared off the face of the earth completely and were never properly laid to rest. This is why the event has been heralded as “The Shipwrecked Story No One Survived to Tell”. To be honest, that statement itself is incredibly haunting. The camaraderie of the fishermen is very well documented. The statement “and that a bartender put the money away for safekeeping says a lot about how fishermen chose their bars” (Junger, p.19) tells me that this is a close
As someone who has lost a parent, I know how hard it is for families when they lose a father. I know firsthand how hard that experience is — it took years of therapy and reflection to truly deal with my father’s death. However, I feel lucky that my father was properly laid to rest and that my family had the closure that I can imagine these families yearn for. I personally could not imagine how it must feel to never truly know if your father is dead — even if the circumstances are the most hostile towards human life that one can imagine.
I found myself very angry with the companies that backed these fishing expeditions due to their lack of concern about human life. Even though it has been heralded as “a storm that could not possibly have been worse.” they decided to try to sail back to risk losing their catch since their ice machine broke as the storm developed near the coast. Quotes like “For 150 years, Georges, off the coast of Cape Cod, had been the breadbasket of New England fishing” (Junger, p. 22) and “When the Hannah Boden unloads her catch in Gloucester, swordfish prices plummet halfway across the world” (Junger, p. 36) show just how long the tradition of fishing has been a part of New England’s economy and history. From cod to swordfish, fishing has fueled the economy for many years.
Granted, the industry carries a high risk of industry, death and profit alike. However, how informed were the fishermen of this? I am sure these men were not educated and did not know that, as workers, they have rights to a safe workplace. These men were simply raised with the expectation that they would become fishermen, instead of having options to better themselves. While I respect anyone who makes an honest, legal living, so few people realize their potential and I find that very sad. While I know that blue-collar workers are essential for any economy to thrive, I feel that one should have a choice instead of feeling pressured or pre-destined to become fishermen out of necessity.
However, the money and respect probably made a deadly job very appealing.
“The shoulder muscles that resulted from a lifetime of such work made fishermen recognizable on the street. They were called ‘hand-liners’ and people got out of their way” (Junger, p. 26) shows that these men were respected. There is also the possibility that the mere fact that they had their own riches (even if only for a short time) enticed them to face a very likely and possible death.
I also found it interesting that premonitions drove two crew members to walk away from what was supposed to be a very lucrative fishing expedition. The passage eerily explains what some would consider to be a lucky phenomenon: “People often get premonitions when they do jobs that could get them killed, and in commercial fishing — still one of the most dangerous pursuits in the country — people get premonitions all the time. The trick is knowing when to listen to them” (Junger, p.37-38). I am glad that these men chose to think of their families first instead of laying their lives on the line for fish.
The thought that — even in such a modern and supposedly advanced age — a boat can disappear in the Atlantic and leave behind only a few oil drums and radio equipment is very haunting. I was honestly shocked that no one even tried to find the wreckage. In all honesty, I was angry that it seemed that most of these men went to an almost certain death and seemed more valuable dead than alive. While this is a great read, I was still disturbed that more was not done for their safety.