GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

The Perfect Storm: The Story of the Andrea Gail

June 3, 2008

The Perfect Storm

GLOUCESTER, Mass. -- "Going to sea is like going to prison, with a chance at drowning besides," wrote Samuel Johnson, the 18th-century English poet and essayist.

Longtime commercial fishermen truly understand the comparison Johnson makes -- they know offshore fishing boats can become floating jails after weeks at sea, where crews often endure gales, accidents, monotony and isolation.

Those of us who stay ashore and seldom get our feet wet, as the old mariners say, have a hard time comprehending routine hardships of life on the open water, hundreds of miles from land.

But the nonfiction bestseller "The Perfect Storm," which chronicles a marine disaster that threw its shadow across New England in 1991, leaves readers with the unsteady feeling of having just ridden out a deadly storm on the North Atlantic.

In the book, author Sebastian Junger explores the killer gale of October '91, which blindsided New England and sank a Gloucester, Mass., swordfish boat with all six hands lost at sea.

In the fall of that year, several intense weather patterns combined into what meteorologists described as a "perfect" storm, with winds that howled past 90 mph and seas that towered to 100 feet. The 70-foot swordfish longliner Andrea Gail was heading back toward Gloucester from Canada's Grand Banks when it ran into hurricane-force winds Oct. 28.

The vessel went down somewhere off Sable Island, apparently with the whole crew aboard.

Capt. Billy Tyne and crewmen Bobby Shatford and David Sullivan of Gloucester died, along with crewmen Dale Murphy and Michael Moran of Florida, and Alfred Pierre of New York.

Mysteries surrounded the longliner's sinking and "The Perfect Storm" tries to explain some events that led to the tragedy.

It turns out that Andrea Gail's crew may have intended to drive through the storm rather than around it. No mayday call was ever heard. And the exact location where the steel-hulled vessel went down is unclear. An unarmed emergency beacon and some fuel drums were the only pieces of equipment ever recovered.

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The Perfect Storm: The Story of the Andrea Gail