GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

June 3, 2008

Storm Inspired Author to Pen Maritime Book

Rob Jagodzinski

GLOUCESTER, Mass. -- Writer Sebastian Junger knew little about the sea's power before Oct. 31, 1991.

But an ocean gale that hit Cape Ann on that date six years ago left an indelible impression on him as he stood beside other residents on the Back Shore and watched the storm's destructive force.

That experience contained the seeds that have since grown into his first book, published this spring and entitled "The Perfect Storm."

"The streets were awash and 30-foot waves were slamming into the Back Shore ... I'd never seen anything that powerful," Junger told 100 people who gathered Thursday night at The Bookstore on Main Street to hear him read from his work. It was the first stop of a nationwide promotional tour for "The Perfect Storm."

The so-called "no-name northeaster" in October 1991 not only battered the North Shore, but also sank the Gloucester swordfish boat Andrea Gail, with six hands lost at sea. As his non-fiction manuscript evolved, Junger decided to make the doomed vessel the centerpiece of his tale.

Skipper Billy Tyne, and crewmen Bobby Shatford, David Sullivan, Dale Murphy, Alfred Pierre and Michael Murphy died when the 70-foot steel boat sank in the gale hundreds of miles off Cape Ann.

Junger spent more than two years doing exhaustive research and writing about the sinking and the huge storm.

That was time well spent, according to local fishermen, sailors, authors and even land-bound folks, all impressed by the insight and drama contained in Junger's book.

"You did such an incredible job of capturing what it's like to be in such huge seas," marine researcher Mason Weinrich told Junger at last night's gathering.

Ann Nichols, who's sailed all over the world in the past 25 years, said the documentary left her "shaken," because it brought back memories of her own experiences during ocean storms.

"The book gives an awareness of what it's like at sea, for people who don't go to sea," said Nichols, who's sailed on the three-masted, 144-foot Regina Maris.

One passage in "The Perfect Storm" explains how some crews caught in bad weather don't pay heed to their fears until after they safely return to port.

"There isn't fear in that kind of storm -- you have to do your work" to stay afloat, Nichols said. "Later, when you come ashore and you're in a bar and you start to talk about what happened, that's when you feel the fear."

The account about Andrea Gail's crew and the killer storm is filled with rich passages about Gloucester's waterfront, the history of the region's fishing industry, and the effects of overfishing.

The Rev.Fayette Severance, an Annisquam minister who ran a lobster boat for eight years, agreed the book gives a clear account of the dangers of fishing life. The tale transports readers onto the deck of a storm-tossed boat, Severance said.

Ethel Shatford, whose son Bobby was killed in the sinking, attended Thursday night's reading. She said the book was a painful but truthful account of the storm that took her son.

Mary Anne Shatford -- Bobby's sister -- said she had to skip over some dramatic parts of the book that seemed too disturbing to her.

"Some parts I couldn't read, such as where the book explained the process of drowning," Mary Anne said.

Gloucester author Peter Anastas praised the work as a poetic and unflinching chronicle of fishermen's lives and recent events in town.

"The book plays back for us things in our lives that we're too close to see," Anastas said. "It holds up a mirror to Gloucester."

Author Junger, a 34-year-old Brockton native, accepted the praise with humility. Since nearly all of his knowledge of fishing and storms came from research and interviews -- and not firsthand experience -- he said he was relieved to hear that readers felt his book was on target.

Gloucester's positive response "has meant more to me than anything else," Junger said.

It also helps that the title is ranked 22nd on the New York Times Bestseller List after just a few weeks, and a movie deal may be on the horizon.

Now Junger will hit the road with "The Perfect Storm," taking it first to Denver then other points out West while on tour this summer. It's exciting for him because it's his first book, and income from it will let him live a better life than the hand-to-mouth existence he knew for years as a free-lance writer.

Junger said he will be able to afford a few extravagances -- maybe even a sailboat.

But last night, a member of the audience suggested that Junger should read his own book again before purchasing that boat.