2015 Programs Open to the Public


9/12                        3:30pm         Wooden Boat Festival,*                 The Finest Hours

                                                     Port Townshend, WA

9/13                        12:00pm         Wooden Boat Festival,*                Rescue of the Bounty

                                                      Port Townshend, WA

9/24 6:30 Hooksett NH Library Finest Hours
10/15 7:00 Sharon MA Library Finest Hours
10/16 6:30 Eastham MA Library Finest Hours
10/25 7:30 Cohasset MA Historical (public can purchase tickets) Held at Cohasset Harbor Resort Finest Hours
10/26 2:00 Needham MA Sr Center Finest Hours
10/28 7:00 Southwick MA Library Bounty
10/29 7:00 Abington MA Library Fatal Forecast
11/1 2:00 Chatham MA Library Finest Hours – entire presentation both Pendleton and Fort Mercer
11/3 7:00 Norfolk MA Library Indian Wars of NE
11/12 7pm Hull Lifesaving @Nantasket Beach Resort Finest Hours
12/2 7:00 Norwood MA Library Rescue of the Bounty
12/5 2:00 Newburyport MA Library Finest Hours

A Dad’s View: Writing with my Daughter

Not many teenagers on the planet think their parents are cool. In fact, most probably think dear old dad is clueless on a number of fronts, from fashion, social issues and relationships to what really happens at school, and everything in between. When my daughter Kristin was a teenager she placed me in this clueless category, but Kristin had an even greater challenge: I’m a bit eccentric, a non-conformist, and well known in our hometown because I’m an author and hosted a television show. Teens want their parents to blend in but try as I might, it’s just not in my DNA.
Part of my problem is that I’m frugal. Let’s start with my clothes: I thought it was perfectly acceptable to apply Vaseline petroleum jelly to my sneakers to make them water-proof, to wear my short-shorts from the 1980’s because they were still in one piece, and to wear a pink-and-turquoise belly shirt of similar vintage when cutting the lawn.  And on really hot days, I’ll often wear no shirt at all. All of this, according to Kristin, is simply not acceptable for any father, but especially not for me because I have no belly-button.  Yes, it’s true: my umbilical cord broke away from my stomach during birth. If someone, such as one of Kristin’s friends, notices this lack of a belly button, I just say, “I was hatched.”  The friend would politely excuse herself, and of course later would ask Kristin ‘what’s up with your Dad?’ 
Another item important to teens but not to me is the family car.  Kristin wanted a newer model, preferably an expensive one, but would have settled for non-descript sedan as long as it was clean. My car, however, is neither. My ancient Subaru is my home on wheels because I travel so much researching, giving presentations or pursuing my outdoor hobbies such as fishing and gardening. Consequently the car has a bit more “stuff” in it than most. It always has a stash of food, ranging from spaghetti to M&M’s to watermelon. Some of the food invariably falls on the floor, where it might mingle with a freshly caught trout (or one I overlooked to remove from the car), a holly tree dug from the woods, or a bag of manure.  I also keep my electric shaver, dental floss, and a self-made “car bib” in the Subaru to keep myself well groomed and stain free.
Having “mortified” my daughter with my outfits and cars, I now feel I can advise other Dads whose children will soon become teenagers: it’s not cool to pull up to your kid’s high school to pick them up in a smelly jalopy with plants coming out the windows.  And you should never exit the car, especially when you’ve just Vaselined your sneakers and have your favorite pair of short-shorts on.  You might get noticed – and that is not what your kid wants. 
Your kid's awful family vacations could also be forever memorialized in a book!

Your kid’s awful family vacations could also be forever memorialized in a book!

Kristin claims that family vacations were especially tough on her, because we’d go stay at some god-forsaken place in the hills of northern new England which would take her away from her all-important social events like Jade’s pool party or Sara’s barbecue.  These, Kristin told me, are the places to be “seen” and also where the boys would be. 
It was during one these vacations up north where Kristin started recording in her journal just how bad the trip was.  She’d describe how the food was “glop,” how the pool was closed because some kid pooped in it, and how our cabin turned out to be a scorching “tin-can” mobile home. She expanded the journal to cover all our trips, and a few years later when she was 19 and in college (and away from Dear Old Dad) she read me parts of recollections and we both cracked up. That’s when we had the idea to write the Cringe Chronicles: Mortifying Misadventures with my Dad. Kristin wrote each chapter from her point of view, but I’d have my say too in “A Dad’s View.”
Kristin and friends--what a beautiful book club!

Kristin and friends–what a beautiful book club!

It took us a couple years to write the book, but something magical happened during that time.  Kristin’s teenage embarrassment over her father’s odd lifestyle was replaced by a combination of humor and appreciation. Instead of dreading a vacation with Dad, she actually encourages me to join her (as long as she could plan the itinerary). Instead of cringing at the misadventures I cause, she embraces them, knowing even a “bad” trip is better than a boring trip.
So to all you Dads out there whose teenager thinks you’re a dork, hang in there. Your child just might surprise you when they are out on their own and emerge from the teen angst with a sense of humor.

Reviews for Rescue of the Bounty


Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy
The Roanoke (VA) Times reviewer liked the authenticity of Rescue of the Bounty:
“…the growing tension in the book comes from watching the crew’s initial confidence turn to a constant struggle against an increasing number of problems as the sea methodically beats their ship to pieces. At what point will they turn from trying to save the ship to trying to save themselves?”

“…the authors offer a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of the captain, crediting his compassionate manner and the respect and loyalty he inspired. Finally, they devote a thrilling portion of their narrative to the courageous Coast Guard rescue and the almost incredible efforts of the pilots, hoist crews and swimmers who headed straight into Hurricane Sandy.

A taut recounting of a needless maritime tragedy.”

Click here to read more from Kirkus Reviews



New book examines sinking of tall ship Bounty

By John Ruddy

When the tall ship Bounty sank in Superstorm Sandy in October 2012 after sailing from New London, there was shock and grief for the two lives lost, but also a perplexing question.

How could it have happened?

But “Rescue of the Bounty” also attempts to answer that haunting question. The result is a tale that succeeds both as a high-seas adventure and as a psychological portrait of Bounty’s ill-fated captain, Robin Walbridge, whose body was never found.

Click here to read the entire review from the The Day, New London CT


Schooner Bounty’s sinking is latest tale of maritime disaster for Mass. author




On Oct. 25, 2012, the three-masted schooner Bounty, a replica of the famous HMS Bounty of “Mutiny” fame, was docked in New London.

Ship captain Robin Walbridge gathered his 15-person crew and announced the ship would sail to a planned winter berth in St. Petersburg, Fla., despite the looming threat of a hurricane targeting the East Coast.

Anyone who wanted to leave the ship, he said, could do so with no hard feelings. There was no mutiny on this Bounty, the replica ship built for the 1962 film “Mutiny on the Bounty.” Everyone stayed.

The book describes Walbridge as quiet, but headstrong and determined. He had managed to sail successfully in hurricanes before, and had confidence in his abilities.

Campbell called Walbridge “an intelligent, driven man who was, in the end, trapped by his own success, almost universally unquestioned, and, perhaps as a result, unaccustomed to being challenged.”

Tougias called Walbridge “a fascinating character,” but he has tremendous admiration for the pilots and rescue swimmers of the Coast Guard, who saved 14 of the 16 people on board the Bounty.

Click here to read the whole story from the Providence Journal, Providence RI


Book review (nonfiction): Rescue of the Bounty

Death and destruction as a historic vessel meets its end

BY DOUG CHILDERS Special correspondent

Tougias and Campbell build tension slowly and methodically in “Rescue of the Bounty,” taking time to explore Walbridge’s back story as a means to understanding why he chose the course he took when faced with Sandy.

It’s a sound strategy that pays off when they reach the storm itself. Then, the book becomes a white-knuckled, tragic adventure experienced by recognizable and sympathetic figures.

From the Richmond (VA) Times-Dispatch

New Book on Rescue of the Bounty

When the Bounty sank in Hurricane Sandy with two lost but 14 saved, co-author Doug Campbell and I went to work. We think we answered the question “why did they go into the storm?” and “how on earth were they rescued” in our book RESCUE OF THE BOUNTY. The book is now being shipped to bookstores and although Amazon says that it’s ready April 1st it is at their warehouse right now.  Appreciate all the words of encouragement! Dateline NBC is working with us to do a special. Over the next couple of weeks I’ll post photos of how the Coast Guard men and women pulled off this miracle.

Follow this link to get details on Kirkus Reviews’ take on the story (not to be a spoiler but they said it’s “A taut recounting of a needless maritime tragedy.”).

Bounty cover

If you’d like to hear the whole story, check my page for speaking engagements — I also try to post them a few days ahead of time on this Facebook page, so “like” it for updates.

2014 Programs Open to the Public

2014 Programs Open to the Public

Date         Time             Place                                                                       Topic
4/3          7pm           N. Stonington CT Library                               A Storm Too Soon
4/6         2pm            Maritime Museum at Fall River                   Rescue of the Bounty
CHANGED TO MAY 13          Dover MA Council on Aging                         A Storm Too Soon
4/10       6:30pm     W. Brookfield MA Library                            A Storm Too Soon
4/11       7pm             Agawam MA Library                                        A Storm Too Soon
CHANGED TO MAY 21           Southborough Library                                     Quabbin
4/17      6:30pm      Berkley Lib/ at Berkley Middle School    King Philip’s War

I recently republished Until I Have No Country, a novel about King Philip's War with Christopher Matthews Publishing (they're responsible for this great cover art!)

I recently republished Until I Have No Country, a novel about King Philip’s War with Christopher Matthews Publishing (they’re responsible for this great cover art!)

4/24    7pm            Porter Sq Bookstore, Cambridge                       Rescue of the Bounty
4/29    7pm            Brewster MA Ladies Library                                 Rescue of the Bounty
4/30    7pm           Bourne Historical Society                                      Rescue of the Bounty
5/4      2pm             New London CT Maritime Museum                  Rescue of the Bounty
5/6      7pm            Bridgewater MA Library                                          Rescue of the Bounty
5/7       7:30pm    Suffield CT Historical at the Library                  A Storm Too Soon
5/8       7pm           Taunton MA Library                                                  A Storm Too Soon

5/13    12:30pm    Dover Council on Aging                                         A Storm Too Soon
5/13     7pm           Swampscott MA Library                                          Derek’s Gift
5/15     7pm           Herreshoff Museum Bristol, RI                           Rescue of the Bounty
5/17     3pm           Orleans MA Historical Society                             Rescue of the Bounty
5/20 Evening       Hopkinton MA (Location TBD)                           Survival Lessons

5/21 7pm               Southborough Library                                             Quabbin
5/22    7pm            Cohassett Library                                                       Rescue of the Bounty
5/31     2pm            Harwich MA Library                                                 Rescue of the Bounty
6/17 10:30am      Winslow House Marshfield MA                            King Philip’s Indian War
7/17 10:30am      Norton MA Library                                                    A Storm Too Soon
7/22    7pm            Westboro MA Library                                              Rescue of the Bounty
8/12 6:30pm        Gilford NH Library                                                    Rescue of the Bounty
8/24 Evening        Sandwich MA Glass Museum                               The Finest Hours
10/7   7pm               Hardwick VT Library                                              CT River
10/8   7:30pm       Concord NH City Auditorium                              Rescue of the Bounty
11/3    7pm             Hampton Falls NH Library                                     The Finest Hours
11/7 Evening         Littleton MA Lyceum at High School                 King Philip’s War
11/19   7pm          Shrewsbury MA Historical                                        King Philip’s War

Update on Finest Hours movie progress

Globe banner

From the Boston Globe January 15, 2015

The Finest Hours movie has jumped from an April 2016 release to this October (2015)!

I had an opportunity to meet the costars, Holliday Grainger and Chris Pine, during the filming. I told Chris Bernie would be proud of what he was doing and he replied, “I sure hope so, I’m giving it everything I’ve got.”

Holliday had met Bernie Webber’s daughter, and I told her a little about Miriam, the woman she played.

Having spent a few days on the set during filming, I have to say they make it look easy. The actors, directors, producers and behind-the-scenes people who make it all come together worked very long hours on an exceptionally intense schedule this fall. My hat’s off to them. Can’t wait to see the finished product!

From the Boston Globe 11/14/14

Finest Hours pic 1

Andy Fitzgerald (right), with Mel Gouthro, visited the movie set in Quincy, where a film reenacting his heroics was shot.

QUINCY — Nearly three dozen crewmen huddle against the cold rail of a massive stricken ship. Lashed by a howling nor’easter, one of them clambers down a 40-foot ladder to a small, pitching, overcrowded rescue boat.

And that’s just on the movie set.

The scene, filmed by Disney Studios in a cavernous building at the former Fore River Shipyard, is a re-creation of what the US Coast Guard calls the greatest rescue by a small boat in its history. As the frantic scene was shot, and then shot again Tuesday, 83-year-old Andy Fitzgerald sat riveted in a director’s chair and recalled the harrowing events of Feb. 18, 1952.

The impossible seemed real again.

Fitzgerald was one of four Coast Guardsmen who left Chatham in a 36-foot wooden boat, at night in a blizzard, and in the teeth of 60-foot waves, to rescue the crew of the SS Pendleton, an oil tanker that had broken in two off the elbow of Cape Cod.

“The motto of the Coast Guard at that time was, ‘You have to go out, but you don’t have to come back,’ ” Fitzgerald said with a wry smile as he watched the movie come together. “It was our job.”

Doing the job that night resulted in the rescue of 32 crew members of the Pendleton in a Coast Guard boat designed to hold eight. Fitzgerald and his comrades had fought the brutal storm for five miles, without a compass or even a windshield, which had been destroyed by the waves. On the return trip, in zero visibility, they hoped they would find the beach.

“I’ve never forgotten it,” said Fitzgerald, the last surviving member of the team. “I can remember it like it was yesterday.”

Although the night is seared in Fitzgerald’s memory, not many people are familiar with the story. Even Fitzgerald’s wife, Gloria, said she had not heard of the rescue until after she married Andy in 1956.

“He doesn’t consider himself a hero to this day,” Gloria said, a small smile creasing her face. “He’d say, ‘It was three hours of work that we were supposed to do.’ ”

That humility is a big part of the story’s appeal for Watertown resident Dorothy Aufiero, who is coproducing the film, called “The Finest Hours” and based on a book of the same name.

“This was a suicide mission,” said Aufiero, who also produced “The Fighter,” an Oscar-winning film about Lowell boxer Micky Ward. “The odds of these guys coming back were slim to none. I don’t know how the story remained hidden for so long.”

The rescue earned the crew the Gold Lifesaving Medal, the Coast Guard’s highest honor. But Fitzgerald, who was raised in Whitinsville, Mass., and lives in Aurora, Colo., said he sees nothing unusual about the job he and his crewmates did.

When asked why he has not discussed the mission more, even with his wife, Fitzgerald replied without a hint of glibness or irony.

“She never asked me,” he said matter-of-factly.

Fitzgerald and his wife were flown to Massachusetts this week to watch two days of filming at the old shipyard, where the hull of the Pendleton has been re-created in a mammoth indoor pool.

Mel Gouthro, who had been sick the night of the rescue and was replaced by Fitzgerald, stood at the edge of the indoor “ocean” and gazed in silent awe at the “Pendleton” and the Coast Guard “rescue boat.”

“It’s just amazing,” said Gouthro, who lives in Wrentham.

Coproducer Jim Whitaker, who also produced “Cinderella Man,” said he was attracted to the story partly because he spent his formative years on the Nova Scotia coast.

“I love the hope,” Whitaker said. “I was immediately drawn to what people who work on the ocean do for a living, and correspondingly the people who protect them.”

Kyle Gallner, a 28-year-old actor who plays Fitzgerald, echoed that sentiment.

“These guys were a totally different breed,” Gallner said. “I think it’s a good thing to show real-life heroes and the strength of the human spirit. It’s nice to have parts like this, where you can show regular people doing amazing things.”

After lunch during another 12-hour day on the set, Gallner posed for pictures with the Fitzgeralds. Before the photos, true to his unassuming nature, Fitzgerald told a visitor how much he admired the actors for working in cold, wet conditions on the indoor sound stage.

And then, with a shake of his head, he offered this: “We admire the actors, but they almost seem to admire us.”

*                        **                                     ***                            **

At long last, it’s safe to announce that the Disney corporation is actually filming The Finest Hours!

We tip-toed around the subject for a long time because nobody could say for sure if the filming would actually happen, but allowed ourselves to feel some excitement when news came out that they signed a deal with actor Chris Pine (Star Trek movie) to star as Bernie Webber (Bernie always said Don Knotts should play his part in the movie version of the story!). Now we know Casey Affleck has joined the cast, as well as Graham McTavish  from Lord of the Rings.

Bernie Webber said Don Knotts would be suitable to play him in the movie

Bernie Webber said Don Knotts would be suitable to play him in the movie

A recent article in the Cape Cod Times says Disney’s budget is $85 million! Wow. Makes you wonder what the Chatham Coast Guard station’s payroll was back in 1952 for comparison, doesn’t it? Not that it would have mattered to the 36500 crew.

a scene from the rescue

a scene from the rescue

What was Chatham like in 1952?

Disney’s screenwriters keep asking me that question, in many different ways.

The process of turning The Finest Hours into a major motion picture has been very interesting to watch — and participate in, to the extent that the producers and screenwriters want my input. I’m frequently surprised at how detail-oriented they are, how they even want to glean the feelings a particular character was experiencing at different times. Sometimes I’m able to remember what was conveyed when I interviewed the surviving characters for the book, but these screenwriters have me really searching my memory for clues.

It was big news for myself and my co-author, Casey Sherman, when Disney announced early in the summer that Robert Schwentke would direct the movie (he did the recent Bruce Willis film Red as well as directing Jody Foster in Flight Plan). We knew things would get moving as soon as someone was at the helm, but we don’t have specifics of when they will film. I keep saying it was a winter storm that broke the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer apart, so maybe they’ll film this winter. (Don’t be fooled by sloppy reporters who write that the ships collided in the storm, they didn’t.)


Going over these details again and again has made me grateful that I was able to meet many of the people involved in the rescue in which 84 lives were at stake and 70 were saved, 32 of them by Bernie Webber and his small crew in the wooden 36500, the Coast Guard vessel that made it through treacherous waves at the Chatham bar. Richard Livesey was one of the crewmen with Bernie whom I was able to meet and interview in person. I felt he had been kind of forgotten, that none of his neighbors knew what he had done. Nobody had asked him about it in years.


April Newsletter

Well, I know I said A Storm Too Soon was going to be my last true adventure/survival book, and that my next project might be a sequel to There’s A Porcupine in My Outhouse.  But then I watched a Weather Channel special about the sinking of the HMS Bounty and I was hooked.  I’d also read several articles that were inaccurate, and that was all I needed to take on the project.  So I’m hard at work with co-author Doug Campbell, and have uncovered multiple reasons why the captain set sail into Hurricane Sandy, but none of them seem logical to me.

A Storm Too Soon has gotten great reviews, and there was one review in the Providence Journal that I know is a tremendous write-up, even if I don’t quite understand the description they used!  Here’s what it said: “Already a maven of maritime schadenfreude with books such as Overboard! and Fatal Forecast, Tougias cinches that title here. An enthralling book…”    I’ve never been called a maven but I think when I was a kid my mother once said I was acting like a schadenfreude…

Other reviews were a lot easier to understand!  (see bottom of newsletter)  I think the main reason for the positive press, is that the book is written in the present tense and puts the reader in the middle of the action.  The book is different than my other for another reason as the subtitle indicates: “A True Story of Disaster, Survival, and An Incredible Rescue.” The rescue was incredible – even the rescue swimmer was drowning.  And the main character in the story, JP DeLutz, is such an unusual and compelling figure.  It doesn’t hurt that the storm in the book produced bigger waves than those in the Perfect Storm!

I hope you will consider A Storm Too Soon for a mothers day, fathers day or graduation gift. If you order from Amazon, please post a two sentence review — I’ve read where the more reviews a book has the greater Amazon will feature the book in one of it’s special promotions. Some readers have written to me and want an autographed or personalized hard-cover copy to give as a special gift.  To do that simply send me a note (let me know how you would like the book inscribed) and a check for $24 + $4 shipping, and mail to Michael Tougias 21 Cranberry Road, Plymouth, MA 02360.

I’m traveling across New England giving dramatic slide presentation of A Storm Too Soon, and the locations and dates are shown at the bottom of the newsletter.  Hope you can make it to one of these programs.   Librarians have been especially helpful to me, setting up presentations and recommending the book.  A couple libraries are using my book in their Community Reads program (also called On The Same Page).  If you think your library might be interested, just give them this newsletter and they can contact me through my website.

This fall and winter I did a couple business group presentations “Survival Lessons: Decision-Making Under Pressure” for both Raytheon and General Dynamics.  I also spoke at the North Platte Town Lecture series where there was an audience of 1,000.  I didn’t know there were that many people in Nebraska!

I just read that 45% of Americans have not read a single book in the last year.  That absolutely blew me away – I can’t imagine not having a good book open by my bedside.  I just finished Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, and it was just as fascinating as her masterpiece Seabiscuit.  Hillenbrand, in my humble opinion, is the best living American non-fiction writer.

In an effort to show kids that reading can fire-up the imagination, my co-author and I have partnered with Henry Holt to revise The Finest Hours: The True Story of the Coast Guard’s Most Daring Rescue into a book for middle readers.  The tentative release date is this fall.  The adult version was selected by the Massachusetts Book Award as one of the top 10 non-fiction books of the year, and I’m certain the young adult version will be just as exciting.

Date Time Place Topic   
4/22 7:00pm East Bridgewater MA Library Storm Too Soon
4/25 7:00 pm Dighton MA Library Storm Too Soon
4/30 6:30pm Meridan CT Library Blizzard of 78
5/1 7:00pm Enfield CT Library Storm Too Soon
5/2 5:45pm West Haven CT Library Storm Too Soon
5/8 7:00pm Falmouth Historical Society Storm Too Soon
5/16 7:00pm Brentwood NH Library There’s a Porcupine in my Outhouse
5/21 7:00pm East Lyme CT Library Storm Too Soon
5/22 1:00pm Norwich CT Library Storm Too Soon
6/18 10:30am Winslow House, Marshfield MA Storm Too Soon
6/27 6pm Maine Maritime Museum, Bath Storm Too Soon
6/28 6:30pm Penobscot Maritime Museum, Searsport Storm Too Soon
7/10 7pm Taylor Community Laconia NH Fatal Forecast
7/11 7:15pm Springfield NH Historical Overboard
7/31 6:30pm S. Hadley MA Library Quabbin
8/1 6:30pm Hudson MA Library There’s A Porcupine in My Outhouse
8/12 7:30 Tales of Cape Cod, Barnstable Storm Too Soon





















If you are reading this at work, and you need a break from mind-numbing corporate bs, go to my blog  michaeltougias.wordpress.com and you will find some articles I’ve written that will transport you out of your cubicle for some much needed relief.  I also post frequently on my Facebook author page Michael J. Tougias. Some of my comments are a bit over the top and a few are adult only, so I’ve been using the hash tag “#ThoughtsTooSoon

And lastly, please forward this email to a friend of yours.  Word of mouth and personal  recommendations might just get A Storm Too Soon on the NY Times bestseller list.  Thank you!  Michael



Kirkus Review:  “By depicting the event from the perspective of both the rescued and the rescuers and focusing only on key moments and details, Tougias creates a suspenseful, tautly rendered story that leaves readers breathless but well-satisfied. Heart-pounding action for the avid armchair adventurer.”

NY Post:  “The riveting, meticulously researched “A Storm Too Soon” tells the true-life tale of an incredible rescue”

Publishers Weekly:   “Tougias deftly switches from heart-pounding details of the rescue to the personal stories of the boat’s crew and those of the rescue team. The result is a well-researched and suspenseful read.”

Booklist:  “It’s a story of heroism, for sure (the captain, despite being seriously injured and near death, kept his two shipmates alive), but also of sheer terror. Cast adrift in the angry seas, the men seemed to have little chance of survival. Readers of true-life adventures, especially those involving disaster and rescue at sea, should find this one very much to their liking.”

Boston Globe: “Tougias is the author of widely admired character-driven sea stories.”

Fall River Herald: “Few American authors—if any—can better evoke the realities that underlie a term such as ‘desperate rescue attempt.’”

The Providence Journal: “Already a maven of maritime books with “Overboard!” and “Fatal Forecast”, Tougias cinches that title here.  Working in the present tense Tougias lets the story tell itself, and what a story!  Any one reading (A Storm Too Soon) will laud Tougias’ success.”

Yachts Magazine:  “A compelling tale of man vs nature”

South Coast Magazine:  “A magnificent culmination of what-ifs with such detail as to inspire reverence for the human spirit.  Tougias’ use of present tense is ingenious, this is an armchair riptide of the reading experience.”

Oregon Coast Weekend: “To read this book is to become a believer in the unbelievable.  Few stories are as harrowing.”

Metrowest Daily: “Tougias tells the story in the present tense, giving the story a gut-wringing immediacy that makes the book hard to put down.”

Too Many Heroes?

With recent attention focused on the alleged cowardice of the Captain of the cruise ship Costa Concordia, it is important to remember we also have our share of heroes on the ocean. We are approaching the 60th anniversary of the Coast Guard’s greatest rescue, in which four men received the Gold Life Saving Medal for heroism.  It’s a good opportunity to review the men’s actions and ponder the question if we use the term hero too liberally today.

Bernard C. Webber saved 32 lives off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts in 1952.  Bernie and his crew of three took a 36-foot wooden lifeboat into the teeth of a vicious Nor’easter off the coast of Chatham Massachusetts to rescue 33 men on a sinking oil tanker that had split in half.  This was in February of 1952, when the Coast Guard still operated by the unofficial motto of “You have to go out, but you don’t necessarily have to come back.”  No one at Coast Guard Station Chatham expected Bernie Webber to come back from his mission on a night where the seas were a towering 60 feet.  Bernie not only came back, but he was able to rescue 32 or of the 33 seamen from the tanker, just minutes before it rolled to its side and sank.  Imagine his small vessel crammed with 32 survivors battling seas twice the size of the boat as they groped their way back toward land!

Was Bernie a hero?  He certainly didn’t think so, having told me, “I was just doing my job.  The real heroes were my three man crew.”  What Bernie meant by that statement was that his crew volunteered to go with him when they could have kept quiet and hoped others stepped forward or were chosen. 

Bernie’s observation gets at the heart of the meaning of a hero.  I’ve always felt a pure hero is someone who has the option not to undertake a mission of self sacrifice but does so anyway.  These pure heroes are often bystanders who witness a disaster and step forward to save a life when most others are either running to escape the danger or frozen in fear.  Of course the heroes also have fear, but they take action despite it, often venturing into the unknown.

Pure heroes are not limited to those who are involved with rescuing others during an accident or disaster, where physical daring is the paramount attribute for success.  They can also include the person who sacrifices their energy and time on a daily basis to help someone less fortunate.  This “quiet hero” is never paid, is never under any obligation, and is never looking for personal gain.  They simply give of themselves because it’s the right thing to do – someone needs their help.  These quiet heroes recognize life is unfair, and they are determined and persistent in their effort to give comfort to those less fortunate.  I’ve been blessed to know one of these types.  For 31 years my father has cared for my sister who was paralyzed and brain damaged by a drunk driver.  Watching him do his work—and do it with a smile—is to watch a hero in action on a daily basis.  And there are many more care-givers like him, going about their particular mission with little fanfare.

And there are heroes who by virtue of the goal they are trying to accomplish, cannot be quiet, but instead must be as vocal as possible.  These individuals speak out for justice–often at great risk to themselves—so that others may have a better life.  Martin Luther King certainly fits that profile.

* * *

Defining what actions are heroic is difficult indeed.  Is every rescue made by firefighters, police officers, and the Coast Guard heroic?  Are not these individuals paid to perform the work they do?  But when one of these professionals goes above and beyond the call of duty couldn’t their actions be defined as heroic or are they just brave?

It’s far easier to know what is not heroic.  We cheapen the word hero by anointing athletes as heroes.  They may be accomplished, or even amazing, but I wouldn’t call them heroes.  Next time an athlete makes the winning shot, gets the walk-off home run, or scores the touchdown with no time left on the clock, let’s just say they maximized their opportunity.

In my work as an author of books about survival and disaster, I became friends with a man who survived an ordeal in which most of us would have perished.  His boat “pitch-poled”, capsizing stern over bow, and for two days in late November this individual was battered by enormous seas and repeatedly thrown from his life raft.  In my view, this man wasn’t a hero, but he sure was brave and resourceful.  We tend to automatically label an act of courage as heroic, but the words are not interchangeable.  When we use the term hero to describe every brave or remarkable action we diminish and blur the concept of heroism. 

Getting back to my earlier question of whether or not Bernie Webber was a hero, one should know that while it was his job to go out into the storm, he could have cut his mission short.  He would not have been faulted if he turned back after one particularly large wave knocked out his compass (his sole means of navigation), smashed the boat’s window, and temporarily snuffed out the vessel’s power.  But he and his crew continued on, even though they now knew the odds of coming back alive were stacked against them.  That’s heroic.

Excerpt from A Storm Too Soon “A Woman’s Intuition”

In my new book, A Storm Too Soon, three sailors, JP, Rudy, and Ben set off from Florida to cross the Atlantic in a 45 foot sailboat.  This short excerpt is from chapter 2 and illustrates how women see to have the ability to understand premonitions and intuitions far better than men.


Before casting off at 6:30 in the morning, JP checks the marine weather forecast as he has been doing the last few days.  He downloads computer-generated forecasts and studies them for anything unusual, but finds nothing out of the ordinary.  Their destination is Gibraltar after first landing at the Azores for refueling.  As they untie the lines some friends from the marina come down to wave goodbye.  JP then makes good on a promise.  He will stop smoking now that the voyage has begun.  To prove it, the short and slender captain with wispy gray hair takes his last pack of cigarettes, ceremonially holds them high in the air, and tosses them into the water.  There are no hidden cigarettes on the boat –his new life as a non-smoker begins at this moment.  Rudy and Ben exchange glances; they hope their polite and relaxed captain doesn’t turn into Ahab.

After doing some 360 degree turns to calibrate the new equipment, they slowly  motor down the St. Johns River, going right through the heart of Jacksonville as the sun clears the eastern horizon.  As they approach the first bridge Rudy can’t help but wonder if the mast—all 61 feet of it–will clear the underside of the bridge, but JP assures him it will, and it does.  Near the river’s mouth they stop at a marina to top off the diesel tanks and fill up Jerry cans with more fuel.  During the refueling Rudy says, “I’ll be right back, I’m going to make a last stop for food.”  He leaves the boat and walks to a market and purchases three orders of fish and chips.

JP uses this opportunity to call his wife Mayke (pronounced My-keh), a highly regarded artist.  They talk for a few moments but JP wonders why Mayke is so mad at him for not calling at the earlier scheduled time.   She doesn’t tell him the real reason: she has had an uneasy feeling–“the kind you get right where your navel is”– that this voyage will not end well and is fraught with danger. 

Mayke knows her husband is a safety-conscious sailor and that the Sean Seamour II is more than capable of handling rough weather, but ever since she dropped JP at the airport a couple weeks earlier her apprehension has grown in intensity with each passing day.   Sleep has been difficult and her time painting in the studio has suffered, and now, talking on the phone, she just wants the conversation to end before she blurts out her misgivings and puts a damper on JP’s enthusiasm for the voyage. 

When she hangs up the phone Mayke tries to analyze her anxious mood, but she simply has no idea where it’s coming from.  If it’s intuition, it seems totally illogical.  But try as she might she can’t shake the feeling that the trip is doomed.  She doesn’t even try to return to the studio, knowing that anything she paints will be dark and foreboding.


(My next installment will be about the vessel encountering its first trouble from the storm.)

The book can be ordered on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Storm-Too-Soon-Disaster-Incredible/dp/1451683332/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1349777523&sr=1-1)