Doomed At-sea Rescue Inspires Writer

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By Laura Mellow

Hampton Union, Tuesday, January 16, 2007

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

HAMPTON -- New England author Michael Tougias stopped by the Lane Memorial Library in Hampton on Saturday, Jan. 6 to discuss his latest work, "Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do."

The book, Tougias' 16th work, details the events that the crew of the pilot ship, the Can Do, endured during a rescue attempt of the oil tanker, Global Hope, off of Salem Sound during the Blizzard of 1978. It is the fact that the men aboard the Can Do chose to embark with full knowledge of the dangerous storm and sea, that Tougias says differentiates this book from other non-fiction, ocean-based accounts.

"This isn't like the "Perfect Storm," Tougias asserts. "These guys weren't fisherman, they didn't have to go out."

Additionally, audio recordings of exchanges between Can Do Capt. Frank Quirk and the Coast Guard provided Tougias with the impetus to write the book, he said. Tougias was doing research for another of his books, "The Blizzard of '78," when he came across a small article in The Boston Globe about how Quirk and his crew were lost at sea. The article contained quotes from Quirk that prompted Tougias to contact Quirk's son, which led to his discovery of the tape documenting the doomed 10-hour heroic endeavor.

"I don't know if I would have done the book without the audiotape because then I would have had to speculate," Tougias said.

Using a slide presentation as well as portions of the audio recording, Tougias explained how his book, which is more of a character driven-piece than a historic account, is laid out. He also uses maps to show where the different ships were located throughout the ordeal.

"I try to take you through that night, hour by hour," he said.

Quirk, who, according to Tougias, was often described as "very confident and very helpful," serves as the story's protagonist as well as fellow crewmate and former Coast Guard officer Charlie Bucko, who Quirk enlisted to go on the rescue mission, knowing how well Bucko responded under pressure. Quirk and Bucko had previous experience in at-sea rescues and quickly volunteered to head out into the "winter hurricane" seas when they heard that the Coast Guard rescue vessels could not help the tanker and were in trouble themselves.

Some of the story of how these two men and their three other crewmates responded to the may day call is told from the perspective of Bucko's fiancée Sharon Watts, who Tougias interviewed while writing the book.

Tougias played excerpts from the audio recording including a portion in which Frank reports that their radar has gone out and that they have lost their a.m. antenna. The calmness of Frank's voice while reporting this in the midst of the "storm of the century" in which winds soared between 80 to 150 mph and dropped mass amounts of snow speaks to the heart of why Tougias wrote the story.

"As a writer, you kind of know what stories hop out and grab you," Tougias said. "It's a story about two individuals who try to have that can-do spirit and just tried."

The book discussion was part of the library's Words and Wisdom Winter Lecture Series. About 50 people attended the event, many recalling the magnitude of the Blizzard of 1978 and many with marine experience themselves.

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