The Perfect Storm – a true story of men against the sea (Harper Perennial 2007)
by Sebastian Junger
I found a copy of this dazzling good example of creative non-fiction on the secondhand books table of our local Saturday morning market, and bought it at once. There are some books that are just so good you have to own them.
It was first published in 1997, and was on international bestseller lists for four years. A movie directed by Wolfgang Petersen was made of it in 2000.
It tells the story of two weather fronts that collided in the Grand Banks off Newfoundland in October 1991, which created 10-storey waves and winds of up almost 200kmh.
And in the middle of this was the Andrea Gail, a fishing boat out of Gloucester, Massachusetts, on its way home from a more than a month at sea longlining for swordfish. There were six men on board.
The storm was described as “perfect” in the meteorological sense, writes Junger in his foreword: “a storm that could not possibly have been worse”.
He was in Gloucester at the time, and says his own experience of the storm was limited to standing on the town’s Back Shore watching 10m swells advance on Cape Ann. “The next day I read in the paper that a Gloucester boat was feared lost at sea…”
Some fuel drums from the Andrea Gail were recovered, but of the boat itself and its crew there was no sign.
The book also recounts the experiences of the crew of a yacht off the coast in the storm, and the efforts of the US coatguard to retrieve them.
Junger based his account on the historical record as well as interviews with fishermen, widows and others who have some idea of what the crew went through. Some of it makes for harrowing reading.
The book was published to acclaim. Even the staid Lloyds List was moved to write: “…the result is total authenticity and perhaps the best writing since Moby Dick on the awesome power, terror and grandeur of the sea and on the character of the people who confront it”.