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Friday, June 02, 2006

The Perfect Storm Revisited

Not that it was a bad movie, or lacked drama and good characterization, but there were enough technical inaccuracies to cause this mariner trouble.

First of all, let's ask some questions:

Why were the outriggers out and the paravanes down when the seas were in the 80' to 150' foot range (as depicted; more if you consider the last wave)? Why did the crew wait so long to batten down the wheelhouse windows? They knew the storm was coming. They knew how bad it would be. Why didn't they make proper preparations to meet it?

Why wasn't the crew in the wheelhouse? I've been in some bad blows, and when it gets really bad, everybody usually hangs out in the wheelhouse with their survival suits within arm's reach. When it's that bad, and the boat has to turn around in monster seas, riding out the turn in the fo'c's'le or galley is the last thing anybody wants to do.

Why would anyone think they could remount a SSB antenna in a 50 knot wind when the smallest whip antenna is about 23'? If the antenna doesn't rip your arm off, how are you going to splice the coax? And why not just lay out an emergency long wire antenna on deck?

Speaking of which: I thought the Andrea Gail had a long wire antenna and not a whip antenna. I believe that in the photo of the Hannah Boden, which Linda Greenlaw states is a sistership of the Andrea Gail, you can see a long wire antenna running aft from the masthead to the goal post.

By the way, Greenlaw states in her book that her boat, the Hannah Boden, was 100'. Sebastion Junger, the author of the book, stated on a pre-movie hype news program that the Andrea Gail was 80'. I tend to believe Greenlaw over Junger regarding LOA. And I tend to believe it had a long wire antenna. You'd think it would given its range of operation. Also, if the boat was 100' , the wave at the end would have been about 200'. My understanding is that the largest non-seismic wave ever recorded was 112', measured scientifically in the North Pacific by researchers aboard the USS Ramapo on February 7th, 1933.


Where can I get one of those blow torches that stays lit after it gets dunked in seawater?

Don't get me wrong. I liked the movie. I liked the effects. I thought the film makers did some good things. But I don't think the movie paid homage to the crew of the Andrea Gail or commercial fishermen. I think Junger's melodramatic overspeculations of the sinking (not to mention his speculation about what it's like to drown) are an insult to the thousands of fishermen and other seafarers who've lost their limbs and worse in much less spectacular ways. In truth, the vast majority of commercial fishing accidents and sinkings, aren't caused by gigantic Hollywood waves. They're the result of separate incidents and seemingly insignificant details stacking-up and falling like a house of cards.

With all due respect to the people of Gloucester and the friends and family of those who died on the Andrea Gail, and to the film makers and the actors, I humbly submit a different cause and effect scenario with regard to the sinking.

In my opinion, had the crew been given the time depicted in both the book and the movie, the ending might have been quite different. Those men were experienced and capable fisherman who had previously handled anything the sea had thrown at them. What probably happened was they started home with a freighted boat. It got rough, very rough, and the vessel started taking on water, probably from some insidious place in the stern, e.g. the rudder box or shaft seal. They didn't know she was taking on water until it was too late, at which time the vessel rolled and sank before they could launch the raft, get into their survival suits, or trigger the EPIRB. How many times has it happened that way? A freighted boat. A slow leak. Bad weather.



Al B. said...

You forgot "The Key". William Holden and Sophia Loren. Tug boat captains in WW11 passing the key to the apartment and Sophia to other captains when they don't come back from a mission.

seabgb said...

No familiar with The Key but a check at shows it was written by Jan de Hartog, Dutch writer who also penned one of my favorite sea novels ever: The Captain. I'll have to check this one out.