A true story of catastrophe and survival at sea, Fatal Forecast is a spellbinding moment-by-moment account of seventy-two hours in the lives of eight young fishermen, some of whom would never set foot on dry land again.
On the morning of November 21, 1980, two small Massachusetts lobster boats set out for Georges Bank, a bountiful but perilous fishing ground 130 miles off the coast of Cape Cod. The National Weather Service had forecast typical fall weather, and the young, rugged crewmen aboard the Sea Fever and the Fair Wind had made dozens of similar trips that season. They had no reason to expect that this trip would be any different.
But the only weather buoy on Georges Bank was malfunctioning, and the National Weather Service had failed to share this fact with the fishermen who depended on its forecasts. As the two small boats headed out to sea, a colossal storm was brewing to the southeast, a furious maelstrom the National Weather Service did not accurately locate until the boats were already caught in the storm's grip, trapped in the treacherous waters of Georges Bank.
Battered by sixty-foot waves and hurricane-force winds, the crews of the Fair Wind and the Sea Fever (captained by Peter Brown, whose father owned the Andrea Gail of Perfect Storm fame) struggled heroically to keep their vessels afloat. But the storm soon severely crippled one boat and overturned the other, trapping its crew inside.
Meticulously researched and vividly told, Fatal Forecast is first and foremost a tale of miraculous survival. Most amazing is the story of Ernie Hazzard, who managed to crawl inside a tiny inflatable life raft and then spent more than fifty terrifying hours adrift on the stormy open sea. By turns tragic, thrilling, and inspiring, Ernie's story deserves a place among the greatest survival tales ever told.
Equally riveting are the stories of the brave men and women from the Coast Guard and the crew of a nearby fishing boat who imperiled their own lives that day in order to save the lives of others.
As gripping and harrowing as The Perfect Storm - but with a miracle ending - Fatal Forecast is an unforgettable true story about the collision of two spectacular forces: the brutality of nature and the human will to survive.
Tougias (Ten Hours Until Dawn) narrates this dramatic, pared-down account of what happened to a pair of small fishing boats caught in the path of the devastating November 1980 storm off the coast of Cape Cod. When the storm blew up, the Fair Wind and the Sea Fever--captained by Peter Brown, son of legendarily hard-nosed Bob Brown, owner of The Perfect Storm's Andrea Gail--were fishing for lobster on Georges Bank, a plateau on the Atlantic floor that provides some of the richest fishing in the area, but is also the kind of place where boats have a way of disappearing. Due to a malfunctioning weather buoy, the National Weather Service drastically underestimated the magnitude of the storm that engulfed the two small boats. Seventy-foot waves overturned the Fair Wind, trapping inside the whole crew save for Ernie Banks, who made it into a life raft, while the Sea Fever was barely staying afloat under the watery onslaught. Tougias smartly leavens his spare narrative with similar worst-case scenarios that resulted when other seamen miscalculated the sea's wrathful power. Most astonishing of all is Banks's three-day odyssey of being tossed about like a cork in heaving, freezing seas; as related by Tougias, Banks's calm, reasoned actions in the face of astonishing adversity are practically a how-to lesson in high seas survival skills. Copyright (c) Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 16, 2007
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Excerpt from Fatal Forecast by Michael J. Tougias
The Fair Wind Crew
Ernie Hazard was in his third year of offshore lobster fishing, and although the work was brutally demanding, he felt fortunate. The Fair Wind, a 50-foot steel lobster boat on which Ernie worked, was a meticulously maintained vessel equipped with the most modern gear and electronics. Equally important, Ernie enjoyed the company of his fellow crewmembers and his captain -- no one slacked off and everyone contributed to making the Fair Wind a very profitable boat.
On November 20, 1980, the crew was having dinner at the Backside Saloon in Hyannis, Massachusetts, enjoying a good meal before making the last trip of the season. The men had made close to thirty fishing trips to Georges Bank since the previous April, and they were all looking forward to having the next four months off. Ernie talked about going down to Florida to see his brother or possibly heading out to Carmel, California, to visit friends. Thirty-year-old captain Billy Garnos planned to focus on his new house and his fiancee. Rob Thayer, age twenty-two, hadn't made any definite plans, but he hoped to travel, having spent prior off-seasons in such far-flung places as Labrador and Newfoundland. Dave Berry, the youngest crewmember at just twenty years old, lived up in Marblehead, Massachusetts, and he'd likely take a little time off to be with friends before working at his father's wholesale fish business.
Ernie felt relaxed that night, quietly listening as the rest of the crew discussed their plans. Every now and then he made a joke or a wry comment. The others had come to enjoy his self-deprecating humor and quick, dry wit. They also appreciated the muscle and stamina packed into his burly six-foot frame. He had arms as big as most men's thighs, and he put those arms to good use hauling and setting lobster traps. He looked tough and perhaps a bit menacing with his muscular arms, piercing black eyes, and wild black beard, but his crewmates knew that behind the gruff exterior was an intelligent and thoughtful man.
But Ernie was no saint, and occasionally he and Billy Garnos would pound down a few rounds of beers after a week at sea and raise a little hell. This was especially true after they'd managed to harpoon a swordfish in addition to catching lobster, when each had a wad of cash in his pocket. Neither man went looking for trouble, but some situations called for Ernie to throw a punch or two. After most trips, however, all Ernie really wanted to do was rest for a couple of days before heading back out to Georges Bank and the bone-numbing work of lobstering.
Although Ernie, at age thirty-three, was the oldest of the crew, the others had been fishing just as long or longer. Ernie got his position on board the Fair Wind by simply answering a help wanted advertisement he'd seen in the newspaper three years earlier. He was single and living in Peabody, Massachusetts, bouncing from one factory job to another, making lightbulbs at the General Electric plant in Lynn and working for a concrete manufacturer. When Ernie saw the advertisement for a crewman, he was between jobs, so he figured, What the heck, that's something I've never done.
The boat's owner, Charlie Raymond, worked alongside Billy Garnos and another crew member, so Ernie became the fourth crewman. Ernie had never been offshore, and on his first trip out he couldn't help but think that he had entered another world as he gazed at the gray ocean stretching endlessly in all directions. Some newcomers to commercial fishing get spooked and disoriented on their initial voyage when they realize how insignificant their boat is compared to the enormous seas. But Ernie was fascinated by the new experience, and Charlie Raymond and Billy Garnos kept him busy from the moment he set foot on the Fair Wind, teaching him everything they could. "They had me driving the boat," says Ernie, "which was a big deal for me. I'd never driven a fifty-foot boat, and I loved every minute of it. Plowing through that vast open space was a thrill, and I remember thinking this is absolutely incredible -- it was all so new and different."
Ernie's initial trip on the Fair Wind was also the boat's first of the season. When they reached the fishing grounds after a twenty-hour ride, Ernie learned what it took to make a living from the sea. "I wondered how long these people were going to work without taking a rest," says Ernie. "They seemed tireless." The boat was loaded with dozens of traps, and they had to bait each one and then drop it down. There were twenty-two traps to a trawl (a set or string of traps), and on that trip they dropped three trawls, working throughout the day and well into the night.
As backbreaking as the work seemed, the next trip was even tougher.