The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do

I was school-age when the Blizzard of ’78 unleashed its fury on New England. It was an historically powerful storm, bringing hurricane force winds and three feet of snow. The blizzard raged for a day and half when it stalled off the coast.

For most kids this was a wonderful time. Our street was unplowed for a week until a front end loader finally managed to clear the snow. School was closed for weeks. Huge drifts of snow made for great sledding.

But for many, the Blizzard brought destruction and death. Michael Tougias tells one of those stories in Ten Hours Until Dawn.

The most devastation from the Blizzard fell on the coast. The high winds and length of the storm lead to huge waves and violent seas. The tanker Global Hope was trying to ride out the storm under anchor in Salem Sound. The ship’s anchor started dragging, the ship began floundering on the shoals and the captain sent out a mayday.

The ninety-five foot Coast Guard cutter Cape George from Boston and the 210 foot Decisive from Provincetown fired up their engines and made way to the incident. Closer by, the Coast Guard sent a forty-one foot utility boat and a forty-four foot motor lifeboat from Gloucester Harbor. They set out into violent waters churned by the blizzard. The two smaller boats took a beating as soon as they passed the breakwater in Gloucester Harbor.

Also hearing the call was Frank Quirk. He sat back waiting for the Coast Guard to do their job. Using his forty-nine foot Can Do, Quirk delivered pilots to incoming cargo ships. He was also a diver and had participated in rescue attempts. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the coastal waters.

When the smaller boats got in trouble, Quirk fired up the engines and gathered a few friends. They headed out into the beast of storm slamming against the New England coast.

The obvious comparison for this book is Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm. Both books involved boats that left Gloucester Harbor and got caught in the teeth of a vicious storm. Junger crafted a story around the issues confronting swordfisherman, but had little information about what actually happened. The Andrea Gail and her crew were never heard from again.

Ten Hours Until Dawn recreates the Can Do‘s battle with storm. Tougias had copies of radio transmissions to help him structure the story. He was also able to interview the participants and spectators to the events that took place in Salem Sound during the Blizzard of ’78. It’s a compelling story.

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