by Mary Jo
A few days ago, the Mayhem Consultant and I watched a movie we both loved: The Finest Hours. Based on the book by the same name by Michael J. Tougias and Casey Sherman), it's the true story of an insanely brave Coast Guard rescue that took place in a vicious nor'easter storm that took place off Cape Cod in 1952. (Released in January 2016, the movie didn't make much impact, but it deserves to be seen.)
The storm was so violent that it broke two tanker ships in half near Cape Cod. Both were cheaply built WWII vessels that should have been retired after the war, but weren't. One Coast Guard rescue team went out for the SS Fort Mercer and managed to save a number of the crew. Then it was discovered that a second tanker, the SS Pendleton, had also broken in half nearby. The front half of the ship sank immediately, taking the captain, the radios, and most of the officers.
The rear section stayed afloat with 33 crewmen aboard. But was rescue even possible in such conditions? The closest Coast Guard station was at Chatham, but the "bar"--the dangerously shifting shoals at the mouth of the harbor, would have to be crossed. It was difficult to cross in good weather and pretty much suicidal under such weather conditions.
But they had to try. Four young men took out a 36 foot rescue boat. The boat was designed to right itself in overturned by waves, but other than that, it was a VERY small boat going into a nightmarish ocean. It was captained by Bernard Webber. Not yet 24 years old, a veteran of the WWII Merchant Marine, Bernie was the oldest and most experienced of the crew. (!!!)
There are three interwoven strands of story: the crew in the shattered Pendleton trying to stay afloat, Bernie and his crew looking for the wreck when their compass had been destroyed by a near fatal wave, and the friends and family ashore. I wouldn't have watched this movie if I thought it ended badly, but describing it as a rescue story encouraged me, and it was a great, powerful story. I heartily recommend it. (That's a picture of the actual lifeboat on the right. Designed to hold 12 people, it returned home with 36 men on it.)
Part of the fun of the movies is that quiet Bernie, who follows the rules, is played by Chris Pine, who also plays the swashbuckling Captain James Kirk of the Star Trek rebooted movies. <G>
Watching The Finest Hours got me to thinking about men and the sea. Britain is an island, of course, and the sea is part of the British DNA. The Royal Navy made Britain the world power that it became. (A favorite quote of mine is the British admiral who said during the Napoleonic wars that he couldn't promise the French would not come, but he promised that they would not come by sea. And he was right. <G>)
Men of the sea are not uncommon in our romances. My second book, Lady of Fortune, has a hero who was a naval captain. (Yes, that book will be e-pubbed eventually!) I've had characters who made fortunes in shipping, the hero of The Bartered Bride was a Yankee sea captain in the China tea trade, and in the book I'm writing now, I'm cultivating a secondary character who is a blockade runner to star in a book of his own. The sea surrounds us!
It's easy to write about dashing sailors in our books and I do research, of course. But nothing made me as aware of the power and danger of the oceans as watching The Finest Hours. A lot of the scary sailing scenes were done by CGI, but they really gave a sense of how dangerous and terrifying the ocean can be. The movie was also released in 3-D and Imax, which would have been so intense that I would have hidden under my seat. <G>
Do you have favorite romances that feature ships and sailors? (A female ship's captain would be fine, too. <G>) What would you suggest?
Mary Jo, bidding goodnight to all the ships at sea…