Thirty years ago, the 72ft fishing trawler Andrea Gail set sail from the port of Gloucester, Mass, on September 20th, 1991, with her six-man crew with hopes of a huge payday. Their destination was the Grand Banks of New Foundland, which is off the coast of eastern Canada.
The story of the Andrea Gail and her crew is told in the book The Perfect Storm, written by Sebastian Junger in 1997. It was later adapted to film in 2000 by the same name starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg.
In Search of a Payday
Filling the hold with swordfish within a month's timeframe was their plan. As their luck would have it, they found the fishing was poor, and they decided to set sail headed east to the Flemish Cap, which is about 350 miles east of Newfoundland.
An experienced fisherman knows that this area is a prime fishing area thick with swordfish and has been for 500 years and more. The crew was hoping for a short voyage. The plan was to fill the hold quickly and return to port and cash in a huge payday, then go home to their families waiting for them.
Their Captain Frank "Billy" Tyne knew that the Flemish Cap would be the place where their luck would turn. For this trip to be profitable, they needed more than 40,000 pounds of swordfish. They would need to fill the hold quickly and get back home as reports said the ice machine had broken down, and that meant anything they caught would spoil if they stayed out at sea too long.
A Perfect Storm is Brewing
While the crew of the Andrea Gail, Captain Billy Tyne (37), Robert "Bobby" Shatford (30), Dale "Murph" Murphy (30), Michael "Bugsy" Moran (36), Alfred Pierre (32), and David "Sully" Sullivan(28) were hauling in their load, a significant storm was brewing off the coast.
Extreme weather conditions were forming what was known as the "Halloween Storm."
Bob Case, an NOAA National Weather Service meteorologist located at the Boston, MA forecast office, described it as "an unprecedented set of circumstances."
A cold front from the east coast of the United States was creating a low pressure that met a high-pressure ridge coming from Canada's coast in the Atlantic, forming a swirling mass of wind in the air. Those two factors alone were enough to create a powerful storm.
Unfortunately, more gas was added to the fire when the remnants of Hurricane Grace added immeasurable tropical energy, which created a temptest known as "The Perfect Storm."
As the storm began to move inland, it was positioned between Andrea Gail and her crew's home. The decision to fish the Flemish Cap paid off, and the holds were filled. They had hauled in enough swordfish to earn each man a hefty paycheck. Captain Billy Tyne announced on October 27th that it was time to pack it in and head for home.
The Final Communication
The next day the last communication heard from the Andrea Gail was with Captain Linda Greenlaw of the Hannah Boden, sister ship to the Andrea Gail. During this communication, Tyne provided their location to Greenlaw, and that is how the last position of the trawler was recorded, which placed them about 162 miles east of Sable Island.
Unfortunately, the ship's location had them in the center of the three separate storms, which was utterly unexpected by Tyne and his crew. Linda Greenlaw believes that the nor'easter formed over the Andrea Gail created unavoidable conditions and ultimately fatal to a ship of that size.
In Captain Tyne's radio transmission to Captian Linda Greenlaw on October 28th, 1991, he gave a weather report indicating waves 30 feet in height and sea and wind gusts of 80 knots (93 mph). His final recorded words were:
"She's coming on boys, and she's coming on strong."
That communication would be the last anyone heard from the crew. As the storm rapidly built, the owner of the Andrea Gail, Robert Brown, had not heard from the crew for three days at this point. On October 30th, he reported the ship as "missing" to the Coast Guard. That was the day the storm had reached its peak of intensity.
Wind gusts of 70 miles were reported whipping across the sea, creating waves 30 feet in height. Robert Brown stated:
"Depending on the conditions and the amount of catch, they are usually out there a month, but what got me worried is that were no communications for such a long time."
On the shoreland, The Boston Globe reported that people were getting their own taste of the storm:
"Boats were tossed like beach toys in the surf."
The rising waters were causing houses to be pulled off their foundations. By the time the storm ended, over 100 homes had been destroyed or severely damaged. 13 deaths were reported, and millions of dollars in damage occurred.
The Search is On
The Coast Guard began its search for Andrea Gail on October 31st. Several Coast Guard Cutters, an aircraft, along with units from the National Guard, were all searching for the lost ship and her crew. Sadly, there was no sign of Andrea Gail and her crew members until the ship's emergency beacon washed ashore on November 6th on Sable Island in Nova Scotia.
The beacon was designed to automatically send out a distress signal upon contact with seawater. The Canadian Coast Guard was not able to conclusively verify if the control switch had been in the on or off position.
Soon after, other items were found, which included an empty life raft, fuel drums, and tank, along with other flotsam. On November 9th, the Coast Guard officially called off the search for the missing ship and her crew due to the "low probability of crew survival."
Captain Richard Haworth, who had once captained the Andrea Gail, speculated that recent modifications to the ship may have contributed to its sinking. He was a script consultant for the film The Perfect Storm. From his experience on the Andrea Gail, he stated that the ship tended to take on a lot of water when the hold was fully loaded with fish and the boat with fuel.
He theorized that the storm hit it while fully loaded, and the deck was already close to the waterline. He said the port side of the boat had additional weather siding where he believes that water became trapped on the deck, which caused the boat to heave to one side and turn over as the waves grew rougher.
A fisherman by the name of Jack Flaherty has a theory that the vessel's fuel may have been muddied with rust, algae, or sediment, which may have caused engine failure leaving the Andrea Gail powerless in the massive waves caused by the storm.
A Ship and Her Crew Forever Lost
The movie shows Andrea Gail turned over by a massive wave during the storm, but in truth, we will never know for sure what really happened to the vessel and its crew when it sunk.
Chris Cotter, Bobby Shatford's fiance, had a premonition on the night she felt Bobby died. Cotter said:
"I had a really bad nightmare that night I woke up from. He was - I was on this - on the boat and it was a real rocky sea going on, and people were yelling and screaming. And I was digging through all this slime and seaweed or something, and I found, like - there was, like, half of him, and I - I knew he was - there was trouble then."
Chris says after that nightmare, she knew but she didn't want to know and she continued to hold a daily vigil of walking the docks waiting for Bobby to come home.
"You know in your heart how could anyone survive that storm."
Maryanne Shatford, Bobby's sister, told the Boston Herald, "But all you have is hope. You sit around together and you wait for news, and you hope."
She also said of Sebastian Junger's Novel The Perfect Storm:
"I think the book was true, well researched, and well written."
"It was the movie that was too Hollywood. They wanted it to be a story more than it was between the characters."
Jodi Tyne, Widow of Captain Billy Tyne, spends a lot of time walking a "working dock" in a fishing village in Cortez along the Sarasota shoreline, "I'm always more peaceful when I come down here," she says. "It's where I'm close to him. I know he's out there, somewhere."
The Book And The Movie Vs. The Reality
Linda Greenlaw had this to say:
"My one gripe about The Perfect Storm movie was how Warner Brothers depicted Bobby Tyne and his crew as making a very conscious decision to steam into a storm that they knew was dangerous. That is not what happened. Andrea Gail was three days into their steam home when the storm hit. Whatever happened to Andrea Gail happened very quickly."
Between the book and the movie, Jodi Tyne feels as though she lost Billy a second time. Of the movie, Jodi calls it a "Bunch of lies."
"It was all about money. They didn't care about the truth. He was a good fisherman. He was at the peak of his life. They make it look like he was greedy. He wasn't. He'd give you the shirt off his back."
Gloucester Fishermen's Memorial
The vessel has never been found but recent speculation is that the Andrea Gail may have gone down in the general vicinity of The Titanic.
The names of all six crew members of the Andrea Gail are inscribed on the Fisherman's Memorial in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The memorial is an 8ft tall bronze statue of a fisherman that overlooks Gloucester Harbor.