NEW LONDON, Conn. — Author Michael J. Tougias spoke to a group of cadets at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy Feb. 10, 2014 about his book “Ten Hours Until Dawn” and the story that inspired it.
While Tougias was conducting research on photography of the Blizzard of 1978 that brought record-setting snow to New England, he came across an intriguing article in the Boston Globe, and he knew immediately that his next few years of research would assume a drastically different path.
The article he’d uncovered detailed the story of the dramatic search and rescue effort off the coast of Gloucester, Mass. during the Blizzard of 1978 involving an oil tanker, a Coast Guard 44-foot patrol boat, a pilot boat named the Can Do, and a selfless cast of seasoned sailors who put their lives on the line to save the lives of others. Over the next three years, Tougias immersed himself in searching for and contacting those involved in the rescue efforts and fitting together the puzzle pieces of a story that become “Ten Hours Until Dawn.”
As Tougias flipped through a slideshow of photos that coincided with his engaging, yet matter-of-fact retelling of the rescue effort, the cadets were transfixed.
Though initially predicted to drop only six inches of snow on the Gloucester area, the storm became a nor’easter that caught New England off guard with hurricane force winds and more than two feet of snow in some areas.
“I view it like a mini Katrina because of how destructive it was to the houses along the coast,” said Tougias.
On the evening of Feb. 6, 1978, the oil tanker Global Hope made a distress call to the Coast Guard, but the connection was lost before it was able to pass its position over the radio. With the little information it had about the Global Hope’s position, a 44-foot Coast Guard patrol boat deployed in search of the Global Hope. When the radio operator heard that the Coast Guard vessel was in trouble after losing its own radar, the pilot vessel Can Do departed Gloucester Harbor in search of the Coast Guard patrol boat and the Global Hope. Unfortunately, the conditions were so severe that neither the Can Do nor the Coast Guard patrol boat found the Global Hope that day.
Once the storm had settled, a Coast Guard cutter found the Global Hope the next day sitting safely aground off of Coney Island. The Coast Guard patrol boat and crew sustained just minor damage and injuries, but the Can Do fared significantly worse. Despite a valiant initial search for the Can Do, it remained missing until eight days following the blizzard, when an aircraft spotted the pilot vessel under water. All five men aboard had perished.
“So many things have changed with the way the Coast Guard does business because of this accident,” said Tougias.
Tom Desrosiers was a 23-year old fireman on board the Coast Guard patrol boat that responded during the blizzard. Now employed at the Academy, he attended the lecture and agreed with Tougias.
“The philosophy that ‘you have to go out but you don’t have to come back’ changed,” said Desrosiers.
Fourth Class Cadet Brendan Flynn was initially inspired by Tougias during a lecture he attended by the author last year. After that lecture, Flynn had the opportunity to speak with Tougais, who recommended Flynn read “A Storm Too Soon,” a gripping book Tougias wrote about a Coast Guard rescue involving a Coast Guard Jayhawk helicopter.
“Talking to him is really cool because it helps you appreciate what goes into all the research,” said Flynn. “Reading about those helo rescues in “A Storm Too Soon” was really inspiring.”
Fourth Class Cadet Nikki Barnes was also moved by the story she read in “Ten Hours Until Dawn” and in listening to Tougias recount the story.
“It inspired me because we rarely read books about rescues like this,” said Barnes. “It made me want to be in the Coast Guard even more.”