Friday, September 16, 2016

Book review: "Overboard!" by Michael J. Tougias

When Ron Burd stepped onto the sailboat Almeisan in Bridgeport, Connecticut, he was hoping for a bit of "heavy weather" on the trip that he and four others were about to make to Bermuda.

Burd, 70, was one of three volunteer crew members who had signed up for the voyage led by Captain Tom Tighe. Burd wanted to learn all he could about "blue-water" sailing from Tighe and first mate Lochlin Reidy so he could do his own trip to Bermuda some day.

Burd got his heavy weather -- and then some. Four days into the 2005 voyage, the Almeisan was engulfed in a massive storm. Tighe and Reidy were hurled into the water to fight for their lives, while Burd, Chris Ferrer, and Kathy Gilchrist remained aboard a damaged sailboat on the verge of sinking.

And so begins the drama in another of  Michael J. Tougias' page-turning stories of maritime disaster. I've read two of Tougias' previous books -- "Fatal Forecast" and "A Storm to Soon" -- and "Overboard!" matches both of them in intensity and drama. If you're looking for a story to become absorbed in, any of these books will provide an immersion experience.

Like the other books, Tougias interviewed all the participants in the Almeisan episode -- not just the crew, but Coast Guard rescuers as well. Armed with ample material, he is able to recreate scenes with remarkable details and precision. It's no exaggeration to say you feel like you're there.

I was impressed by the tenacity and ingenuity of the sailors as they faced increasingly desperate situations. When the main radio dies, Ferrer rewires it to a different circuit on the ship's electrical system. When that doesn't work, he starts disassembling a large rechargeable flashlight in hopes of using that. But before he's done with that, Gilchrist searches the ship and locates a spare battery that brings the radio alive. They do all this while their sailboat is being violently tossed around by the seas.

I don't want to give away too many details of the story and spoil it, but "Overboard!" takes some turns you won't expect. There's also some humor near the end when one survivor gets his first opportunity to eat after a harrowing 28-hour struggle in the seas.


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