25 years ago, the crew of the Andrea Gail was lost in the ‘perfect storm’
Gloucester's Andrea Gail, whose crew was lost at sea during a 1991 nor'easter, is remembered nationally through print and film, and personally in the seaside community.
At the heart of Gloucester, America’s oldest seaport, visitors will find an eight-foot-tall bronze fisherman at the wheel of his ship.
Engraved at the base of the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial are the names of more than 3,000 residents who were lost at sea and the following words: “They that go down to the sea in ships, 1623-1923.” Twenty-five years ago, one ship in particular gained national fame when it was lost during the “perfect storm” of 1991.
The “storm with no name” claimed the lives of six fishermen and the captain and crew of the Andrea Gail, a disaster that was later chronicled in Sebastian Junger’s bestselling book and a film starring George Clooney.
The storm left a trail of destruction from Nova Scotia to Florida, killing 13 people and causing close to $500 million in damage as it lashed the coast from Oct. 26 through Nov. 1 of that year.
Winds upwards of 70 mph “tossed [boats] like beach toys [in] the surf,” The Boston Globe reported on October 31, 1991. A small Marshfield home was even lifted from its foundation, floating in the water and endangering moored boats.
“At 3 o’clock Wednesday my mother was upset because there was salt water on her lawn,” a Chatham resident told the Globe. “At 6 o’clock there was no lawn and she was worried there’d be no house. Our house escaped by some miracle.”
But days before the storm wreaked havoc on the East Coast, it was raging in the ocean with winds up to 120 mph —and the six men onboard Gloucester’s Andrea Gail found themselves right in the heart of it.
The Andrea Gail
The Andrea Gail, a 12-year-old, 70-foot vessel, was scheduled to return to Gloucester after a sword fishing trip to Newfoundland’s Grand Banks, more than 900 miles away. But after three days without word from the crew, the boat’s owner, Robert Brown, became nervous.
“Depending on the conditions and the amount of catch, they are usually out there a month,” Brown told the Globe in 1991. “But what got me worried is that there were no communications for such a long time.”
The boat was carrying six crew members: Captain Bill Tyne, 37, David Sullivan, 29, and Bob Shatford, 30, all of Gloucester, as well as Dale Murphy and Michael Moran, both of Bradenton Beach, Florida, and Alfred Pierre, of New York City.
A Maine fishing boat captain, Linda Greenlaw, was the last person to speak with her sister ship. Greenlaw recalled to the Gloucester Times that her last conversation with Tyne was “typical.”
“I wanted a weather report, and Billy wanted a fishing report,” she told the Times. “I recall him saying, ‘The weather sucks. You probably won’t be fishing tomorrow night.'”
After that, there was silence. No distress call. No answers to how or if the ship went down. The Coast Guard then began an extensive search.
“You know in your heart how could anyone survive that storm,” Shatford’s sister, Maryanne Shatford, recently told Boston.com. “But all you have is hope. You sit around together and you wait for news, and you hope.”
After 10 days, the search was called off.
‘The Perfect Storm’
The fate of the crew gained national attention in 1997 when Junger, a Belmont native, published a book about the three-day nor’easter called “The Perfect Storm.” The story later made its way to Hollywood. A film released by the same name hit screens in 2000, grossing more than $300 million worldwide.
“The whole time we were doing it, we felt like there was a different kind of responsibility along the way,” Clooney, who played Tyne, told CBS News in 2000. “So there was a lot of action, there was a lot of water and then overall, what we didn’t want to do was misrepresent anyone. That was important.”
Though the families of the men don’t all agree on the veracity of the movie compared to the book, Shatford said she is grateful to have both depictions.
“I think the book was true, well researched, and well written,” said Shatford, an elementary school teacher who still lives in Gloucester. “They were all like the characters in the book. It was the movie that was too Hollywood. They wanted it to be a story more than it was between the characters … but even though they didn’t get [them] all right, the people were unbelievably nice, all the actors and the producers.”
‘They don’t get any easier’
Every August, the city honors those who have been claimed by the sea.
Greenlaw was the guest speaker this year at the 20th annual Fisherman’s Memorial Service in Gloucester. Shatford said the service was tear-filled, not only due to the 25th anniversary of the crew’s death, but also the recent loss of a Gloucester fisherman and friend last December.
“This was one of the sadder ones…” she said. “They don’t get any easier. You’d think they would.”
But for Shatford, the greatest memorial to her brother and the Andrea Gail’s crew is not a service that happens once a year, the book, or the movie. It’s her family business, a favorite local watering hole called the Crow’s Nest.
Fishing crews still congregate at the bar and lodging area, which made appearances in both the book and movie. Stratford’s mother, Ethel, worked as the bartender there for 15 years, serving up smiles and seafood chowder to all who pulled up a stool. She died 17 years ago, almost eight years to the day after it was discovered her son was lost at sea.
Now it’s Shatford’s husband pouring cold drafts and offering warm beds to the town’s fishing community, while she has taken over the role of cooking Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners for the bar’s guests.
Photos of the crew now line its walls. A commemoration plaque reads, “They will always be remembered by family and friends.”
It’s these constant reminders that make Shatford think that her brother, as well as her mother, “will live forever.”
“His memory is never going to die for me, but there are so many concrete things for me too,” she said. “I can open the book, I can turn on the TV, people always want to talk to me about him, especially at the Crow’s Nest. His memory is here every single day.”
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