Mixed Plate
Book Report -- The Perfect Storm

The Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger
Reviewed by Sponge on 9/97

Because of the recommendations by Foondoggy and Stephen Lear (Jet), I decided to check out the book, "The Perfect Storm" by Sebastian Junger. Incredible true story of ships caught in a storm with open ocean swells estimated at 100 feet!

The book started off a bit slow, laying out the background of the commercial fishermen's lifestyle, focusing on the crew's lives. It ends with the probable fate of the doomed ship, along with some incredible rescue stories of other boats caught in the storm. I ended up having to read the book parts at a time, but the dizzying end kept me engrossed throughout.

The descriptions of the waves were truly horrifying, especially for surfers and fishermen. Big Waimea or Mavericks pale in comparison to these behemoth open-ocean swells. Just mind-boggling. And to think I got seasick while bottom-fishing at night in Hawaii in two-to-four foot seas!

I got into a dialog with J.F. Milliken, aka Doc, who is a commercial fishermen from those parts, and he said the account of the lifestyle was right on target. It has to be one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S..

Junger wrote the book in the present tense storytelling mode, which really annoyed me. But Doc explained that it might’ve been done this way because these commercial fishermen only live for the present.

In the book, they mention a guy by the name of Howard Blackburn. An account can be found on a Howard Blackburn web page. This is the story about him that Doc relayed to me:

They mention that Blackburn rowed five days with frostbitten hands from the Banks to shore, but they don't mention why he's the commercial fisherman's hero. So-

The first night, his dorymate froze to death. The next morning, he took stock of the situation. Lost from the schooner/mother ship, alone, no food. Fingers getting stiff with cold. And as they froze, he wouldn't be able to hold an oar. He'd die out there.

He put his hands in the sea. Then grasped the handles of his oars and sat patiently until they had frozen to the handles, frozen so that he couldn't let go, no matter what. "Then" he said later" I was ready to do a man's full share".

For five days and nights he rowed. Eventually, he reached Newfoundland. Over the next few weeks, he made his way overland, back to Gloucester, Mass; the homeport of the Grace Fears.

When the other fishermen heard his story, so the legend goes, they passed the hat around and bought him a bar, so he could make a living without fingers. He'd done it and done it right, and they wanted to perhaps make a statement about what fishermen are: what kind of things a man faces out there and how he should face them. What a man should be.

Blackburn later sailed across the ocean alone, twice,. Singlehanded really doesn't describe it.

But, that's my bit of melodrama for today. Blackburn's a hero of mine too.


The Perfect Storm has since become a national bestseller (nonfiction--I found it at the local Borders Books in the transportation section!). Junger, who coincidentally does a bit of surfing, has already secured a movie contract for the story.

If you appreciate the power of the ocean, you will love this book.


More Reviews
Amazon Books
Outside Magazine
W.W. Norton and Company
The Perfect Storm Foundation