Ten Hours Until Dawn

   Some folks see nature as benign.  Others see it a malevolent.  But these are value labels we put on the natural world.  In reality, nature is neither.  It is what it is, without caring or even notice of us and our little lives.  This book coldly illustrates that idea.

Ten Hours Cover

Book Reviewed: Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do

Author: Michael J. Tougias

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press, New York

Copyright Date: 2005

ISBN: 0-312-33435-4

Hard Cover/Non-Fiction

Reviewed by: Yackman

Yackman’s Rating: 8 points out of 10

Review: This is not a new book or a new story.  The events in the book happened in 1978, with this book being published eight years ago in 2005.  I picked it up in a local second hand bookstore.  I was really taken by it’s title - Ten Hours Until Dawn.  The title just screams tension, danger and adventure.  I anticipated a great survival story and the book pretty much delivers on this promise.  

The actual events of the story do not require 300 pages for the telling.  The author frequently leaves the main thread of the story to provide background and context.  This is occasionally tiring, but in general adds greatly to the richness of the story and our appreciation of what could be lost as the Can Do, under Captain Frank Quirk, struggles to survive in what was arguably the worst winter storm New England had experienced.  

Through interviews with the survivors, listening to recorded transcripts of radio communications and educated conjecture about what was likely to have happened on the Can Do in the absence of any other information, the author weaves a tense and riveting story that is hard to put down.  My only disappointment in the presentation was that the author tipped his hand about the fate of the five men aboard the Can Do fairly early in the book by always referring to them in the past tense and not reporting on any post storm discussions with them.  None of them survived.  It was hard to read of their courageous fight for survival knowing that in the end, it was futile. But maybe this made the story of their valiant struggle for survival all the more compelling.  Sometimes you have the skill, the equipment and the will to survive and despite your best efforts, you don't.  Yet, what else could they do but fight for life until the end?  

The book had me reflecting on a number of things related to nature, the sea and survival.  The story would have fit well in Lawrence Gonzales’ book, Deep Survival  (to see my review of Deep Survival, click here).  In that book, Gonzales shows how a few small seemingly reasonable decisions, can lead to a cascade of unexpected problems ultimately leading to disaster.  In this case, five very able and experienced seamen in an unusually seaworthy boat volunteer to aid the crew of an oil tanker aground on a shoal.  The storm they motor into becomes the worst in memory.  Soon they loose their radar and fathometer and are lost near shore at night in a blinding snow storm, winds gusting to 100 miles per hour.  

The wrenching end to the saga and its impact on the lives of those close to the victims is still with me.  It reminds me of some of my own adventures where  things started to go wrong, but the cascade was stopped before anyone was hurt.  It is sobering to know that the end for the five on the Can Do came even though they were skilled and well equipped for their task.  It illustrates that sometimes the elements simply overwhelm our ability to survive.  Trying to accurately gage the risks is something I try to do every time I venture out on the water.  This story shows in stark relief that sometimes skill, preparation and risk assessment just aren’t enough.  

 © Don Yackel 2020