Posted on 19 September 2010 by John Rippo
Deadliest Sea: The untold story behind the greatest rescue in Coast Guard history by Kalee Thompson. William Morrow Press, Pub., 310 pp. Hardcover. $25.99. ISBN: 978-0-06-176629-9
Deadliest Sea makes your hands sweat when you read it—the true tale of the Alaska Ranger’s final voyage in 2008 describes an unsafe boat sent with untrained crewmen into bad weather and unimaginable cold to catch fish off the Alaskan coast for the boats’ Japanese owners. The inevitable sinking of the fishing boat due to worn mechanical systems and un-repaired earlier damage leads to a tale of an amazing Coast Guard rescue of the Alaska Ranger’s crew who had to swim away from their boat clad in insulating “Gumby” suits that may prolong their lives—and pain—while other men, technology and money work to save them.
The book is also the tale of a local man, Julio Morales, one of the Alaska Ranger’s crew, who endured as much as any of the crew did and who suffered the loss of a cousin who froze in the icy sea. Morales now works at a downtown gas station, coping with issues that follow the sinking that rob him of sleep and wondering at the differences between life and death. The book deals with these issues too, as well as the brutal economics of commercial fishing—likely the most dangerous job in the US—and the pressures that send men to sea in worn-out boats for an ever harder to find resource. Author Kalee Thompson’s fast paced narrative and elegant descriptive form of nuanced, staccato sentences drawn into long, detailed paragraphs, make the reader dig into the book from the first page as the tales of disaster and rescue come alive.
The real hero of the story is the US Coast Guard, whose ships and helicopter crews brave distance, lack of fuel and range and the elements in order to save the men of the Alaska Ranger. One soon comes to feel that the taxes to train and equip these people is money very well spent—they are the epitome of “can do” and skilled bravery in the face of grim odds anywhere they’re needed.
Beyond that, Deadliest Sea is an illustrator of the realities of fishing. Every delicate piece of nigiri sashimi; every can of tuna, every shrimp on the barbie comes at a cost unseen and unappreciated by most people. What’s left of our once-respected American fishing industry is now largely controlled by foreign interests that have little regard for the niceties of US law when it comes to safety at sea and sinkings like the Alaska Ranger’s are depressingly common. When they happen, the men lost pass out of sight and the underwriters pay up and life goes on; but the American taxpayer gets to subsidize the lifesaving system that keeps foreign owners’ crews alive to work another day—for them.
Deadliest Sea can be a thriller, a history or a wake up call to the lack of oversight of an important industry. However you want to read it, the book will keep you awake until the last page and leave you with a greater appreciation for the finer things in life, to boot.