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Lecture series delves into the perils of oceanic rescues

Date: 11/15/2013

By Carley Dangona

WESTFIELD – The fall lecture series at the Westfield Athenaeum continues with a look into the lives of people that have stared death in the face, wondering if they would survive.

Massachusetts native and award-winning author Michael Tougias will discuss his latest book, “A Storm Too Soon: The True Story of Disaster, Survival and Incredible Rescue,” about the crew of the Sean Seamour II, a 45-foot sailboat, and its rescuers as they faced 80-foot waves during sub-tropical storm Andrea in 2007.

Tougias will retell the ordeal from the memories of those involved, illustrating the story with a slide show of photographs. The event will take place Nov. 20 at the library from 7 to 8 p.m. in the Lang auditorium.

“I’d never come across anything like this – the rescue swimmers got in trouble,” Tougias said. “The event will be a very different kind of entertainment than people get on TV.” He explained that the true story has elicited gasps from audiences.

Tougias said that the entire book is written in the present tense to allow readers to “experience the story as if they are part of the crew.” He added that good decision-making is one lesson attendees can take away from the presentation. “If you make the wrong decision, it’s death,” he said.

In addition to writing, Tougias also lectures about the survival lessons learned in his stories. He shared some lessons he has learned from researching the tales.

“Half the time it’s taking the first step and the other foot follows,” he said. For him, the lasting impression from the stories is the people’s ability to “put their fears aside, despite being terrorized, to make decisions.”

Tougias noted people in danger don’t tend to waste time thinking about the past because it’s “debilitating.” When faced with a life or death situation, people tend to ask themselves, “What can I do in the next 15 minutes to improve my situation?”

An author of 20 books, this book is the fifth in a series of true life survival stories. Tougias said that survivors have a “new sense of gratitude for the little things,” but the change in them is “subtle.” He said that the survivors usually go back to life as it was, rather than doing a 180-degree turn.

Tougias is careful to account for the rescuers’ experience as well. “A lot of people forget what the rescuers go through. There [can be] long-lasting effects,” he said. “Not all of it has a happy ending.”

Happening across the audio files from the Blizzard of 1978 inspired the survival series. “[The tapes] made my hair stand up – those were there last words,” Tougias said. He wrote the first book of the series in 2005, “Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do,” about this event.

Another of Tougias’ books, “The Finest Hours: The True Story of the U.S. Coast Guard's Most Daring Sea Rescue,” the story of the 1952 rescue of two oil tanker crews – the Pendleton and the Fort Mercer – split-open during a nor’easter, is in the pre-production stages of filming. Walt Disney Studios is currently casting the movie. A release date has not yet been scheduled.

Tougias’ next book, “Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy,” is available for pre-order on Amazon and will be released in 2014.

“I don’t usually go looking for stories, but this one had so many twists and turns I couldn’t help myself,” he said.

Tougias, an avid boater and fisherman, was adamant that he will never go on a transatlantic boat trip after writing the books.

The lecture is free and open the general public. Light refreshments will be served. For more information, call 562-0716 or visit

For more information about Tougias, visit or