1 CHATHAM LIFEBOAT STATIONChatham, Massachusetts: February 18, 1952
Boatswain’s mate first class Bernie Webber held a mug of hot coffee in his large hands as he stared out the foggy window of the mess hall. He watched with growing curiosity and concern as the storm continued to strengthen outside. A midwinter nor’easter had stalled over New England for the last two days, and Bernie wondered if the worst was yet to come. Windswept snow danced over the shifting sands as large drifts piled up in the front yard of the Chatham Lifeboat Station.
Taking a sip of his coffee, Bernie thought of his young wife, Miriam, in bed with a bad case of the flu at their cottage on Sea View Street. What if there was an emergency? What if she needed help? Would the doctor be able to reach her in this kind of weather? These questions were fraying his nerves, and Bernie fought to put them out of his mind. Instead he tried to picture the local fishermen all huddled around the old wood stove at the Chatham Fish Pier. They would be calling for his help soon as their vessels bobbed up and down on the waves in Old Harbor, straining their lines. If the storm is this bad now, what will it be like in a few hours when it really gets going?
Bernie, however, wouldn’t complain about the tough day he was facing. The boatswain’s mate first class was only 24 years old, but he had been working at sea for nearly a decade, having first served with the U.S. Maritime Service during WWII. Bernie had followed his brother Bob into the Coast Guard; it was not the kind of life his parents had planned for him. From early childhood, Bernie’s father, the associate pastor at the Tremont Temple Baptist Church in Boston, had steered him toward a life in the ministry. The church deacon had even paid for Bernie to attend the Mount Hermon School for Boys, which was 105 miles away from their home in Milton.
Bernie was an outcast in the prep school crowd. He arrived in Greenfield, Massachusetts, a small town hugging the Connecticut River, with serious doubts and wearing his brother’s hand-me-down clothes. He was not a strong student, and he privately questioned why he was there. Bernie knew in his heart that he did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps. He was thinking about running away from school when fate intervened; a childhood friend who had crashed his father’s car came looking for a place to hide out. Bernie snuck his friend into one of the dorm rooms and swiped food from the school cafeteria for the boy to eat. The two were caught after just a few days, but they did not stick around long enough to face the consequences. Instead they fled to the hills and cornfields surrounding t
"This poignant history should be an easy sell to readers of adventure, seafaring, or rescue stories. A Disney film is in development." —School Library Journal The Finest Hours (Simon & Schuster edition):"The Finest Hours is a touching account, a sensitive rendering of what might be called four indescribably chaotic conditions. . . . Tougias and Sherman never sensationalize, never go beyond the facts, and yet capture all the pain, physical and emotional, of the survivors and their families." —Providence Journal"This book captures the wit, grit and sacrifice of Coasties and their boats." —Minneapolis Star Tribune"Tougias and Sherman reach their peak of tension in the sink-or-swim moments when mariners abandoned ship and chanced their lives on their rescuers’ skill and bravery. . . . Excellent." —Booklist"Nearly 57 years later, it’s a breathtaking story that still defies the imagination." —Cape Cod Chronicle "It’s good to know that real heroes exist. . . . Incredible." —Concord Monitor "Gripping. . . . Tougias and Sherman ably narrate the desperate struggles of crew members on both the wrecks and the rescue boats. . . . Will make readers appreciate the bravery of the men who put their lives on the line. . . . Action-packed." —Publishers Weekly "A gripping tale of Coast Guard heroism. . . . An action-packed account of rescue at sea." —Kirkus Reviews