The Story Of Gloucester's Pilot Boat Can Do And The Blizzard Of '78

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Cars and trucks stranded and abandoned in deep snow along Route 128 in Dedham are seen on Feb. 9, 1978. (AP)
Cars and trucks stranded and abandoned in deep snow along Route 128 in Dedham are seen on Feb. 9, 1978. (AP)

It was Feb. 6, 1978. Off the coast of Salem, a Greek oil tanker was dragging anchor as a massive blizzard was bearing down on New England. The lives of 33 men on board were at risk. That's when the crew of a small boat jumped into action to see if they could be of service.

Author Michael Tougias tells more of the story in his new book for young readers, "Into The Blizzard: Heroism At Sea During The Great Blizzard of 1978." It tells the story of the Can Do, a pilot boat from Gloucester, the men on board and their heroic mission at sea.

Interview Highlights

On the dangers the Can Do faced

"They don't really know where they are, but they're in extreme danger. [Can Do crew member] Charlie [Bucko] says. 'We're trying to get into deeper water here... our windshield is out, position unknown, action extremely violent.'"

"The last message began to explain what happened to the can do. It had hit a shoal or shallow water, either the ocean's bottom or a rock ledge. At the same moment, the windshield was blown out probably from a giant wave. The wall of water, parts of the windshield and the motor from the spinning window crashed into Frank's head, knocking him from the wheel because Charlie was likely standing by the wheel with Frank. He, too, would have been sent reeling backward, arms flailing by the booming fist of water. "

On why the Can Do decided to head to sea during a blizzard in the first place

"First, they didn't know this was going to turn into the storm of the century. It was exploding upon them at the time. And second, they had a lot of experience in just the year before [during a successful rescue mission when an oil tanker split in half during a blizzard]. In an eerily similar situation, they were able to save six out of seven men on board."

On why the Blizzard of '78 caught everyone off-guard and the devastation it caused

"The main issue was it stalled in place. And the height of waves is a formation of wind speed, the open fetch of the ocean and in the duration of the wind. So those all combined to make the ocean so, so troublesome for anybody along the coast. And hundreds of homes were demolished from this storm. And of course, inland, most people remember all the cars stuck on the major highways."

On what he wants young readers to take away from his book

"The first thing is getting kids to read again. But then I also want them to learn from these, I guess we could call them, heroes. They're flawed people. They're not superheroes. They're afraid, just like you and I might be, but somehow where I might be incapacitated by my fear, these people know how to keep it in check and still do the job... One of them verbalized this to me, who did survive. He said, "I thought I was going to die, but I'm going to go down fighting."

Jamie Bologna and Tiziana Dearing produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Fausto Menard adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on February 6, 2020.

Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.


Jamie Bologna Senior Producer/Director, Radio Boston
Jamie Bologna was senior producer and director of Radio Boston.



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