After The Storm
Stories of Disaster and Recovery at Sea
by John Rousmaniere
by Peter H. Vanderwaart
start with a disclosure. I know John Rousmaniere and although
our paths rarely cross, I count him as a friend. I admire his
intelligence, his talent and his character. I've read several
of his books and numerous newspaper and magazine articles and
found them consistently insightful and well-written. So I had
high expectations for this book.
my expectations were met or exceeded. Many authors have compiled
accounts of storm and tragedy at sea, but few have woven the common
threads into a cohesive narrative. The first seven chapters describe
as many storms, carefully chosen for their variety, social or
historic significance, and pedagogic value. Cause, effect, and
aftereffect are examined, not for each storm alone, but each in
the context of the others. Modern ideas of physiology (hypothermia)
and psychology (post traumatic stress syndrome) are used as prisms
to glean new insights from 19th century accounts. The final three
chapters apply those notions to old problems and new. In striking
contrast to the majority of sea stories, the emphasis is on culture,
sociology, and spirituality. Rousmaniere's message is that technique
may improve the odds of survival but that risk is a constant.
The comparison to the tragedy of the shuttle Columbia is obvious.
difficult to convey the breadth and depth of the discussion. In
addition to the bare facts of the storms and sailors involved,
I learned something about the following topics: the romantic poets,
the origins of feminism, the mackerel fishery in the Gulf of St.
Lawrence, the Samoa crisis of 1889, the origins of the Weather
Bureau, the Battle of the Atlantic, the prophet Jonah, the apostle
Paul and the hymnist John Newton. Now, who wouldn't want to know
is often identified as the author of Fastnet, Force Ten. If journalism
is the "first rough draft of history" as reporters like
to say, then first-person stories like Fastnet, Force Ten are
the second. After The Storm is true history, researched and cross-referenced,
narrated and interpreted. By his own testimony, the Fastnet storm
changed John's life, and, eventually, brought us this book about
the mutative power of storms at sea.