Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do

Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do

by Michael J. Tougias

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In the midst of the Blizzard of 1978, the tanker Global Hope floundered on the shoals in Salem Sound off the Massachusetts coast. The Coast Guard heard the Mayday calls and immediately dispatched a patrol boat. Within an hour, the Coast Guard boat was in as much trouble as the tanker, having lost its radar, depth finder, and engine power in horrendous seas. Pilot boat Captain Frank Quirk was monitoring the Coast Guard's efforts by radio, and when he heard that the patrol boat was in jeopardy, he decided to act. Gathering his crew of four, he readied his forty-nine-foot steel boat, the Can Do, and entered the maelstrom of the blizzard.

Using dozens of interview and audiotapes that recorded every word exchanged between Quirk and the Coast Guard, Tougias has written a devastating, true account of bravery and death at sea, in Ten Hours Until Dawn.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429909617
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/01/2007
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 316,386
File size: 478 KB

About the Author

Michael J. Tougias is a syndicated newspaper columnist and the award-winning author of more than a dozen books. His book, The Blizzard of '78, was a Boston Globe bestseller. He is also the coauthor of King Philip's Warand There's a Porcupine in My Outhouse (Best Nature Book of 2003---Independent Publishers Association). He lives in Franklin, Massachusetts.
Michael J. Tougias is the author and coauthor of more than a dozen books, including two bestselling true-adventure and survival books, Ten Hours Until Dawn: A True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do and Fatal Forecast: An Incredible True Tale of Disaster and Survival at Sea.

Read an Excerpt

Ten Hours Until Dawn

The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do

By Michael J. Tougias

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2005 Michael J. Tougias
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-0961-7



Frank Quirk, Jr., often spent the night aboard the Can Do, and on the morning of February 6, 1978, he awoke on his vessel wondering when it would snow. The prior evening's weather forecast called for snowfall to begin in the early-morning hours, yet there wasn't a flake in the sky, just low leaden clouds and a bitter cold breeze. He could have caught a little more sleep, because no piloting jobs were scheduled, but that wasn't his nature. The forty-nine-year-old former navy Seabee (construction battalion), with a wife and three children, was disciplined and full of energy. Although Frank's crew-cut style hair was mostly gray, he kept in tip-top shape and was quite strong, with a stocky build. He was well liked, with an easygoing manner and a ready smile.

Frank had been plying these waters for over twenty years and had a healthy respect for the sea, but he also knew the location of most every peril and felt comfortable navigating his boat in all kinds of weather, even on the darkest nights. He considered himself quite fortunate: his work allowed him to be his own boss and, instead of being trapped in an office, he could be on the ocean nearly every day. Frank loved the sea, both the freedom it affords as well as its challenges and ever-changing nature. He felt the same about the Can Do, which he had dubbed with the Seabees' motto.

Among Gloucester's fishing and boating community Frank was well known. He had received two Mariner's Medals for heroism at sea and countless times aided boaters in distress. Sometimes he just brought fuel to a skipper who had run out of gas, or dived overboard to retrieve a pair of eyeglasses dropped by a careless boater. One recreational boater recalls radioing for assistance when the engine on his runabout conked out on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. Frank was relaxing on the Can Do, several miles away. When no boaters close to the runabout came on the radio, Quirk went on the air, offering a tow from Gloucester to the boat's home port in Marblehead, several miles away. The tow and return trip consumed six or seven hours of Quirk's day off, but he refused to accept any payment. He usually just said, "It was nothing at all," or if the boat had fishermen aboard, "Just throw me a fish next time you see me." His kids said Frank brought home a lot of fish and lobsters.

On that Monday morning, Quirk was listening to the marine radio in the Can Do's wheelhouse. Surrounded by small rectangular glass windows, he had a good view of Gloucester's inner harbor, where all manner of boats were docked, from battered and rusting fishing trawlers to sleek modern pleasure yachts. The National Weather Service was announcing an updated weather forecast, saying the snow was still coming and would be accompanied by high winds. Meteorologists explained that the snowfall could be significant and some even used the term blizzard, but few gave any inkling that New Englanders were about to be pounded by a blizzard of incredible proportions. New England's "storm of the century" was on the way, heading directly up the eastern seaboard toward Massachusetts.

The storm was a deceptive one at this early stage. It was located off the Maryland coast, and during the morning hours the mid-Atlantic states as well as New Jersey and New York were receiving significant snowfall accompanied by strong winds. This region, however, was absorbing just a glancing blow compared to what was in store for Massachusetts and Rhode Island, because with each passing hour the storm intensified. The storm was strengthening so rapidly, meteorologists later would refer to it as a "bombo-genesis" or simply a bomb. As it moved north, winds would go from "strong" to hurricane-force, clocked at a ferocious 92 miles per hour when they reached Massachusetts. Winds of this magnitude caught everyone off guard, and no meteorologist predicted the other surprise the storm had in store — that it would stall south of Nantucket Island, allowing it to concentrate its full strength just to the north, along coastal Massachusetts. Before the storm finally headed out to sea its raging winds coupled with three feet of snow would claim ninety-nine lives.

After a quick breakfast, Frank did a little engine maintenance down in the underbelly of the Can Do, followed by some paperwork. About the time his work was finished, the wind began kicking up a considerable chop in the harbor. A few flakes of dry snow began falling as Frank left the Can Do and walked to his car, pulling the collar of his jacket more snugly around his neck in the cold breeze. His coat was a gift from the Gloucester Coast Guard Station, an olive green officer's jacket, which Frank wore with pride. He hopped in his car and drove southwest on Rogers Street and Western Avenue, along the waterfront, passing the Coast Guard station and the Fisherman's Memorial, where the names of hundreds of men lost at sea are etched in granite blocks. At the western end of Gloucester Harbor he crossed the drawbridge that spans the narrow canal connecting the harbor to the Annisquam River. Then he turned right on Essex Avenue and pulled into the parking lot of the Cape Ann Marina, where a large American flag snapped overhead. Frank was greeted by his friend and marina vice president Louis Linquata, who was not surprised to see him. Frank always wanted to be near his boat during foul weather and make himself available just in case the Coast Guard needed his services.

Linquata and Frank were joined by maintenance supervisor Gard Estes, and the three men fanned out to the marina's many docks to secure boats and equipment. A few people lived on their boats year-round, and as Gard tightened lines he made sure no one intended to remain aboard a boat during the storm. The breeze died down briefly, and in the eerie calm Gard noticed he was being followed by three seagulls, walking on the dock just three feet behind him. When he stopped they stopped, but as soon as he resumed walking they stayed right at his heels. Usually the gulls gave Gard a wide berth, yet that day they followed him everywhere, as did two ducks in the water, and he wondered if the birds knew something about the coming snow that he didn't.

When the men's work was done at 1:00 p.m. they went inside for lunch and a beer. The marina's restaurant and lounge were only a few years old, and its furnishings still looked new. One of Gard's friends had recently added his own personal touch, bringing in a six-foot-long Styrofoam bluefin tuna and hung it on the back wall "to add a little more character." The tuna was so well crafted that most customers thought it was a mounted specimen caught off Georges Bank. On one side of the restaurant a polished wooden bar with a blue Formica top ran from end to end, and adjacent to that was a wall of large glass sliding doors that opened to a deck above the river. The other two walls were finished with rough pine, stained a light gray, giving the restaurant a rustic feel. In the back corner, a large metal cone-shaped fireplace radiated heat, emitting a pleasant scent of wood smoke. The restaurant and bar had become a cozy meeting place for Frank's wide circle of friends from Gloucester, including cops, carpenters, and fishermen.

Sitting down to a bowl of steaming chowder at the bar, Frank looked out the sliders and noticed how the wind had picked back up and was angrily stirring the black waters of the Annisquam River. The snow was still relatively light, but it was now being driven horizontally each time a particularly strong gust swept up the river from the ocean. During lunch the three men discussed the latest weather reports and learned that the snow was piling up in Providence, Rhode Island, ninety miles away, and that peak gusts of wind at Boston's Logan Airport had hit 45 miles per hour. At this point it was still possible that the storm might swing out to sea and spare Gloucester, but their eyes told them otherwise; outside the sky was getting darker and it looked more like dusk than midday.

Over the course of the afternoon the men were joined by other friends: commercial fisherman Kenneth Fuller, thirty-four, of Rockport; Norman David Curley, thirty-five, a Gloucester electrician; and thirty-six-year-old Don Wilkinson of Rockport, who managed the Captain's Bounty Motor Lodge. The men were relaxed, eating chowder and sipping beer while shooting the breeze, glad for an early end to the workday because of the approaching storm. Being the only customers in the restaurant, they could be as noisy as they liked, and because they were all such good friends they started teasing one another. Some of the men were standing around the bar, others sitting and smoking cigarettes. Frank enjoyed himself as much as his friends, but he also had one ear glued to the radio, monitoring the news about the storm.

At midafternoon the group was joined by Bill Lee, an oil barge captain who filled commercial vessels with fuel. Lee knew all the men, as their paths frequently crossed either on the waterfront or in the harbor. He and Frank had a lot in common, as they were both navy Seabees and they saw each other almost every day while they were working. Sometimes Frank would be in the Can Do waiting to off-load a pilot and Lee would be right next to him in his barge waiting to fuel the ship. Lee considered Frank an excellent mariner and very competent.

Lee socialized with the other men at the marina and recalled how nobody called Curley by his real first name of Norman, because he went by his middle name, David. "He was a quiet guy," said Lee, "but he could be very funny. And he could take a joke, too: we always gave him the business about his bald head. He was at home on boats, because he had a twenty-four-foot cabin cruiser that he loved. He was always there to do a favor. Don Wilkinson was always talking about his two children and wife. His big thing was football, and I remember he went to the Superbowl every year. Don also raced powerboats. He was the bookworm of the group as well, and very bright. At one time he ran the marina and later became its business manager."

Lee recalls Kenny Fuller as a street-smart guy who was constantly coming up with new ideas to make money. He was a real free spirit who was always up for fun but willing to pitch in if work needed to get done. As a commercial fisherman who owned his own boat, he would go far offshore fishing for tuna in the summer and fall and often ended the season by navigating his vessel from Gloucester to Florida.

When Lee joined the group at the marina that afternoon he told Frank that while he was out fueling boats he had heard that the Global Hope was dragging anchor down in Salem. The northeast winds had pushed the ship a few hundred feet to the southwest, despite its having its anchor set. "I realized," says Lee, "that was one of the ships Frank had brought in and figured he'd want to know. By this time it was snowing pretty good and the winds were getting stronger each hour."

The first people to notice that the ship had shifted position were concerned residents along the Beverly waterfront. They called local police who in turn notified Warren Andrews, the operator of the Salem Control (Radio) Station, which monitored all shipping in busy Salem Channel. Andrews had lost his sight at a young age but was a superb radio control operator, able to juggle all the incoming radio traffic and coordinate the activity. He always wore dark glasses and kept his graying hair combed straight back. His radio control room was off an L-shaped addition to his house, and Andrews knew exactly where each piece of communication equipment was located and was able to glide from one radio to another on a wheeled swivel chair. Warren grew up in Salem, and he could remember all the features of Salem Harbor from when he had his sight. Frank's son Frank III recalls several visits to Warren with his dad: "Warren was amazing. He could move from one radio to the next in that control room in an instant. I marveled at his skill without the ability to see. I once said to my dad, 'Are you sure he's blind?'" Others compared Warren to an old lighthouse keeper, because he was always there.

Andrews made tape recordings of most of his daily radio activity, as a way to check facts at a later date if someone had a question Andrews couldn't answer off the top of his head. That afternoon was no exception, and the tape chronicles how Warren notified the nearest Coast Guard station (in Gloucester) when the first calls came in regarding the Global Hope.

Coast Guard Station Gloucester immediately made contact with the captain of the Global Hope, asking if the captain had noticed a position change in his vessel since he last anchored. The captain had a strong accent and sometimes he struggled for the right word in English.

Station Gloucester repeated the question: "We need to verify if you have dragged, anchor. Over."

The Global Hope responded: "No, nothing."

"Roger that. We received a report that you did drag anchor. Are you in distress now? Is there any reason you would be in distress?"

"No, up to now, up to now, nothing, ship stay in this position. We are in same position, same position as anchored."

"Keep us informed, skipper, if you drag anchor any more."

"OK, thank you."

From this exchange it seems the Coast Guard doubted the captain's ability to judge whether the Global Hope had dragged anchor or not. Their qualms were well founded.

* * *

After Bill Lee left the group to finish a final fueling job, Frank, Curley, Wilkinson, and Fuller paid their bill and headed down to the Can Do docked in the South Channel. Once on the boat Frank called Warren Andrews for the latest news on the Global Hope, then radioed Station Gloucester, informing them that he was dockside and standing by on channels 16 and 12. The Coast Guard men and woman at Station Gloucester all knew Frank and were aware that he could be counted on should they need his services. Several times he had assisted on rescues and also conducted dives for the Coast Guard, often helping draggers free their nets from submerged debris.

The group of men sat around a table in the Can Do's wheel-house, directly behind the captain's chair and wheel. Visitors to the Can Do's wheelhouse, surrounded with thick aluminum, compared it to a tank with windows. Everything about the boat was solid, prompting one mariner to call it a "fortress," while another described it as a "surface submarine." The Can Do was bobbing next to the dock, but the hissing of the wind was muffled by the thick superstructure and the men could carry on conversations as normal. They monitored the radio and realized the storm was going to be a bad one, with wind gusts approaching hurricane-force. On board the Can Do, the men were quite comfortable. The forty-nine-foot boat originally had been the pleasure yacht of a wealthy family from Rhode Island. Frank had bought the boat because it was built to take a beating with a three-eighths-inch Cor-Ten steel hull and a quarter-inch aluminum pilothouse. Frank modified the boat for his piloting, such as adding a rubber bumper at the tip of the bow and installing fat racing tires on the sides for protection when the Can Do was brought alongside tankers and freighters. In addition, he had installed an array of electronics for communication and guidance: two FM radios, two CB radios, a ship-to-shore AM radio, loran (long-range electronic navigation device) for land coordinates, top-quality radar, and huge searchlights.

The Can Do also had all the luxuries of home. A spiral staircase with a stainless-steel railing and mahogany steps led from the pilothouse forward to the "mates' quarters," which had two bunks, mahogany drawers beneath each bunk, a retractable television, a sink, and a toilet. From these quarters there was access to a storage compartment in the bow where anchorage material was stowed. In the aft section were the captain's quarters and the galley. Four people could sleep in the captain's quarters, which featured a walk-in closet, carpeted floor, mahogany woodwork throughout, large eighteen-by-eight-inch portholes that opened, and a toilet, sink, and shower. A full-size refrigerator, sink, counters, gas range, and stove made up the galley. Amidships, between the captain's and mates' quarters, was the engine room with the power pack radar, compressor for the air horn, battery system, oil burner for the forced hot-water heating system and domestic water, a one-cylinder diesel generator, and the main engine, a Cummings 220-horsepower that turned a large single propeller. A hatch located just steps from where the captain stood in the pilothouse opened to a ladder leading to the engine room.

When Frank piloted the boat, he literally had everything at his fingertips: steering wheel, stainless-steel compass, chrome navigational controls, access to all the radios, drawers for the charts and logbooks, controls for the searchlights, and a long wooden handle suspended from a chain for the whistle. Just aft the captain's controls was the large mahogany table with cushioned benches where the men now sat, shooting the breeze and, like many others in Massachusetts, wondering if this blizzard would be as bad as the one that had struck just three weeks earlier. That storm set a record for snowfall but caused little damage, and seaside communities weathered that blizzard in stride.


Excerpted from Ten Hours Until Dawn by Michael J. Tougias. Copyright © 2005 Michael J. Tougias. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Copyright Notice,
Part I,
1. The Gathering Storm,
2. The Coast Guard Responds,
3. Frank Quirk and Charlie Bucko,
4. Rogue Waves and Dead Engines,
5. Rescue of the Chester Poling,
6. A Storm Like No Other,
7. Swept Over with a Crash,
Part II,
8. A Family's Anxious Wait,
9. Time Is the Enemy,
10. Heading Northeast,
11. Pursuing Life's Pathway,
12. In Shoal Waters,
13. Troubles on the Cape George,
14. Silence,
15. Beyond the Realm of Experience,
16. The Anchor,
17. The Breakwater,
18. Desperation,
19. Dawn's Dim Light,
Part III,
20. The Search,
21. The Global Hope,
22. Devastation,
23. Discoveries,
24. The Week After,
25. Wrecked Boat, Wrecked Lives,
26. "Crossing the Bar",
27. Brian and Farewell,
Author's Note,
About the Author,
Also by Michael Tougias,

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Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 18 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Hey, you idiots out there who use this book review site as your personal chat room--- STOP!!!!! Why not pick up a book and try reading instead of idiotic chatter!! You may find it enjoyable!! Start with this novel.
eager-readerPL More than 1 year ago
Highly recommend this book. It is a well written book about a disaster at sea's in the 1970's. Details the heroic measure of several men that should be remembered for their bravery !!
SeriousGrace on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Tougis was obviously influenced by Perfect Storm by Sebastian Junger when he wrote Ten Hours Until Dawn. There have been many comparisons made of the two ocean-tragic books. In listening to the audio version of Ten Hours Until Dawn I appreciated the detail with which Tougis recounted the Can Do's final hours thanks to actual radio transmission transcripts. In addition Tougis included many stories of other rescues and tragedies to illustrate his point of just how dangerous the ocean could be. The arch enemy of a boat is wind and the blizzard of 1978 produced winds topping 100 miles an hour. Seas were well over 40 feet. Tougis paints a touching biography of Frank Quirk, the civilian pilot-boat captain who gathered four other men to brave the blizzard elements to assist in the rescue of two other boats in peril that day. My only "complaint" would be of myself. Because Tougis includes many different rescues to illustrate different points (the bravery of a certain man, an example of fierce weather, the sea worthiness of a boat) if I wasn't paying attention I would get confused as to which tragedy Tougis is recounting. He frequently bounces between the "current" action of the Can Do and other incidents that happen before and after 1978.
dougcornelius on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I was school-age when the Blizzard of '78 unleashed its fury on New England. It was an historically powerful storm, bringing hurricane force winds and three feet of snow. The blizzard raged for a day and half when it stalled off the coast.For most kids this was a wonderful time. Our street was unplowed for a week until a front end loader finally managed to clear the snow. School was closed for weeks. Huge drifts of snow made for great sledding.But for many, the Blizzard brought destruction and death. Michael Tougias tells one of those stories in Ten Hours Until Dawn.The most devastation from the Blizzard fell on the coast. The high winds and length of the storm lead to huge waves and violent seas. The tanker Global Hope was trying to ride out the storm under anchor in Salem Sound. The ship's anchor started dragging, the ship began floundering on the shoals and the captain sent out a mayday.The ninety-five foot Coast Guard cutter Cape George from Boston and the 210 foot Decisive from Provincetown fired up their engines and made way to the incident. Closer by, the Coast Guard sent a forty-one foot utility boat and a forty-four foot motor lifeboat from Gloucester Harbor. They set out into violent waters churned by the blizzard. The two smaller boats took a beating as soon as they passed the breakwater in Gloucester Harbor.Also hearing the call was Frank Quirk. He sat back waiting for the Coast Guard to do their job. Using his forty-nine foot Can Do, Quirk delivered pilots to incoming cargo ships. He was also a diver and had participated in rescue attempts. He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the coastal waters.When the smaller boats got in trouble, Quirk fired up the engines and gathered a few friends. They headed out into the beast of storm slamming against the New England coast.The obvious comparison for this book is Sebastian Junger's The Perfect Storm. Both books involved boats that left Gloucester Harbor and got caught in the teeth of a vicious storm. Junger crafted a story around the issues confronting swordfisherman, but had little information about what actually happened. The Andrea Gail and her crew were never heard from again.Ten Hours Until Dawn recreates the Can Do's battle with storm. Tougias had copies of radio transmissions to help him structure the story. He was also able to interview the participants and spectators to the events that took place in Salem Sound during the Blizzard of '78. It's a compelling story.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
He sniffs the camp
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Book is full of history for the coastal area where the Can Do went down. The stories from the crews of the other larger coast guard ships trying to assist were gripping. Cape Ann, not just Gloucester, has a rich history associated with the sea.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michel Tougias has done a superb job in recreating the events leading up to the tragety on the pilot boat Can Do. I was very fortunatly to be stationed with Charlie Bucko at Pt Allerton station till he got stationed at Gloucester C.G. station. I was not suprised on what Charlie did, he was a very dedicated C.G. personel. He took his job very serious to the very end. I am proud to have served with him.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gloucester is a seaport that has had more than its share of vessels that have left port never to be seen again. Most of the fishing fleet were and still are family owned and operated boats. The attention brought by ¿The Perfect Storm¿ put a shadow over the many people who gave their lives to help others. I am glad that the Can Do and it¿s ill fated crew have been able to have their story told. It is well worth reading for all ages. Thank you Michael for giving us this story. It was so long ago many of us, who lived through it, have pushed it from our memories.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael Tougias' writing makes the reader feel that they are right there with the crew of the Can Do. I found myself routing for them even though unfortunately I knew the outcome. The historical information he included regarding the North Shore coast of Massachusetts and the shipwreck stories of the past were very interesting. These stories help to define the peril that the Can Do found itself in. Frank Quirk and his crew were truly heroes and that is something hard to find these days. It's a must read for those of us who love the ocean.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a college student who has not read any novels involving the sea, I was not only drawn in by the writing of Michael Tougias, but also captivated and completely moved at the heroism of Captain Quirk and his crew. This story kept me at the edge of my seat, I would recommend to any audience.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I read alot of books by far this is the most riveting story I have ever read. The author makes you feel you are part of the story, and action. It is a must read for all.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Michael Tougias' Ten Hours Until Dawn is a true life story of peril at sea during the Blizzard of 1978. Since Sebastian Junger's classic epic, A Perfect Storm, many authors have written similar stories dealing with tragedies at sea. Tougias' book is by far the best such book since Junger's and in many ways is superior to A Perfect Storm. Tougias skillfully balances human drama with technical details in writing about the brave men who attempted to make a rescue at sea during the terrible blizzard. Ten Hours Until Dawn is an incredible tale of heroism and sacrafice.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have just finished Ten Hours Until Dawn, and it is by far one of the most enjoyable stories I have ever read. Once you begin this book you will not be able to put it down. Author Michael Tougias makes you feel as though you are part of the story. I highly recommend Ten Hours Until Dawn to all audiences.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having livied in Salem during the Blizzard of 78, I was quite interested in reading 'Ten Hours Until Dawn.' The characterizations are extremely personal and the plot riveting. The author instills drama and intrigue into each part of the book by delving into the background of the characters and related events.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Lost in the understandable media frenzy surrounding the 'Blizzard of '78' was the heroic and tragic story of Frank Quirk, and the crew of the Can Do. Thankfully, the author has tirelessly researched the relevant records and interviewed numerous colleagues of the fated crew to finally bring this story to light. A truly compelling and informative read.