A Storm Too Soon

As our mutilated life raft less its fluorescent canopy tumbles down these rolling walls of water, still unbeknown to us a helicopter guided by the C-130 seeks to find us in the maelstrom. Once spotted, the USCG will take over an hour to report back three survivors in the raft while Mother sits alone by the telephone waiting, still hesitating to tell Mayke about the USCG call in the middle of the night. But somewhere Mayke already knows, in her inexplicable distress she painted the scene the day before!

A still from the video footage made of the rescue

A still drawn from the raw video footage made of the rescue; the USCG / NOAA edited video prepared for the 25th anniversary and symposium of COSPAS-SARSAT can be found under SEA on the right side menu.
To put these incredible waves in perspective, seas generated by Hurricane Grace in 1991, storm that led to book and subsequent movie “A Perfect Storm”, had averaged waves of 37 to 50 feet high and rogue waves hitting 100 feet – Sub Tropical Storm Andrea that brought about our demise had waves that averaged 70 feet with rogue waves much higher!

 

 

This image led to this book released on January 15, result of over three years of research and writing
by best selling author Michael Tougias

 Alert A Storm Too Soon’s first print run is missing pictures so I have scoured years of old computers to
reconstitute a history of Sean Seamour II, it is a work in progress but have a look : Photo-history of Sean Seamour II

A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and an Incredible RescueA Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and an Incredible Rescue by Michael J. TougiasMy rating: 5 of 5 starsAs one the miraculously rescued victims torn in-extremis from the wrath of un-forecasted, post-named ST Storm Andrea, I have hesitated to provide my so obviously biased opinion of the book. Commander Nevada Smith who led his crew into this unforeseen maelstrom has opened the path on Amazon so I will continue on goodreads.
If you look at the photo of our raft on the side of the mountain of water it is hard to imagine, but to put this incredible 70 foot wave in perspective consider that seas generated by Hurricane Grace in 1991, storm that led to book and subsequent movie “A Perfect Storm”, had averaged waves of 37 to 50 feet high and rogue waves hitting 100 feet. Sub Tropical Storm Andrea that brought about our demise had waves that averaged 70 feet with rogues waves much higher!
It is five going on six years since a series of miracles enabled us to relate our ordeal. Not the least of these miracles was the engagement in a totally unforeseen situation of this United States Coast Guard crew, four men who went beyond the call of duty to accomplish one of the most daring USCG rescues. The honors bestowed to them from two countries understate their feat, their commitment.
Michael Tougias’ A Storm Too Soon captures this story in as gripping a fashion as the hurricane had captured us (we measured over 85 knots before stepping up to a life-raft , itself in a mangled half destroyed state as my s/v Sean Seamour II slipped below seventy foot waves.
Having read most of his books, bias aside this one is particularly riveting. You can find more photos on www.artseaprovence.comView all my reviews 

 

 

 

Here is NYP’ Larry Getlen’ review titled Tempest tossed (direct link to article)

In a tiny raft, three men try to survive 70-foot waves and 100-mph winds in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean By LARRY GETLEN

A Storm Too Soon A True Story 
of Disaster, Survival, 
and an Incredible Rescue by Michael J. Tougias Scribner

In May 2007, three men lay on a wildly thrashing overturned life raft in the middle of the Gulf Stream, ensnared in a massive storm, holding on for dear life.

” Rudy Snel, 62, tries to estimate the height of the encompassing waves, and never gets a figure below 70 feet. One member of their party, 57-year-old boat captain Jean Pierre de Lutz, is curled in a fetal position, his lips blue, his grip on reality tenuous at best. He has already suffered several broken ribs and is approaching hypothermia

Suddenly, a tremendous wave sends the raft hurling through the air. Snel and 31-year-old Ben Tye manage, in the turbulence of the wind and water, to crawl back atop it, dragging de Lutz with them. The men continue to marvel at the churn of the exploding sea as they conclude that, even if authorities did receive one of their several seemingly doomed attempts at signaling for help, no helicopter could possibly make it through the whirlwind to save them.

In their minds, there is only one possible end to this adventure. “I’ve had a good run,” Snel thinks. “I’ll just have to accept that this is it.”

The riveting, meticulously researched “A Storm Too Soon” tells the true-life tale of a rescue that shouldn’t have been, as the three men aboard de Lutz’s boat, the Sean Seamour II, faced conditions that should have left them dead.

The initial plan called for the sailors, who met when Snel and Tye answered de Lutz’s online ad for crew members for a transatlantic voyage, to travel from “Florida to the Azores, then on to Gibraltar and Saint-Tropez.”

The three had varying degrees of experience: De Lutz had been sailing since his teens, while Snel, a recently retired schoolteacher, was fulfilling a lifelong dream by undertaking a sail of this magnitude.

De Lutz chose May for the trip in order to avoid hurricane season, which traditionally begins in June. Departure was scheduled for May 1, but was delayed by one day due to a wait for extra batteries. “This one-day delay,” Tougias writes, “will have significant consequences.”

The trio took off on May 2, and at the beginning it seemed like a voyage of dreams for three men so deeply in love with the sea.

“Just before midnight, with a half-moon illuminating the water, Rudy has his first thrill of the trip,” Tougias writes. Snel is “startled” by a splashing dolphin and soon sees “perhaps 20 dolphins swimming along either side of Sean Seamour II.”

A few days later, though, there are suddenly reasons to worry. The night of May 5, de Lutz sees several low-pressure systems approaching and decides to change course farther east to get the boat out of the Gulf Stream. They are about 240 miles off Cape Hatteras, NC, and 400 miles from Bermuda.

By midday on the 6th, those systems gain strength as another system encroaches on them. The three notice “wispy, yellow-brown clouds off to the north,” and Snel comments, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen clouds that color. They’re so menacing.”

Later that day, the sky turns suddenly and ominously dark as winds approach 45 knots (around 52 miles per hour). “This is not good,” thinks de Lutz. “Nothing is going as planned. The weather is not as predicted.”

Waves soon grow to 10-15 feet as rain, propelled by wind, lashes horizontally at their faces. While the forecast had called for maximum winds of 35 knots, they quickly reach 60 knots and beyond. It is the beginning of what will be called subtropical storm Andrea.

“More than one wave smacks so hard that Rudy likens it to being hit by a truck,” Tougias writes. “Good God, he thinks, that felt more like a solid object than liquid.”

Soon, the boat’s instrument panel informs Snel that winds have reached 85 knots. De Lutz wasn’t even aware the boat could measure winds that intense.

As waves top off at around 50 feet high by midnight, the experience for the sailors becomes akin to a massive roller-coaster ride that never ends, sending them soaring up and down gut-churning inclines for hours on end.

The situation gets even worse when the morning of May 7 brings a “thunderous boom” that sends Snel from “resting in his bed to being airborne, hurled across his cabin into the bulkhead.” Tye is thrown so violently that he smashes into de Lutz, who deflects him, sending him flying “so that his back and buttocks hit the bulkhead where the TV is mounted; it shatters in a spray of glass and plastic.”

The Sean Seamour II is sent “careening over its starboard side. Objects not bolted down are hurled through the boat like missiles, and canned soft drinks burst like rockets, spraying in all directions.”

The boat finally rights itself, parts of it having been stripped away by the ferocious sea, and de Lutz, seeing a rapidly decreasing chance of surviving on their own, activates an emergency signal to alert the Coast Guard to their distress. Unbeknownst to them, the device fails to send the alert. Luckily, an older device they had on board was activated without their knowledge, alerting authorities to a ship in trouble.

The situation aboard the Sean Seamour II grows even more perilous when the boat rolls upside down, a “surreal, sickening feeling” that is “happening slowly, giving them time to realize the pure horror of it all.”

In the chaos, a table slams into de Lutz’s torso, breaking seven ribs and leaving him gasping for breath as it pins him beneath rising water.

“He feels the water climb up the backside of his neck and head, followed by silence as his ears submerge,” Tougias writes. “He frantically fights to free himself, but he’s pinned by the tabletop. I’m going to drown inside my own boat!”

Viewing only the bobbing top of the captain’s head, Snel and Tye manage to lift the table off him and pull his head up. With the water in the cabin now 2 feet deep and rising, de Lutz ignores the pain from his ribs. His only concern at that moment is the boat’s life raft, which, if the boat were to sink, would be necessary to keep them alive.

At this point, Tougias offers a cinematic six-page depiction of de Lutz’s next unnerving ordeal, when he swims out the boat’s companionway hatch to the outside to ensure that the raft is secure. As he thrashes around the deck with hurricane-force winds and water swirling around him, he finds the raft trapped beneath the boat’s broken mast.

“Every movement of the boat causes agony that can’t be ignored,” Tougias writes. “Piercing pain radiates from his broken ribs” as he maneuvers the raft free. At one point, “an especially large wave breaks directly on him, and the mast is pushed down on the left side of his back, crushing him against the deck. He moans in agony. Another three ribs are broken.”

He manages to secure the raft just in time for the boat to begin sinking, requiring the men to abandon it. As they prepare to leave, Snel puts his wallet and passport inside of a ziploc bag. “‘What the heck are you doing?’ says Ben. ‘We’re probably going to die, and we won’t be needing those.’”

With this, the men tether themselves together and brave “shrieking winds and crashing seas” in order to board the raft.

As they do, Tye “cannot believe the size of the white-capped mountains of water surrounding him. One minute a wave towers above the boat; the next minute the vessel rises to the top, where Ben surveys foam-streaked waves in all directions. He has never seen such raw power, the absolute height of nature’s fury, and he is awestruck.” The men make their way onto the raft just as the Sean Seamore II plunges into the deep, taking with it any supplies they needed to survive.

The raft, pelted by hurricane-force winds and rain and swirling at speeds of up to 9 knots, is filled with a half-foot of water. After 20 minutes in the ocean, an enormous wave lifts the raft, then sends it careening back down. “[The wave] slams into the men with the impact of a train,” Tougias writes. “The raft is flipped like a pancake, and the men go flying and tumbling.”

They eventually get the raft right side up, but tragic challenges of this sort test them for six hours as they struggle to survive in the midst of Mother Nature’s chaos.

At one point, Snel, marking the waves 10 feet at a time in his mind, realizes that they are reaching around 70 feet tall at minimum. From here on out, Snel alternates between marveling at this natural wonder, aware that “he is witnessing something only a handful of people on earth have ever seen,” and waiting as calmly as he can for death to take hold.

The rarity they are experiencing is what meteorologists call a “bombogenesis” because of “how abruptly it forms and explodes.”

The rescue mission, prompted by the signal sent by the older device, involved a C-130 plane to find them, and an accompanying helicopter to perform the rescue. In addition to having to notice a small black raft from airplane height through hurricane conditions, the rescue required that a swimmer, Drew Dazzo, be lowered into the turbulent waters; find, and swim toward, the raft; and personally tow each man through the waves and into a waiting basket so they could be lifted up to the copter.

As he was repeatedly lowered into the ocean, Dazzo found himself in 80 knot winds, bounced around the sky like a cat toy. At one point, Scott Higgins, the man charged with lowering him into the water, feared that he had broken Dazzo’s back by dropping him too quickly.

Four boats were caught in Andrea that night. The Coast Guard managed to rescue the passengers of three; the people on the fourth were lost.

The rescue team later calculated that the raft had been bouncing through the ocean so furiously that within one 28-minute period of tracking it from directly above where they thought it was, they traveled 1.8 miles.

Tougias tells how afterward, Tye, while flying home from the roughest ordeal of his life, stares out at the ocean, thinking of all the seemingly minor, coincidental things that helped save their lives, like an extra knife he just happened to have that allowed him to cut the raft free, or Snel just happening to grab an extra flare that helped the rescuers find them.

“There are just too many what-ifs,” Tougias writes. “The things that kept them alive were the result of good decisions, luck and maybe fate.”

 

Then there is the Kirkus Review on  “A Storm Too Soon” :

” The gripping account of three extraordinary 2007 maritime rescues near the treacherous waters of the Gulf Stream.

When JP de Lutz, Rudy Snel and Ben Tye set sail from Florida on the Sean Seamour II, they intended to cross the Atlantic to the Azores, then Gibraltar and finally, Saint-Tropez. The first 48 hours were better than anything the men could have ever expected, but after a few days, the weather suddenly began to change. Two otherwise small and harmless weather systems joined forces “to form one super cell that deepened so rapidly that no meteorologist could have predicted its power.” The winds, which forecasters had predicted would top out at 35 knots, increased to more than 80, and the sea became like “the hands of a raging giant” as it tossed and shook the trio’s 44-foot sailboat. The force of the waves, which sometimes reached 80 feet in height, gradually ripped the boat apart. Injured and in shock, the men escaped onto a small life raft while an emergency-radio beacon that got swept overboard miraculously sent out a distress call. The Coast Guard Command Center in Portsmouth, Va., received their signal, as well as those from two other ships nearby. A fourth ship went down before help could arrive. Teams of rescue-helicopter pilots and swimmers flew to the scenes of each disaster. By depicting the event from the perspective of both the rescued and the rescuers and focusing only on key moments and details, Tougias (Overboard!: A True Blue-water Odyssey of Disaster and Survival, 2010, etc.) creates a suspenseful, tautly rendered story that leaves readers breathless but well-satisfied.

Heart-pounding action for the avid armchair adventurer.”

A Storm Too Soon’s first print run is missing pictures so I have scoured years of old computers to reconstitute a history of Sean Seamour II leading up to the events, it is a work in progress but have a look 

s/v Sean Seamour II

Where it all happened.

Top position is where we reversed course on May 6 to run with the un predicted storm, later post-named Andrea.
The second position is where the rogue wave hit at 01:40 hrs (estimated up to 120 feet), followed an hour and twelve minutes later by 360° roll at 02:52 hrs.

The story be told, “A Storm Too Soon” by Michael Tougias, to be released by Simon and Schuster

January 15th (available for pre-order on Amazon here )

 

A Storm Too Soon

5 Comments

    1. Dave Pomerantz says:

      Bonjour,
      Just finished a storm too soon. Frightening. Recently sold a 34 foot sailboat. I have imagined situations like this too many times. I doubt anything I imagine is close to reality.

      My wife and I will be in Provence next week. We hope to stop by the gallery to see Mayke’s art.
      Best regards,
      Dave and Cindy

    2. Lewis L. Smith 3rd says:

      As an ex tin can sailor, I can only imagine the terrible ordeal these sailors faced. I’ve been in many storms aboard ship, but nothing like this book has shown me. Thank God for USCg!

    3. Peter Reich says:

      JP,

      Just finished Mike’s book. Amazing!!! So many similarities with what happend to us aboard “Polar Bear” in 1980, especially a brand new EPIRB that didn’t function!

      All the best,
      Peter

      • seanseamour says:

        Thank you for your email in response to my query. In the next few months I will publish more information, notably understanding how and what happened behind the many miracles that were in fact threads leading to our survival. I will keep you posted.

      • David Lyman says:

        Peter
        I read you had a harrowing storm story to tell.
        I’m writing and editing a book of stories and lessons learned from hurricanes. Drafts of a few of the chapters are in my website http://www.DHLyman.com
        I am looking for more stories of storms and of survival.

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A Storm Too Soon

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