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Labor Day weekend 1951 was the last chance for the fishing boats working out of Montauk, Long Island, to make some money. In those days a special train would depart New York City to make the direct run to the eastern end of Long Island, arriving in time for the fishermen to run to the docks and hop aboard the open charter boats waiting to take them to the fishing grounds.
It was post-World War II America, and the national fishing craze was at its zenith. The train would be packed with men and a few women who wanted the thrill of hooking the once abundant cod and striped bass that congregated in Block Island Sound.
One of the charter boats at the dock was Pelican, a strongly built 42-foot vessel with newly rebuilt twin engines under the command of Capt. Eddie Carroll, a well-liked, gracious captain with a reputation for finding fish. For Carroll the end of the fishing season marked a happy time. Pelican had been earning all season, and the young captain was about to become engaged. He carried the engagement ring he was going to present to his sweetheart in his pocket. The forecast was good, and the boat was full with fishermen lining the rails.
And that’s where the trouble began. There were no regulations in 1951 as to the number of passengers a fishing charter boat could carry. It was up to the captain’s discretion as to how many people he would put aboard. But it wasn’t greed that prompted Carroll to load 61 souls aboard Pelican that day in September. He was more motivated by the fact that he didn’t want to disappoint any of his regulars, and he couldn’t stand to disappoint anyone who had come all the way from New York.
Before the day was out, 42 souls, including Carroll, would be lost, and Pelican would be at the bottom of the Atlantic.
Author Tom Clavin tells this gripping and tragic story with the skill of a professional journalist. Dark Noon leaves the reader with sadness – akin to a Greek tragedy – but also a greater understanding of how trouble on the water develops incrementally until the sum is decisive, and often fatal.
International Marine/McGraw Hill; 240 pages; $24.95