The Hippo


Jul 19, 2019








Meet Michael Tougias

Tucker Free Library, 31 Western Ave., Henniker: Sunday, Oct. 5, at 2 p.m.
Concord Auditorium, 2 Prince St., Concord: Wednesday, Oct. 8, at 7:30 p.m.

Stories of survival
Author Michael Tougias talks survival lessons

By Kelly Sennott

 Michael Tougias has written six real-life survival books, one of which, The Finest Hours, is being made into a Disney movie. 

So, naturally, the Massachusetts-based writer has learned a thing or two about survivors and their defining characteristics. They can often break down tasks — or survival plans — into small increments. They can focus on one half hour, one task at a time, and they can do it alone.
“[Survivors] come in all shapes and sizes. Most people think good survivors have to be in great shape, but that’s not always the case,” said Tougias in a phone interview. “What I found, when I drilled into their backgrounds, is that they’re all kind of independent. … They had experience doing things on their own, and they didn’t feel overwhelmed when, on their own, they had to make life and death decisions time and time again.”
He has a lecture dedicated to that very idea called “Survival Lessons: Decision-making Under Pressure,” but at the time of the call, Tougias was in the midst of a different speaking tour. He was promoting his most recent book, Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy, and his book-turned-film The Finest Hours, which comes out in 2015 and stars Chris Pine and Casey Affleck, among others. He stops in Concord Wednesday, Oct. 8.
How does he know whether a survival story is worth telling? He gives it a test: He asks himself whether he might have managed the save had he been on the crew.
“If the answer is ‘No way,’ then I want to meet these people and find out how the heck they did it,” Tougias said. “I’ve written a couple of history books, but the beauty about these is that you can actually interview the people involved.”
He was prompted to write Rescue of the Bounty after reading and watching news reports about the HMS Bounty’s sinking and Coast Guard rescue during Sandy in 2012. Modeled after the original 16th-century tall ship, his HMS Bounty had been built in 1960 for the film Mutiny on the Bounty and featured in two Pirates of the Caribbean movies. It shouldn’t have been out in the storm.
“I kept wondering why this tall ship was out there in the ocean during a hurricane,” he said. “There was also a documentary on the Weather Channel that really intrigued me — they interviewed the pilots who tried to do the rescue. … I saw this had more twists and turns than most stories.”
To move the project along, he called Doug Campbell, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist whose work Tougias had been reading for years. The ship sank in October, and they began research in January, with Campbell attending the Coast Guard hearings and Tougias calling the survivors, rescuers and their families.
“We wanted the book to come out while people still remembered Hurricane Sandy and how bad it was,” Tougias said.
Tougias says the sail happened because of overconfidence, an underestimation of Sandy and an unwavering faith in Captain Robin Walbridge. The plan was to sail around the storm; needless to say, it didn’t happen.
The book spans five full days, starting with the ship’s departure and moving through the storm as Sandy becomes worse and worse. It takes off when the ship capsizes and the crew are thrown overboard. 
Of the 16 crew members, 14 survived. 
“It was a semi-miracle they were able to rescue 14. They were in the middle of a hurricane and it was night,” Togias said.
All details were derived straight from the interviewees.
“My mantra when I’m writing is to keep it fast-paced, to make the reader feel like he’s on the ship with the rescuers,” Tougias said. “All the events are true and everything has been confirmed. When I write about a swimmer getting swept away a couple of times, I had him [that swimmer] review every word for accuracy. … Our job is to make it so the reader is on the edge of his seat.”
It was the writers’ intentions that the book move like a novel, complete with drama, suspense and gripping tension, that it be not only informative but also entertaining — cinematic, even.
He’s hoping for the same effect during his upcoming presentations, which will include slides and stories.
“I want it to be like watching a movie, with me giving the behind-the-scene details. It’s very different from what a lot of authors do,” Tougias said. 
As seen in the October 2, 2014 issue of the Hippo.

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