Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro
As the moderator for the Nonfiction Book Club, I typically refrain from voting. I often wind up picking the books for the vote, or at least some of them, so I typically let everyone else decide, then I’ll just step in to break ties. I was happy when this one was tied with another because it was the one on the voting list I wanted to read most!
From the Back Cover:
On October 1, 2015, the American container ship El Faro sailed straight into the eye of Hurricane Joaquin in the Bermuda Triangle and vanished. When all thirty-three aboard were lost, El Faro became the deadliest American maritime accident in more than a generation. Why did the huge ship, equipped with satellite communications and sophisticated weather forecasting software, steam into the storm? Three miles down, deeper than the Titanic, the ship’s black box held damning secrets, including twenty-six hours of conversations between captain and crew leading up to El Faro‘s final moments. Relying on extensive investigative reporting, as well as the words of the doomed mariners themselves, Rachel Slade unravels the mystery behind this tragedy.
We had an exciting night at book club last night. On Tuesday I was contacted by a journalist from our local newspaper who is doing a feature piece on book clubs and after interviewing me over the phone about book clubs at the store, she asked if there was one she could come to and the timing just happened to work out that my nonfiction book club was meeting the next day!
She started by taking pictures of the book club displays in the store, and then as members started arriving and talking, she sat down to interview them as well. Thankfully, the group is full of chatters and people who LOVE to share their opinions, which I think makes for a great book club. Hopefully the journalist got some good copy, and I’ll share the link to the article when it’s published!
As for the book, I love a good sea/shipwreck story. Dead Wake has been a favorite book of mine since my old book club read it years ago and is part of the inspiration for my continuing nonfiction kick. Add in the fact that the loss of the mariners and ship was preventable, and we all had a lot to talk about.
It’s next to impossible to believe that, in 2015, ships are allowed to sail without modern GPS systems. When the ship went down, the coast guard had absolutely no way of locking down it’s last known location. The company that owned El Faro couldn’t be bothered to keep the ship in good working order, or even track their own ship. While Rachel focuses on the ship and crew for the bulk of the book, she alluded to so many other issues, from global warming to shipping monopolies, to government corruption and corporate cover ups.
The pacing of the book reads like a long form essay, and I could see a piece on the El Faro in the New Yorker or Atlantic serving as a jumping off point for the many books that have been published since. Alternating between actual conversations had by the crew, history of the shipping industry, the first three quarters of the book focuses on the history of the company and the concerns of the crew regarding their route. The last quarter of the book starts when the ground lost contact with the ship and details the rescue efforts and subsequent hearings.
The book finishes with the final words of the crew as they face their fate. Despite knowing their fate, the tension in the moment, knowing that their final words were captured for the world to read, it gave me goosebumps. Overall, we loved the book as a group, and I personally thought it was a spectacularly written book.
Rating: 9 out of 10 stars
Where to Buy
In the USA, I recommend purchasing through IndieBound or your local independent, in the UK, and many other parts of the world, I recommend Blackwell’s, and if neither of those cover where you live, I recommend checking out your local booksellers! Independent bookstores are vital parts of every local community and I wholly endorse supporting your local stores versus Amazon.