A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and an Incredible Rescue

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Seventy-foot waves batter a torn life raft 250 miles out to sea in one of the world’s most dangerous places, the Gulf Stream. Hanging on to the raft are three men: a Canadian, a Brit, and their captain, JP de Lutz, a dual citizen of the United States and France. Their capsized forty-seven-foot sailboat has disappeared below the tempestuous sea. The giant waves repeatedly toss the men out of their tiny vessel, and JP, with nine broken ribs, is hypothermic and on the verge of ...

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A Storm Too Soon: A True Story of Disaster, Survival and an Incredib

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Seventy-foot waves batter a torn life raft 250 miles out to sea in one of the world’s most dangerous places, the Gulf Stream. Hanging on to the raft are three men: a Canadian, a Brit, and their captain, JP de Lutz, a dual citizen of the United States and France. Their capsized forty-seven-foot sailboat has disappeared below the tempestuous sea. The giant waves repeatedly toss the men out of their tiny vessel, and JP, with nine broken ribs, is hypothermic and on the verge of death.

Trying to reach these survivors before it’s too late are four brave Coast Guardsmen battling hurricane-force winds in their Jayhawk helicopter. With waves reaching an astounding eighty feet, lowering the helicopter into such chaos will be extremely dangerous. The pilots wonder if they have a realistic chance of saving the sailors or even retrieving their own rescue swimmer. Soon the rescuers find themselves in almost as much trouble as the survivors, facing one life-and-death moment after the next against the towering seas.

Also caught in the storm are three other boats, each one in a Mayday situation. Of the ten people on these boats, only six will ever see land again.

Spellbinding, harrowing, and meticulously researched, A Storm Too Soon is a vivid, heart-pounding narrative of survival, the power of the human spirit, and one of the most incredible rescues ever attempted.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This is the miraculous rescue story of the crew of the Sean Seamour II, a 44-foot sailboat that capsized and sank during a sub-tropical storm 225 miles off the coast of North Carolina. The severity of the storm was unpredictable, causing waves upwards of 80 feet and putting the four boats in the area under extreme duress. Captain JP de Lutz, Ben Tye, and Rudy Snel were sailing to Saint-Tropez, France when the brutal storm demolished the boat, leaving them stranded on a life raft with no supplies, certain of their imminent death. JP suffered several broken ribs after being tossed about the boat's cabin and the escape raft was filled with cold water, inspiring fears of hypothermia. It was up to a Coast Guard crew aboard an HH-60 Jayhawk rescue helicopter to not only find the small raft in the vicious storm, but hoist the three survivors to safety. Recreating this dangerous mission, Tougias deftly switches from heart-pounding details of the rescue to the personal stories of the boat's crew and those of the rescue team. The result is a well-researched and suspenseful read; some knowledge of sailing is helpful, but Tougias makes the material accessible for landlubbers.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
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.
From the Publisher
"The Finest Hours is a touching account, a sensitive rendering of what might be called four indescribably chaotic conditions...Tougias and Sherman never sensationalize, never go beyond the facts, and yet capture all the pain, physical and emotional, of the survivors and their families." — Providence Journal
New York Post
“The riveting, meticulously researched “A Storm Too Soon” tells the true-life tale of an incredible rescue”
South Coast Magazine
“A magnificent culmination of what-ifs with such detail as to inspire reverence for the human spirit. Tougias’ use of present tense is ingenious, this is an armchair riptide of the reading experience.”
The Providence Journal
"Michael Tougias has done it again, this time delivering an edge-of-your-seat chronicle of what happens when a sailboat goes up against a fierce storm in the heart of the Gulf Stream."
“It’s a story of heroism, for sure (the captain, despite being seriously injured and near death, kept his two shipmates alive), but also of sheer terror. Cast adrift in the angry seas, the men seemed to have little chance of survival. Readers of true-life adventures, especially those involving disaster and rescue at sea, should find this one very much to their liking.”
Fall River Herald
“Few American authors—if any—can better evoke the realities that underlie a term such as ‘desperate rescue attempt.’”
The Boston Globe
"Deserves a place as a classic survival at sea."
Yachts Magazine
“A compelling tale of man versus nature”
Oregon Coast Weekend
“To read this book is to become a believer in the unbelievable. Few stories are as harrowing.”
Metrowest Daily
“Tougias tells the story in the present tense, giving the story a gut-wringing immediacy that makes the book hard to put down.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781451683332
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 1/15/2013
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 630,051
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael J. Tougias is the author of a number of books, including Rescue of the Bounty: Disaster and Survival in Superstorm Sandy; Overboard!; The Finest Hours (with Casey Sherman), soon to be a major motion picture from Disney; Fatal Forecast; and Ten Hours Until Dawn: The True Story of Heroism and Tragedy Aboard the Can Do. He is a sought-after lecturer who gives more than seventy presentations each year. He lives in Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

A Storm Too Soon

  • The flight from Ottawa to Florida is a long one, but Rudy Snel doesn’t mind as he gazes out the aircraft window at the clouds below. He’s thinking about the next leg of his trip: a voyage on the Sean Seamour II—a forty-four-foot sailboat—that will carry him and two others from Florida to the Azores, then on to Gibraltar and Saint-Tropez. Sailing across the Atlantic has been a dream of Rudy’s since he was nine years old when his family emigrated from Holland to Canada crossing the Atlantic on a passenger ship. In the course of the voyage they encountered a storm that caused the ocean liner to pitch and roll, making just about everyone on board seasick. But not Rudy. He was out on the top deck in the pelting rain having the time of his life, awed by the raging sea around him.

Rudy is now sixty-two years old and recently retired from a teaching career in the public schools. He finally has the time to live out his dream of returning to the sea. A five-foot-nine-inch Canadian with gray hair and a neatly trimmed beard, he is an adventurous soul; the hardships expected on a transatlantic crossing don’t bother him in the least. He owns his own sailboat and often sails the Ottawa River, but he has also mastered piloting small aircraft and parachuting. He has made more than six hundred parachute jumps. On one of those jumps, his parachute did not deploy properly, and when he looked up at the tangled mess during his free fall, his reaction wasn’t one of alarm, but of annoyance. He would have to pull his reserve parachute, and was already thinking ahead to the considerable effort it would take to repack it. He landed safely.

When he saw a notice on a website announcing that a crew was needed for a transatlantic crossing, he was able to tell the captain that while his sailing experience was limited to inland waterways, he wasn’t prone to panic when the unexpected happened. He was capable of standing watch and had never been motion-sick in his life. He explained that he wanted to go on the voyage to learn about blue-water sailing and because it would be an entirely new experience. He didn’t retire from his job just to sit around and grow soft.

• • •

When the plane touches down in Jacksonville, Florida, Rudy disembarks and follows the crowd down to baggage claim. He is met by the captain, fifty-seven-year-old Jean Pierre de Lutz, who goes by the nickname JP. The two men shake hands and then head outside. The warm, humid air embraces Rudy, a welcome change from the cold of Ottawa. It is late April, the temperature is in the mid-eighties, and the brilliant sunshine causes Rudy to squint.

They drive directly to the Sean Seamour II, which is moored at Green Cove Springs on the St. Johns River. Rudy likes what he sees. The Beneteau sailboat has a center cockpit protected by a hard dodger (rigid windshield), a single mast directly in front of the cockpit, with twin guardrails surrounding the white vessel. During inclement weather, the cockpit can be completely enclosed with canvas curtains and windows. It’s a sleek-looking boat—Rudy thinks it’s beautiful.

The third crew member, Ben Tye, emerges from the boat’s cabin. Jean Pierre introduces the thirty-one-year-old sailor to Rudy. Ben is British, with a short, stocky build and a shaved head. He began his career in the tourism industry, but he soon turned his interest to the sea, first teaching inshore sailing on small vessels, and then progressing to yacht deliveries. Now working toward his yachtmaster captain’s license, he is focused on gaining more miles at sea. He has sailed from Europe to the United States, and on this trip he will reverse course. Reserved by nature, Ben tends to take time before opening up, but that night at dinner, he already feels comfortable and is more than satisfied that the threesome will make a good crew. He is impressed that JP has spared no expense in equipping the boat and is taking his time readying it for the crossing. In his quiet manner, JP patiently explains the intricacies of his vessel, and Ben senses that this is a man who never gets rattled.

Ben and Rudy don’t know it, but JP had more than a dozen candidates answer his request for a crew. He interviewed each applicant, narrowing them down to two crew members, relying on his instincts to determine who would be the best fit. He was more than sure that Rudy and Ben were the right men for the job. JP selected May as the optimal time of year for an eastbound crossing of the Atlantic, primarily because it would put them ahead of hurricane season. He’d had a brush with a hurricane in a prior crossing and wanted no part of another.

The voyage is not scheduled for another few days because the Sean Seamour II was in storage for two and a half years, and needs a complete overhaul, cleaning, and provisioning. Some of the equipment was removed and stored in an air-conditioned warehouse. Now that equipment needs to be inspected, replaced if necessary, and secured in its proper position aboard the boat. Rudy and Ben will work under JP’s supervision. Each man will have a private berth; Ben’s will be the forward cabin, Rudy’s the stern, and JP’s the port side, closest to the chart table and the companionway leading up to the cockpit. As they start taking apart the inside of the boat and checking equipment, JP realizes that time and climate have done their share of damage. They order a new wind sensor, cable replacements for the mast, autopilot hydraulic pump, new fuel filters, and a new battery bank. The fuel tank is cleaned and a custom-made auxiliary tiller packed in case of emergency. New life jackets and flares are stowed. JP replaces the navigation and electronics by installing the latest MaxSea weather routing software, which will enable him to receive detailed wind data several days in advance, allowing him to adjust course accordingly. A backup computer with navigation and satellite telephone software is also on board and in working order.

The preparation introduces Ben and Rudy to the inner workings of the boat as they replace lines, clean equipment, and practice using the pumps. As the two men lay out the drogues and their lines on the dock, Ben says, “I hope we won’t need them.” Rudy counters, “Well, I’d like to see a bit of heavy weather, just for the experience.”

The life raft and GPIRB (global position indicating radio beacon, which can send a signal to the Coast Guard, pinpointing the location of an emergency) went out for recertification, and the entire crew reviews their operation before securing the two pieces of safety equipment. The GPIRB is one step advanced from the traditional EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon) because it has an integrated GPS that gives the receiver, the Coast Guard, a faster location fix and does not require the receiver to perform any complex calculations. The GPIRB on the Sean Seamour II is mounted in its cradle inside the cabin for ready access.

Also on board is an older EPIRB from an earlier boat of JP’s. Although it is a somewhat redundant piece of equipment, JP has tested its eleven-year-old batteries and the unit works, so he decides to keep it on board. He installs the EPIRB in its cradle on the inside of the cockpit’s hard dodger, where it is safe from sea spray and wash-downs. The EPIRB does not have a hydrostatic release, but its signal is water-activated, and the captain doesn’t want any false alarms.

JP reviews the heavy-weather contingencies with the crew, making sure they understand exactly what needs to be dogged down in a storm. They examine the location and operation of all safety equipment. One person will be on watch at all times, and they will all wear safety harnesses with tethers clipped to the boat at night and in heavy weather.

Ben is in charge of the first-aid kit because he is trained in emergency medical aid, and he adds all sorts of supplies to the kit, including several medications, along with a needle and thread for stitching. JP jokes that the boat now has its own pharmacy. But the “pharmacy” can’t cure Ben’s hangover after he and Rudy polish off four bottles of wine. The next day Rudy says the drinking served them well as “part of a team-building experience.” Ben fires back, “Well, that may be, but I’m never drinking with a fuckin’ Canuck again!”

The time spent working on the boat has been valuable for the three sailors to get to know one another before heading out to the open water. Rudy is glad for the few days of preparation; if he found anything of concern about his crewmates, he figured he could always back out of the voyage. He knows a transatlantic crossing has its risks, and he wants to feel extra comfortable with his partners. They will be in close quarters for several weeks. Rudy has a good feeling about both men. Ben is a knowledgeable sailor and a fun companion, and JP is soft-spoken, easygoing, and competent.

Departure is scheduled for May 1, 2007, but the men have to wait an extra day for some new batteries. This one-day delay will have significant consequences.

JP on his Boat

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Table of Contents

Part I

Chapter 1 Florida-Countdown to the Crossing 3

Chapter 2 Jean Pierre 8

Chapter 3 Riding the Gulf Stream 17

Chapter 4 Spirits Are High 23

Chapter 5 The Gathering Storm 29

Chapter 6 A Chaotic Brew of Water and a Terrifying Night 36

Chapter 7 Help Is Greatly Needed 42

Part II

Chapter 8 Multiple Maydays-the SAR Command Center 53

Chapter 9 The Wave 60

Chapter 10 The Life Raft 66

Chapter 11 Desperation 70

Chapter 12 Into the Sea 77

Chapter 13 The Cutter Tampa and the C-130 82

Chapter 14 Tumbling in Chaos 86

Chapter 15 Mayday on the Seeker 91

Chapter 16 Convulsions 98

Part III

Chapter 17 Need Max Gas 105

Chapter 18 Tether Ourselves Together 117

Chapter 19 "Mark, Mark, Mark!" 126

Chapter 20 Like a Hockey Puck on Ice 133

Chapter 21 Deploying the Swimmer 139

Chapter 22 "He Needs to Go First…" 144

Chapter 23 As If Shot from a Cannon 150

Chapter 24 They're Not Coming for Us 156

Chapter 25 He's Going to Drown 162

Chapter 26 The Illusion 167

Chapter 27 The Flying Colours and Cherry Point Naval Hospital 173

Chapter 28 Heading Home 180

Epilogue 185

Tribute to the Crew of the Flying Colours "Written by Their Parents 195

Author's Note and Acknowledgments 201

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 31, 2013

    Reader from NC

    Enjoy this author. Have read several of his books and heard him speak in Waldoboro, ME. This book, while a good read, just did not hold my interest like some of his others.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 13, 2014

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 5, 2014


    Riveting story. I couldn't put it down.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 2, 2013

    Excellent book

    Really enjoy this author. Hope he continues to write survival stories at sea

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

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