Fact Checking the Fact Checkers — History v. Hollywood: They Blow One on The Finest Hours

Posted: February 6, 2016 in Contemporary Commentary
Tags: , , , , , , ,

History v . Hollywood is a cool fact checking site, and for the most part, they’ve got The Finest Hours right. but my research, as presented in Two Tankers Down, shows they made one big mistake. (Two Tankers Down quotes Sybert directly from his testimony at the Coast Guard hearing.)

Here is the History v. Hollywood mistake.

Did Ray Sybert really try to run the Pendleton aground?

No. Unlike what unfolds in The Finest Hours movie, Chief Engineer Ray Sybert actually decided to keep the Pendleton’s stern as far offshore as possible, fearing that the ship might further break up in the relentless surf. If the ship got close, Sybert ordered that the propeller be turned to keep the ship offshore in more moderate seas. -MWDC.org

Incorrect on all counts. And the Hollywood site cites only a dive club for its information.

Sybert DID run the the stern aground and did it intentionally.

He never tried to steer it into deep water.  He couldn’t

True, he did NOT have an elaborate plan — as was portrayed in the movie.

Here is Two Tankers Down (documented by hearing transcripts) on what Sybert could and could not do.

Now, Sybert took stock.  He thought they were close to shore.    They had been nearly 25 miles offshore due east of northern Cape Cod,  but their drift was south and west now, which would take them quickly toward the elbow of Cape Cod, toward Chatham.  That fact had been a blessing initially.  Comforting somehow. But now?

He could maneuver the stern section a bit, but he knew they were drifting too rapidly toward shore – the Cape Cod shore where so many thousands of wrecks had washed up.  If he attempted to steer and control too aggressively, the ship would pitch and lurch.  There was little that he could do other than go with the flow and steer to keep the stern section straight.  He could not steam her farther out to sea, just keep her straight as she drifted. Everytime he attempted to steer and maneuver, he could, briefly, but the forward exposed part of the stern dipped down and got drenched.

Key phrase here:  If he attempted to steer and control too aggressively, the ship would pitch and lurch.  There was little that he could do other than go with the flow and steer to keep the stern section straight.  He could not steam her farther out to sea, just keep her straight as she drifted.

As to the stranding, here is how it happened — not via some grand plan conceived after the break-up but an opportunistic choice between two alternatives, put it on a soft sandy shoal or let it drift farther to an unknown shore.

Here is Two Tankers Down, again documented via transcripts and Sybert’s testimony:

Hicks and Sybert were taking drafts now not with the Jacobs Ladder but with a leaded line that gave them more precise readings.  They were okay for now.  But inevitably they were closing at an acute angle with the shore.

Sybert decided it then.  The boat was on the way.  He could hear the boatsman – Bernie it must have been – say he was 45 minutes out, maybe.  It looked as if there was a smooth sand bar not far away.  How were the waves breaking on the bar? He asked Quiley.  Smooth, sir.  Not crashing.  The waves were breaking smooth on the bar.  It was daylight still.  Lord knows what lay ahead in the night. Blind uncertainty and the chance of rocks. They were maneuvering and the ship was lurching even more now, listing 40 degrees to port.

“Stop!” Sybert said.   “We had better go on the beach than capsize.”

And so he put the ship aground then.  Stopped the maneuvering of the engines.  Let the ship drift in on the bar and she touched the sand sweetly with only a bit of rock and sway.

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