My very first survival book, about a rescue during the Blizzard of ’78, made my hair stand up. I loved the detective piece of trying to put these puzzles together of WHAT HAPPENED AND HOW THEY SURVIVED. I’m not a sailor; I don’t get into the technical details. My mantra is: Keep it fast-paced. There are hundreds of search-and-rescue cases a year — what I’m looking for are twists and turns, something unusual.
A Storm Too Soon, my latest, came about because I saw one picture of AN 80-FOOT WAVE WITH A LITTLE LIFE RAFT in it. I was able to track down the Coastie who took the picture. He started telling me the story, and I was hooked. This was the first time I’d come across an incident where the rescue swimmer got into trouble. Four boats were caught in this 2007 [Gulf Stream] storm; one, sadly, had FOUR RHODE ISLANDERS WHO DISAPPEARED. The weather forecasts were so far off; these people got blindsided. I didn’t think another rescue would be this incredible. Then the HMS Bounty went down in Hurricane Sandy; a coauthor and I are doing that book next.
I’ve interviewed 75 people who shouldn’t be on the planet. A lot of them made it because of their decision making, so I put that into a business program called Survival Lessons. They wouldn’t waste time thinking, “How did I get in this jam?” They KEPT GOING TO THE NOW, trying to stay positive.
I’m always out on the sea, fishing. I’VE HAD A FEW CLOSE CALLS. Each year I get a little smarter. A friend wanted me to sail to Bermuda. I said, “No way.” Someone like me, without much body fat, I’d be the first to go. — As told to Melissa Schorr
Interview has been edited and condensed.