Saturday, Labor Day weekend, 1951, dawned mild and cloudless over Montauk. Hundreds of passengers tumbled from the Long Island Rail Road’s weekend express train, the Fisherman’s Special, when it pulled in from New York City. The weather only confirmed the postwar optimism of the blue-collar workers who had thronged to this fishing village for a holiday of deep-sea angling.
In America, in 1951, it was easy to believe that anyone could make money and enjoy the good life, and no place suited that mood better than a fishing town. The Montauk fishing business was booming. The dock the arriving anglers swarmed over had been named, without a trace of self-consciousness, Fishangri-la, and the waiting fishing boat captains could see no obstacle to a record weekend.
Maybe it was naive optimism that propelled Captain Eddie Carroll away from the dock that morning with sixty-two passengers aboard his fishing boat Pelican, some thirty more than safe capacity. He was everyone’s favorite skipper, a handsome World War II veteran with an easy manner, an endless supply of fish and war stories, a sturdy forty-two-foot boat, newly rebuilt engines, and an uncanny ability to find good fishing. In his pocket that day he carried the ring that he would soon slip on the finger of his Swedish bride-to-be.
But Eddie’s luck was about to run out. Even as the Pelican cut its outgoing swath through the sun-spangled Atlantic, a jet-stream trough of Arctic air high overhead, undetected by forecasters, was pressing down on the pool of warm air beneath it like water building behind a dam. The Pelican and forty-five people aboard, including Captain Carroll himself, would never return to shore.
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