From Book to Movie:
Inside The Finest Hours
Lightning struck in 2011 when Disney Motion Pictures offered me and my co-author, Casey Sherman, an option to turn our book The Finest Hours into a full-length movie. It was a gift from the Gods. I knew that this doesn't happen to every author.
Fast forward to January 2016 and I was on the red carpet at Grumman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood with my kids, shaking hands with megastars like Chris Pine and Casey Affleck.
Bernie Webber would never believe all of this hoopla, I kept thinking. He was the one who put all of this in motion. Bernie Webber, a simple guy from Milton, Mass., was sent out into a raging nor'easter on a small rescue boat in February 1952 to find half of a 500-foot tanker ship that had split and was drifting uncontrollably in the storm.
The Coast Guard crew of four young men did the unthinkable: first they survived crossing the treacherous Chatham Bar, where shallow water creates huge waves. Then, without the modern instruments we take for granted -- without even their compass, which was washed off its mount by a giant wave -- Webber and his crew searched in the dark for the floundering wreck of the Pendleton until they found it.
Then they overloaded their small boat and brought all but one of the survivors home.
In the meantime, other Coasties were assisting survivors from the second tanker that split in half in that storm. You don't hear much about it in the movie, but it was called the Fort Mercer and was adrift in two pieces about 10 miles northeast of Nantucket. Half of the ship stayed afloat (you have to read my book to learn the unbelievable details of that!) but the CG cutter Yakutat pulled hypothermic survivors from the bow section, many of them blue and unable to move by the time they reached safety.
Newspaper accounts from 1952 called them heroes. The Coast Guard gave them medals. But when Casey Sherman and I found the remaining crewmen from these rescues and approached them about writing a book, they didn't think anyone would be interested.
Sadly, Bernie Webber died in 2009 just before the book was published. At his memorial service his grandchildren told me that Bernie never talked about this amazing event, so I gave them copies of the book.
In his last message to me, Bernie said "Go down to the pier and give the 36500 (rescue boat) a kiss for me." Much to the amusement of onlookers who had no idea why I was there, I did.
Just before the movie debut I kept another promise I made to Bernie Webber: I published his autobiographical story about the Pendleton rescue, called Into a Raging Sea, and published his memoirs, a lighthearted look at Coast Guard service on Cape Cod and aboard lightships in the 1950s through his retirement. Both are available to purchase on my website, as is the middle reader version of The Finest Hours, suitable for ages 10-14.
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