Survival book asks much of reader’s honesty

A Speck in the Sea
by John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski; Hachette Book Group, 2017, 247 pp., hardcover $18-20, ebook $14.

Reviewed by Sandy Marsters
For Points East

I wonder what it is about us that makes us ignore internal dialogue, often at our peril. Why do we shush that little voice that says, “Bad idea. Bad plan. Danger, danger. Don’t do what you are about to do, or stop what you are already doing – immediately.”

I know a guy who just this spring was fishing on a lake with his brother and son, in the brother’s brand-new 20-horsepower 16-foot aluminum boat. This function-specific craft is set up with three pedestal seats that can be mounted in three holes on the main deck, or, while fishing, on a raised bow platform.

After a morning of fishing in the cold and rain, the guy driving the boat headed home at full bore. The passengers turned their backs to the rain, looking astern. There was not another boat on the lake, the skipper observed. After a bit, the skipper noted to himself that his visibility wasn’t great because the seat in the bow had not been moved to its cruising position on the main deck; the third guy was sitting on the raised deck, but not on the seat.

“I should stop and ask one of those guys to move the seat, or at least fold down the seat-back,” he said to himself. Zero effort for the skipper, a 10-second operation. Yet he said nothing, ignored the voice, and cruised on, squinting into the rain.

After a while, almost home, the skipper jumped a mile when, just eight feet off the port side, a small boat materialized, headed in the exact opposite direction, with two astonished fishermen looking directly at him. It was over in an instant. But for that eight feet between the boats, a lot more could have been over on that cold, wet day.

The ashen brother and son were not impressed, but, when they stopped shaking, they shared their own stories of near-misses after ignoring those inner voices. You’re a liar or a couch potato if you say this has never happened to you.

You willfully ignored the voice. Maybe you were in a boat. Maybe you were in a car. Whatever. It doesn’t matter. You made a choice. You put yourself – or worse, others – in peril. Maybe luck was with you, and you got away with it. Again.

Or maybe not.

Here’s the point: But for one little mistake, one ignored inner voice, one uncharacteristic moment of mental laziness, professional fisherman John Aldridge would not have had a reason to write “A Speck in the Sea.” By listening to the voice, and ever so slightly altering his behavior, he would have avoided the dark, terrifying hours that followed, and his fellow crew, Anthony Sosinski, would not have learned what it felt like to lose a close friend, only to have him resurrected.

Unlike my friend in the little fishing boat in the rain, luck was not with Aldridge that night off Montauk, N.Y. Luck would come later. But at that moment, survival was a matter of courage, cunning and patience. Aldridge was in the water. Sosinski was asleep in his berth. And the fishing boat Anna Mary was steaming quickly away into the night.

“I knew as I pulled on the handle that it would be a disaster. I knew it. There was no surprise when it broke, just an endless, slow-motion recognition that I had put myself into a situation I will not get out of. I reach desperately for the back corner of the boat and try to catch it with my fingers. I miss. My fingers slide off the wood and I am airborne.”

“A Speck in the Sea” is a great sea story, filled with edge-of-your seat suspense, peppered with heroes, focused on an everyday protagonist who develops seemingly super-human qualities as he overcomes daunting odds. It is no surprise that the book will soon become a major motion picture from The Weinstein Company. It’s got all the elements. Maybe too many.

Sometimes it seems that modern authors, to the detriment of their stories, have too much Hollywood in mind, which can lead to formulaic writing. Throw a guy in the ocean and let him tread water for a couple hundred pages, while the author drags the reader into arcane discussions of the history of the Coast Guard, or how regulators manage fish stocks.

At these points, the reader wants to scream at the authors: “Hey! What about the poor guy in the water? Somebody do something!” The distractions are annoying as they drain energy from an otherwise compelling story of man’s ability to survive by reaching deep, deep into the well to draw on previously unknown strengths.

Sosinski and Aldridge are at their best when they concentrate on the story and ponder the existential. “But these are the thoughts that can kill, and I have to send them packing,” Aldridge writes. “What is strange is that I know how to do this. I’ve learned that I have the power to swipe these kinds of thoughts off the screen of my brain. It’s that or die.”

Here are valuable lessons in survival. Overcome terror with thoughts of the mundane, like imagining the vacuum left on a porch. “What was it – a Eureka? A Hoover? A Bissell? . . . It is comforting to focus on something so ordinary. It alleviates the fear . . .”

I don’t know what the movie will be like, but the great value of this book, beyond it’s highly entertaining tale of adversity and survival, is the demands it makes on the reader’s honesty. Who will I become at that moment when, no doubt having ignored the inner voice, disaster strikes? How can I prepare for it? Why do we flaunt death when we can reduce the odds by wearing PFDs, deploying engine kill-switches, or carrying tiny emergency locator beacons?

It would be so easy. And yet we don’t. We flirt with danger. We ignore those inner voices. Why?

Co-founder of Points East, along with Bernie Wideman, Sandy Marsters is also the magazine’s former editor, and he crafts PE’s reviews when he’s not sailing in the Caribbean.

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