Into the Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro

Into the Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro - by Rachel Slade.

From gcaptain:A Book Review by Michael Carr

Just finished the book and I concur with Carr’s review:

Until now I did not understand, or even began to grasp, how EL FARO sailed directly into Hurricane Joaquin and quickly sank, drowning her 33 crew.

Then Rachel Slade sent me a copy of her book Into the Raging Sea. And now I know why EL FARO sank.

The author has done her homework and this book add a great deal to the story not previously known. Highly recommended.


Thank you for the recommendation. I just bought the Kindle version to add to my tablet.

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Yes, it’s good. I was wondering if it was going to be a lot of language like “tumultuous seas” and the like but it was details I can wrap my head round, like the fact the C-130 that went out in an early search took a beating bad enough that it came back with fuel line fittings leaking, fuel was found leaking out the wings after landing.

Not just the details though, many things uncovered that help make a lot more sense of the loss.


Actually there were several mistakes that I would think a proofreader would have picked up.
Griffin was the 1st, not the 2nd, he was referred to as both.
The fire pump in the 3 Hold was not the main fire pump. It was an emergency fire pump. Main was in ER. The 3 Hold fire pump had a reach rod that could operate the skin valve for the 3 hold fire pump from the 2nd deck.
Weisenborn always lived in Jax. never had to relocate.
I could point out a lot more issues, I was surprised the book was not tighter on the vessel details .

Another recent book about the El Faro disaster is the one written by Tristram Korten: Into the Storm - Ballantine Books, 24 April 2018. ISBN 978-1524797881, 288 pages. Hardcover US$ 16,85 Kindle edition US$ 17,35

Startling detail is that somebody very well acquainted with Davidson said: ‘The man didnot know anything about hurricane navigation’. He also had never heard of the 3-2-1 rule. His reference was the Alaska weather situation which was always worse then anything else. He really had no idea what he was doing. Blessed are the ignorants of this world or…

He made one technical mistake in chapter 4 by writing that the El Faro had two enormous boilers that powered the propeller and delivered 30.000 bhp which was good for a speed of 24 knots. He leaves out the turbine altogether, also only one boiler was operational. But the average reader will not notice that.

Apart from the El Faro he also describes the sinking of the Minouche who’ s captain took the safer passage through the Old Bahama Channel but sank anyway caused by bad weather by Joaquin which was 200 miles away then. The reason here also was that the propulsion failed and the ship was damaged heavily by beam seas. All 12 crew members could climb into the only remaining life raft and later were rescued by the heroic crews of the Jayhawk SAR helicopters.

On the same date, 1 May, that Rachel Slade’s book appeared a third book titled ‘Run the Storm’ was published by George Michelsen Foy , an French-American writer of 12 novels, an essayist and journalist. He also teaches ‘creative writing’ at the University of New York. He is the only one of the three writers who has a maritime background. Born in New England he was a fisherman there and later a mate on British coasters.

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Both boilers were operational, you could never make anywhere close to 15 knots yet alone 18 + on one boiler. Max speed on one boiler was 12 knots in good weather.
Boilers were shut down north bound only for cleaning and inspection as there is time in the schedule.
Slades book also talked of 33,000 horsepower, never happen, max on those Ponce’s were 28,500 in good weather and about 122 turns or so. Max RPM if I remember correctly was 128.
Again surprised at how many mistakes in Slades book. It seems it was chosen to sully some peoples reputation and not others. But I am not going there.

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Agree both boilers on the El Faro were operational but I caution direct comparisons with her and the Ponce. The Ponce (the first in its class) originally only had one boiler but was reconfigured with 2 boilers (in the '70’s I believe) later on. The El Faro always had 2 boilers.

I was referring to class, Greatland, Westward Venture, El Morro, El Yunque and Northern Lights / El Faro. I know the class well.

From Robert Frump’s site: The New Book on the Sinking of the SS El Faro Will Make Some Waves

“Rachel Slade mashes up The Perfect Storm with a suspenseful, page-turning thriller, cutting through the corporate double-speak to shine a light on how it was that thirty-three men and women sailed into Hurricane Joaquin. Superbly written, this deserves a place on the bookshelf of modern maritime classics.” (Robert Frump, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of Until the Sea Shall Free Them: Life, Death, and Survival in the Merchant Marine)

“An extraordinary piece of reporting. I tore through it like a novel.” (John Konrad, author of Fire on the Horizon: The Untold Story of the Gulf Oil Disaster)

This is from Foy’s book: “The ship’s motion can also be affected by parametric roll; basically, a bad tuning between the vessel’s roll period (the time she takes to roll to one side and back) and the rate of encounter with swells; if the period of encounter corresponds exactly to the vessel’s roll period, and she’s traveling at the same speed, the roll can also deepen.”

Like you said though, the average reader would not notice. He does get the anemometer right, that it may have helped to have a reliable record in the log of the change in wind direction (along with the barometer). A lot of mariners get this wrong because they are mariners, forest for the trees problem.

Foy does make an error with the anemometer when he says that the captain had put in a request to have it fixed which AFAIK is incorrect which I think is a more significant error than the information about rolling.

In any case Slade’s book covers far more ground.

No, as far as I remember in the VDR’s bridge conversation recordings there never was an indication of parametric rolling. I am curious on what facts he based that statement. It is kind of funny because he had a somewhat maritime background, however no deep sea experience.

He’s not making a claim in the section I quoted that it rolled in that way, he’s just confusing synchronous rolling with parametric rolling. It’s not an error that really detracts from the story aside from bogging it down with an explanation that is both incorrect and unnecessary.

Anyway my point is I think it’s a mistake to assume a mariner is necessarily going to write a better book, well Conrad for sure but otherwise…


Somebody is not particularly impressed by Rachel Slade’s article in Yankee Magazine – “A Fatal Mistake | The Sinking of the El Faro”.

What a completely banal story. And no, I didn’t care about the towns that the crew members grew up in or any of the discussions about the crewmember’s hair color. There is nothing new in this story that isn’t reflected in the wikipedia page. Considering the author claims to have spent something like a year obsessed over this, the only thing she tells us “we don’t yet and may never know what happened” and some local color about the people which isn’t terribly compelling.

Btw - the NTSB findings are often a waste of time. They are based off of factual reports of working groups which often include and are driven by representatives of the company at issue, so they are whitewashed. So start with a whitewashed fact pattern, and you end up with a whitewashed finding. I’ve dealt with this firsthand, and it’s ridiculous. The NTSB should be cracking down on TOTE and antiquated technology that causes tragedies like this. The real story is why a company like that is allowed to send any ship, much less an unseaworthy artifact like the el Faro, into a potential hurricane. There should be serious consequences against TOTE, but don’t hold your breath that it will come from our defanged NTSB.
posted by dios at 10:01 AM on October 24, 2016 [6 favorites]

and also:

This could have been an FPP about how pervasive clickbait headlines have gotten. Rachel Slade didn’t actually “find” anything. She did a lot of interviewing and wrote a feature piece about it. The lede is that this was tragic but there’s no good answer about why it happened.
posted by radicalawyer at 9:46 AM on October 24, 2016 [25 favorites]

Just finished that book and didn’t see anything like that. It’s a good story but it’s mostly about the CG dealing with the two ships that encounted Joaquin.

The remark made about Davidson’s hurricane knowledge was made in Tristram Korten’ book “Into the Storm”. For his research he talked to a number of people who in the past had sailed with Davidson. One of those persons told him that.

Yes, that’s the book I just finished. It’s possible I missed it but I didn’t see it.

From the USCG report, page 186:

As EL FARO’s crew attempted to combat the flooding and discussed the survivability of the ship, the Master and C/M appeared to be uncertain about the ship’s downflooding points, bilge system, reserve buoyancy, and stability. At 7:22 AM the Master made the following statements while talking to the engine room on the house phone:

It’s lookin’ pretty nasty. (Uh/on) the downflooding angle? Um that I don’t have an answer for (ya).

What’s it called again?
Okay we’ll check that. (It’s/that’s) in the chief’s office? Um no. I mean we still got reserve buoyancy and stability.

“What’s it called again?” tells us that Davidson had no idea what a downflooding angle was! Unbelievable to say the least. The person with whom he spoke, according to Slade’s book, was Jeff Matthias, the extra engineer who supervised the Polish workers. The irony is that Matthias as an engineer seen his question exactly knew what a downflooding angle was.

Apart from lack of knowledge of hurricane navigation Davidson also lacked basic knowledge of ship stability. How is that possible? He stated that the ship still had reserve buoyancy and stability while this was not the case as the ship sank 15 minutes later. He really had no idea…

I also agree… but you probably read that already on the back cover :wink:


I read all three books, Foy’s and Korten’s books each have some details not in the others. But if you’re only going to read one book it should be Slade’s. Wider range and more depth.

There are things in Slade’s book that will upset a lot of people.

The other two are just basic sea stories, Korten’s book is good but mostly about the Coast Guard, reminds me of Kalees Thompson’s book about the Alaska Ranger, same thing, good reading but mostly the rescue itself.


Semper paratus is the motto of the United States Coast Guard and it is defined as meaning “The definition of always prepared.” An example of semper paratus is what a United States Coast Guard member will say is his motto and is the reason he is ready for any emergency, however less and less these days, hampered by budget cuts.

The USCG has been moved around quite a bit in recent years, from DOD to Homeland Security and then to the Justice Department and their prorities have changed along with it, as could be expected. The emphasis is now on law enforcement with special attention to the war on drugs and illegal immigration. More tasks with less money due to budget cut after budget cut, all leading to less and less man power available for the inspection of ships which always had been a main goal. The outsourcing of the ship inspection to a commercial party was the direct consequence of this policy. Slade says this on the subject in the epilogue of her book:

Legislators continue to cut funding for the coast guard, undermining the ability to regulate America’s commercial fleet. The agency’s only optiuon is to entrust third parties with critical duties. One mariner at the hearings informed me that ABS was the “richest entity in the room.” A high level position at the ABS can pay more than $1 million a year in salaries and bonuses.

ABS is a commercial organisation that obviously is on the lease and in the service of people who only want one thing: making as much money as possible with ships, squeeze it to the limit and f*ck the crews. Sail and keep your mouth shut. How else could one explain the sending out to sea of a ship obviously overdue for the ship-breaker, deeply loaded and with a boiler which should not have been approved, which ABS did not even dare to test on full pressure?

ABS is a puissant or more unfriendly, stinking rich company, wallowing in wealth due to their tax-exempt since 1856, a curious institution unknown in any other country. Imagine never to have to pay tax! All they have to do to earn this right is to send in each year the magic sentence: “To promote the security of life & property on the seas.” Just ten words…

Question: What is there non-profit about ABS, they even have there own offshore hedge fund. What is non-profit about a hedge fund?

ABS’ board is very generous with perks for its officers, directors and highly paid employees. ABS paid Robert Somerville, then its chief executive officer, $21.7 million from 2004 to 2010. The company checked off boxes on its 2010 tax return showing it had provided some of them with first-class or charter air service, travel for companions, health or social club dues, and personal services such as chauffeurs, chefs and maids. The one guy left out in the cold is the American tax payer who misses out on all that money and will have to compensate for it. See also this article by a Bloomberg reporter with some more facts.

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