Commercial fisherman John Aldridge made some terrible mistakes. In the wee hours of the morning, he violated several basic safety rules and got knocked off his boat 40 miles from Montauk, with no flotation devices and no way to call for help.
But then Aldridge got smart. And then he got lucky.
I’ve lived in many areas of New England where there’s a great deal of commercial fishing. When you live in such communities, you can’t help but notice how dangerous the occupation is, even today:
Commercial fishing is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. During 1992–2008, an annual average of 58 reported deaths occurred (128 deaths per 100,000 workers), compared with an average of 5,894 deaths (four per 100,000 workers) among all U.S. workers…
A total of 491 (97%) of the decedents were male; the mean age was 41 years (range: 10–86 years).
Of the total number of deaths, 261 (52%) occurred after a vessel disaster, 155 occurred when a person fell overboard (31%), and 51 (10%) resulted from an injury onboard…Among the 155 crew members who died from falling overboard, none of them were wearing a personal flotation device (PFD). Of falls overboard with known causes, 43 (33%) were caused by trips or slips, 34 (26%) by losing balance, and 21 (16%) by gear entanglement. In addition, the majority of persons (82, 53%) who died when they fell overboard were alone on the deck.
Aldridge met quite a few of those criteria. His story is well worth reading.
If you’ve ever been to Gloucester, Massachusetts, you’ve probably seen the famous fisherman’s memorial statue dedicated to their bravery and their sacrifice; Gloucester had lost thousands of fisherman by the time the memorial was erected in 1925:
The inscription on the base is a line from Psalm 107. The longer passage goes like this:
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters;
These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
For he commandeth, and raiseth the stormy wind, which lifteth up the waves thereof.
They mount up to the heaven, they go down again to the depths: their soul is melted because of trouble.
They reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man, and are at their wit’s end.
Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he bringeth them out of their distresses.
He maketh the storm a calm, so that the waves thereof are still.
Then are they glad because they be quiet; so he bringeth them unto their desired haven.