The Starbound sank 130 miles off Cape Ann August 5th, 2001
It was six months after that fateful night fifteen years ago today when my cousin Joe Marcantonio sat down at his computer and wrote down exactly what happened the night his herring boat was run down by the oil tanker Virgo and his three crewmembers were lost to the sea.
Joe trusted me and our platform GoodMorningGloucester to tell the story that had been locked away and never been told to anyone for years. He wrote this account of the events that led up to the sinking of his boat so that his family and the families of his crewmembers would know exactly what happened. The sinking of Joe’s boat the Starbound happend 23 years after Joe had lost his own father to the sea in the sinking of the Gloucester Dragger the F/V Captain Cosmo. The entire crew including Joe’s father Captain Cosmo Marcantonio were lost at sea in September of 1978. 23 years later- ten years ago Joe would recount the events and what was racing through his mind.
When I first thought of putting together a tribute to my good friends lost on that hot August night I was afraid that I would fall short of my attempt to commemorate their beautiful lives. As I began to write I realized that time has faded some of the memories. My blurry recollection motivated me. Knowing that no one truly dies if they live in our memories I pushed through my fear and bring you the following. I will surely never portray who exactly these three men were to everyone, but with the stakes this high I want to share a bit about MY relationship with them.
Mark Doughty was my best friend. I first met Mark on the Stinson Seafood dock in Rockland, Maine. I am not exactly sure what year that was, but we were both very young and we were both new to fishing. I had just started with my step-father on the Western Wave, and Mark had just joined his dad in the crew of the Atlantic Mariner. However, it wasn’t till we were both in our mid- twenties and he joined the crew of the Western Wave with me that our great friendship began.
After his second daughter was born, Mark, like me, was hungry to make lots of money so he could provide his two beautiful children all they wanted. . He fished with me for over 10 years, longer than any other shipmate I sailed with. Since then I’ve always felt that I was able to become the Captain I was because I had Mark as my first mate. He was a very smart, funny and hard-working young man. He had an infectious personality, and he was loved not only by me, but by everyone who had the pleasure of meeting him. As the years passed, he became more than a friend. I loved him like a brother. My world became lesser by his passing.
My earliest memory of Jimmy was during our freshman year of high school on the football field. We became friends as well as teammates. Our bond grew even stronger A little later when Jimmy lost his dad to a heart attack. I remember the day I found out. Jimmy was drawing pictures of an old wooden eastern-rigged dragger that his dad and brother had owned. The picture caught my eye and when I asked him about it he told me what had happened. This connected us. My own dad had died earlier, and my interest in the fishing life had faded, but not Jimmy’s. Becoming a commercial fisherman seemed to be all he wanted to do, even back then. Jimmy started fishing with his brother when he was very young, and by the time he joined me on the Starbound he had nearly 20 years of experience. Along with his experience, Jimmy was formally trained and he had received his USCG captain license, with the radar and firefighting-at-sea training endorsements. Jimmy was a great man as well as a great fisherman. What I remember most about him is his passion for his fishing career, which was only surpassed by his even greater adoration for his new family, especially his new baby son. Jimmy was a dedicated, hard-working, loyal friend that I miss every day.
I remember that when I was a young boy, probably six or seven years old, I met Tom for the first time. He was older but very friendly. We both played street hockey in the church parking lot on Proctor Street. Shortly after that, my family and I moved out of the neighborhood, but a bond had been established. Tom and I never forgot each other. Tom had 2 sons that he loved very much. He took them everywhere. As the years passed, now and then, I would run into him and his children, and I would always admire his nurturing way with them. I remember seeing them once, when his kids were little, at public skating. Tom was chasing them around, skating faster than anyone else in the place. When I caught his attention, he looked at me with his big smile and then he laughed out loud.
If you knew Tom, you knew he worked hard and, for a long time in his life, he played even harder. At the time I had hired him, Tom was tired of playing and he wanted to change. He wanted out of his old life, and he looked at his joining us on board the Starbound as his chance to turn things around. And, although it was a few short weeks, turn things around he did! Immediately, he started an exercise program, working out, which wasn’t easy, considering our fast-paced fishing schedule. He would jog up and down Tillson Avenue while we took on ice. During the steam-out, he would do push-ups and sit-ups when he wasn’t shadowboxing on deck. For the short time he was with me on board the Starbound, I believe, he was indeed happy.
I have been hesitant to include the short piece I wrote about the night of the accident because it’s about me and on this day I want it to be about Mark, Tommy and Jimmy. However, I have no other way for me to tell you what happened to them without telling you what happened to me. The essay is short, condensed and describes a few minutes of this long nightmare. But they are my words…it is what happened the night of August 5, 2001.
Storm on a Calm Night
“Just a little bit longer and I’ll have enough fish to go home,” I thought to myself as I towed the net toward the east, approaching the Canadian border. Fishing on Georges Banks was slow that day and I was already late. It was almost dark, and that comforted me because I knew the day was nearly over. The stress of fishing was starting to get to me. As the captain of a commercial herring trawler, my responsibilities were many, and the time and focus they took was consuming most of my life. Little did I know that the problems I thought I had, all of them, would soon be dwarfed by a sudden storm that would come roaring out of this calm night. In a flash, everything would change forever. What happened before would happen again, and what was, would be no more.
When the net finally broke the surface, the boat listed sharply to starboard. From this I knew that there enough fish to fill the boat to capacity. But my brief sense of relief was quickly replaced by concern. Remembering again how late it was, I knew that we wouldn’t be in time for the morning cutting line at the cannery.
But the true knot in my stomach came from something different. It came from the deep-rooted fear that I felt every trip I took to Georges Banks. It was here, twenty-three years ago, almost to the day, that my father, Captain Cosmo Marcantonio, and his ship were lost without a trace. I had turned 35 years old last October, nearly his exact age when he died. Like him, I had three children. These days, fishing 135 miles off the coast of Massachusetts had became a little scary.
The weather was calm, however, and the boat was loaded, so I set the course for home. With a sigh I gave up the wheel to Mark.
Tom had been cooking the sauce all afternoon, so the whole boat smelled of sweet tomatoes, with hints of garlic and basil. I was more tired than hungry, but I knew if I didn’t eat, I would wake up with hunger pains after only a few hours. At the table, the conversation was mostly about pasta sauce, how to make it, what were the absolutely necessary ingredients, whose mother or grandmother made the best. In between bites, I explained to Tom that although his was really good, I thought the sauce that my grandmother had taught me was the very best.
Jim finished eating first and immediately went to the wheelhouse to relieve Mark. On my way to my state room, going though the pilot house, I stopped to talk with Jim at the wheel, asking him to check the refrigeration system to make sure I had turned it on properly. I told him, “If the phone rings, I want you to wake me up.”
Looking at the radar, I made a comment about some showers that were showing up.
“I think they’re going to the south of us,” he said.
“OK, wake me if anything comes up,” I told him, and proceeded to my room.
As I lay on my bed, exhausted, the usual thoughts of the next trip were alternating with my concerns about my family. The kids were growing older as I kept sailing the ocean, always away from them and my wife, always gone from the house, always absent, as my father had always been.
Finally, fading off to sleep, I hoped for better dreams than I’d been having.
I awakened suddenly, startled by a yell. I jumped up and dashed for the door. Up three steps, I turned to the left, toward Jim. “What’s the matter?” I asked him.
He was standing in front of the wheelhouse chair, a counter full of electronics blocking his lower body, but I could see his arm stretched forward, pointing a little to port. He screamed, “What the f#$K! What the f#$K!”
I was opposite him, across the pilothouse, on the port side of the boat. Holding onto the pipe rail, facing the stern, I turned forward to see what was putting that look of horror on his face.
The view was partly cut off at the top by the overhang of the pilothouse roof. What I saw, I saw so quickly that it was like a subliminal message hidden in just a few frames of film. I didn’t understand it, but it was a large dark bulbous shape rolling towards us, plowing through the sea, slamming the bright blue phosphorescent water off to either side.
It was impossible for whatever it was to miss us. I grabbed onto the rail and I braced myself.
It didn’t help. I was thrown to the floor, onto my back. The Starbound was jerked around and shaken, as though it were being tossed from one giant hand to another.
It lasted only a few seconds, and then I was jumping up, stunned but not hurt. I looked toward Jim. Still standing, he was coming out from the front of the steering station. He began to yell, “I was trying to get out of his way Joe! I was trying to get out of his way!”
I said, “It’s all right, Jim. Just get the guys and the survival suits and go on deck.”
I turned towards my stateroom, raced down the stairs, and opened the locker to the right of the door. For some reason that I didn’t understand, I felt very focused and controlled, as though I were in the middle of some military exercise. I grabbed my survival suit from the locker and ripped it out of its bag. As I turned and went back up the stairs, I could see spits of water shooting up the galleyway. And there was a horrific whistling sound –the air in the boat being displaced by the water rushing in. At the top of the galleyway, Jim was bent over the rail and yelling down in vain to the men below.
Both of us could see the water, a huge black welter of it, churning and spitting as it came bulging up the galleyway.
The floor started to fall forward and to the port, and with three large steps I raced to the door at the back of the wheelhouse. I could sense Jim right behind me. I felt the water first on my legs when I took the last step. At the door, as I clambered over the transom, that wall of the cabin fell forward and I ducked my head under the jam. Out of the corner of my eye, over my right shoulder, I saw a black column of water shoot out the galleyway as though it had been fired from a cannon. It crashed against the wheelhouse ceiling. And then I was under the water.
My hand was clutching the survival suit, and the boyancy of the suit jerked me up into the sea. I was holding my breath, my fingers tense around the suit, trying with all my might to hold onto it. Then the suit must have hit the rigging as the boat sank, because suddenly my arm was wrenched downward and the suit was ripped from my hand. Pushing down with my arms, kicking my legs, I swam to the surface.
The night was dark and the sea was calm as I spun in circles, treading water, screaming the names of the crew. “Jim, Mark, Tom!” I shouted.
Then a loud hissing noise caught my attention. Spinning around, I saw the life raft inflating itself, and it was then that I could see the stern of that murderous ship fading away into the night. Quickly, I swam in the wake of this large freighter to the rubber boat, and I climbed in.
Kneeling in the raft, my back to the ship sailing away, I kept yelling while I scanned the darkness. “Jimmy, Mark, Tom!” I shouted.
Jim must have got out, I thought. He had been right beside me.
Again and again I called out his name, and Mark’s, and Jims, until I noticed the faint flash of light from the Starbound’s Emergency Position-Indicating Rescue Beacon (EPIRB) just ten yards away.
“I’m going to need that,” I thought, and lifted my leg up onto the edge of the raft – I was going to jump in and retrieve it. But then fear overcame me, and I kneeled back down, leaning over the edge, and I began to paddle with my hands. I rowed frantically, but the raft moved slowly until I finally got to the beacon. Pulling it in, I looked around again and I saw something else floating nearby. I paddled to it. Only an oil bucket. I saw something else, back where I had just been, and I paddled back there. Only the raft cover.
The raft was very difficult to move using just my hands, but then I saw something else and I paddled over to it. It was only the life ring that had been attached to the side of the wheelhouse.
I shouted some more, but nothing. Only silence. Kneeling at the edge of the raft, I held myself still, so I could listen. Thinking that just maybe someone would make a noise off in the distance.
It was then, I think, that the thought first entered my head. The though that no one would be making a noise. That everyone was dead.
I was wearing only my underwear, and suddenly I realized that I had gotten very cold. My body was shivering.
Cold and wet, I finally turned to look under the canopy of the life raft. I could have really used a towel right about then. Something to dry me and warm me up. I saw a canvas bag and, of all things, two plastic oars. Quickly, I unzipped the bag and took inventory. When I found the flashlight, I stopped looking immediately and stood up. Sweeping the beam from right to left, I searched and I yelled.
Another thought came to me: “Dad, did this happen to you?”
I realized that I was crying.
I looked around me. All the spinning in the raft had gotten me confused. I didn’t know in which direction the tanker had disappeared, or where the Starbound had sunk. Sad and frustrated, I couldn’t control my shivering.
I needed to get warm. I needed to survive.
Back under the raft’s canopy, I used the flashlight to take a more careful look inside the bag. There were flares, small bags of fresh water, some first aid stuff, and, in a plastic package, a thermal hooded poncho. When I first opened it, I was disappointed to find that it was made out of the same material as a cheep blue painter’s tarp. I was freezing, and I would have loved to have a real blanket. Of course, there wasn’t one.
When I first put the pancho on and zipped it up, it was clammy and uncomfortable against my cold, soaked skin. Sitting down, I put my knees up to my chest, wrapped my arms around my legs and waited to feel some warmth.
My mind started to move again. Thoughts of my childhood raced through my head, thoughts of my father and his crew, thought of my friends, my own crew, and thoughts of all their families, all the memorial masses over the years, all the tears after the years.
“GOD,” I cried, “is this really happening?”
It was September 1978 that Joe’s Father and his crew on The Captain Cosmo were lost to the sea. Greg Cook details the events and more about the families lives that were devastated in that loss on his blog entry from his Gloucester Times Article
I wrote the article about the Captain Cosmo for The Gloucester Daily Times in 2003. The occasion was the 25th anniversary of the boat’s disappearance. (That February, I also wrote a big, two-part article for the Gloucester Times about the 25th anniversary of the loss of the Can Do.) Many folks were kind enough to talk to me about the tragedy. I tracked down family members of each of the men lost on the Captain Cosmo, as well as a couple skippers of other boats who were in touch with the Captain Cosmo during that voyage. I dug through all the old newspaper clippings I could find. And I asked the Coast Guard for anything they had too, but I don’t recall that turning up anything, or at least anything much. I was 30 then, and had been writing for newspapers around the North Shore for several years, and had learned a few things about reporting and telling stories. And I did my best to tell the astonishing and sad tale of the loss of that ship.
25 years ago the Captain Cosmo disappeared
September 10, 2003
The Coast Guard began searching for the dragger Captain Cosmo around midday that Monday after the skipper’s wife reported that the 86-foot-long ship and its six-man crew were overdue from a week-long fishing trip to Georges Bank. The ship had been expected home that Friday or Saturday, 25 years ago this week, because 21-year-old deck hand Benjamin “Benny” Interrante of Gloucester, Mass., had to be back to attend the wedding of his oldest sister, Rosemarie, that Saturday. “So he wasn’t really supposed to take this trip,” Interrante’s mother Mary says. “I told him to take the trip off.” But Interrante told his mother that the skipper, Cosmo Marcantonio, had promised he would bring him for the wedding rehearsal on Friday, even if he didn’t have a full catch. But then a big storm blew up on George’s Bank that Friday. “I had a weird feeling when he didn’t come in on Friday and Saturday,” Mary says. “I kept calling the skipper’s wife. Something didn’t feel right.” The boat’s tardiness cast a pall over Rosemarie’s wedding in Gloucester Saturday. Everyone who came through the receiving line told Mary, “He’s going to make it. Benny’s going to make it.” That Monday, Sept. 11, 1978, Coast Guardsmen telephoned around the city’s waterfront and contacted other New England ports but couldn’t locate the ship. That afternoon, two Coast Guard planes flew over the course the dragger might have taken home to Gloucester from its last known position about 180 miles east of Cape Cod, but they found no sign of the vessel.
“The first time (Cosmo) went out on a boat he went fishing with my uncle Busty Scola when he was 9 years old, on the J.B. Jr.,” Marcantonio’s brother Joe says. “Summertime he went with my uncle. He loved fishing. I think he was about 17 when he took his first command of a boat, the Estrella. He loved the sea. That’s all he thought of.” Growing up, Marcantonio spent a lot of time with his grandmother on Commercial Street in the Fort, even though his family lived on Prospect Street. He loved visiting the old Sicilian neighborhood. Cosmo attended St. Ann’s School and then played quarterback for the Gloucester High School football team, but he quit school after two years to go fishing. His father and uncles were all fishermen. He and Joe went down to Cape May, N.J., in the early 1970s to pick up the ship that became the Captain Cosmo. She was an eastern-rig trawler, painted black with white trim. The pilot house was at the rear of the long narrow, two-masted ship. The 36-year-old Magnolia resident usually tied up the 35-year-old ship at Star Fisheries where Captain Carlo’s now is located on Harbor Loop. Sometimes he moored near the Gloucester House restaurant. Mike Linquata, the owner of the Gloucester House, says Marcantonio commandeered one of the bar stools from the restaurant and put it in the Captain Cosmo’s pilot house so he wouldn’t have to stand all the time when he was steering. Six Gloucester men were aboard the vessel when she steamed out of Gloucester on Saturday, Sept. 2, 1978: Marcantonio; Interrante; John Burnham, 33; Salvatore Barry Grover, 30; Vito Misuraca, 61; and Jerome “Smoky” Pallazola, 50. They all helped on deck. Grover also cooked. Pallazola — Marcantonio’s first cousin — was the engineer. The wooden boat was loaded with fishing gear, ice, diesel fuel and provisions for about 10 days of fishing. It also carried a life raft, which had been recently checked by the Coast Guard, and floating, insulated survival suits.
To read the rest of Greg’s blog entry click here