In late September 2015, Hurricane Joaquin swept past the Bahamas and swallowed a pair of cargo vessels in its destructive path: El Faro, a 790-foot American behemoth with a crew of thirty-three, and the Minouche, a 230-foot freighter with a dozen sailors aboard. From the parallel stories of these ships and their final journeys, INTO THE STORM: Two Ships, a Deadly Hurricane, and an Epic Battle for Survival (on sale June 4, 2019), Tristram Korten uses his impeccable credentials as one of Florida’s most experienced climate change reporters to weave a remarkable tale of two veteran sea captains from very different worlds, the harrowing ordeals of their desperate crews, and the Coast Guard’s extraordinary battle against a storm that defied prediction.
Featuring a new epilogue with a first-person telling of a flight on a hurricane hunter, this paperback edition of INTO THE STORM delivers a moving and propulsive story of men in peril, the international brotherhood of mariners, and the breathtaking power of nature.
Q: What is the backstory behind Into the Storm? What was your influence?
When the American ship El Faro disappeared in a 2015 hurricane, I was immediately fascinated and horrified. I followed the news from day one and wanted to know what was happening. I began scanning the Coast Guard’s District 7 public affairs site to find out when the next press conference would be and stumbled on a little one paragraph mention of the Minouche rescue. It was the same day and the same storm as El Faro. Without consciously knowing everything, I nonetheless believed there was a story here, if for no other reason than the sheer maritime destruction caused. El Faro was the greatest loss of U.S. life in a maritime accident in 40 years.
Q: Why did you find the “Minouche” story so impactful?
The story of the Minouche rescue resonated with me in a very visceral way. I was fascinated with the courage and skill it took to fly the helicopter at night during a hurricane. It was so blindingly dark the crew tried to fly with night vision goggles, but ended up relying on their instruments. Then the discipline and stamina of the rescue swimmer who was deployed in the water for more than seven or eight hours – in the dark, in a hurricane – overcoming various logistical problems the entire time. This was an incredible feat of courage and bravery, but it also underscored the intense training these swimmers undergo. From there it became a more complex story, about two captains on parallel journeys and the command decisions they made, which directly impacted what happened to each ship, and the very different outcomes.
Q: What books or news stories have had the most impact on you and your development?
I’ve spent a fair amount of time as an investigative reporter, and I guess that started when I was a young man trying to figure out what to do next. It was after college and I was thinking of going back to school to study, of all things, poetry. Then, while I was in a diner in Boston glancing at The Boston Globe, I read a special report about all these municipal judges leaving their jobs in the middle of the day, but reporting that they were working full days. It was a real gotcha! With photos of them on golf courses when the paperwork indicated they were in their offices. It was as if a light bulb went off in my head. “I want to do that!” I remember thinking. It was compelling and useful to people and it was trying to do rectify a wrong. I have read so many great non-fiction books, and they are always an inspiration to get out there and do great work. They range from Mark Kurlansky’s “Cod,” about how the innovation to dry cod allowed it to become a transportable protein source and changed the world, to, more recently, David Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon,” about a little known conspiracy in the 1920s to kill off individuals in the Osage Indian tribe in order to control the oil under the land they owned. It was one of the FBI’s first cases.
Q: Writing a book is tough, were there any surprises as you set out on that journey?
I’m a freelance magazine writer – I control my own time and find my own stories. So I found the book experience to be a smooth transition. I already work hard at narrative structure, but with the book I had a project that could last more than a year, instead of jumping around to four or five projects. In other words, it afforded me the opportunity for deep focus.
Q: Can you provide a specific example or story where reading has helped you learn from others experience?
I’m always reading something that influences me. Often, I’m more influenced by how something is written rather than the content of what was written. For instance, Grann’s “Killers of the Flower Moon” was so deeply reported that I was inspired to try to achieve that level of
thoroughness in my writing. In general, we should always be looking to improve our game, and reading is a fantastic way to do that.
Q: What is Next for you and your writing projects?
Well, I’m back to writing for magazines, while also searching for the next great book idea. I’m still very interested in extreme weather, the ocean and climate change. This fall I rode on a Hurricane Hunter through the eye of Hurricane Michael. I just finished a project that took me to Indonesia to write about the hunt for a notorious illegal fishing ship. In a break from water and weather, I’m also writing about a wrongful conviction case closer to home.
Q: When is your paperback coming out?
Ballantine/Random House is releasing the paperback on June 4th.
Q: Where do you recommend people buy your book?
“Into The Storm” is available most anywhere books are sold; Amazon, Barnes & Noble, your independent book store.
Tristram Korten is a magazine, newspaper, and radio journalist. His print work has appeared in a wide range of publications, including GQ, The Atlantic, and the Miami Herald, and his broadcast reporting has aired on public-radio programs nationally. He is the former editor of the Florida Center for Investigative Reporting and was a 2013 University of Michigan Knight-Wallace Fellow. A long time ago, he graduated from Colby College. He lives in Miami with his wife, their two daughters, and a mutt named Misha.
Tristram can be reached via Twitter or LinkedIn