INTRODUCTION TO SHIPS, CAPTAINS, CREW, AND RESCUERS
On February 18, 1952, an incredible maritime event began when a ferocious nor’easter split in half a 503-foot-long T2 oil tanker, the Pendleton, approximately one mile off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Here are the primary sailors and rescuers:
THE SAILORS ON THE PENDLETON STERN
GEORGE “TINY” MYERS .......... COOK
CHARLES BRIDGES .......... SEAMAN
RAYMOND SYBERT .......... CHIEF ENGINEER
THE RESCUERS ON THE 36-FOOT MOTOR LIFEBOAT CG 36500
BERNIE WEBBER .......... CAPTAIN
RICHARD LIVESEY .......... SEAMAN
ANDY FITZGERALD .......... ENGINEER
ERVIN MASKE .......... CREW MEMBER
CHATHAM COAST GUARD STATION
DANIEL CLUFF .......... COMMANDER
DONALD BANGS .......... SKIPPER
February 18, 1952
Captain John Fitzgerald could barely stay on his feet aboard his rocking ship, the 503-foot-long oil tanker named Pendleton. Fitzgerald had been in bad weather before, but nothing like the winter storm that was now raging off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Fifty-foot waves battered his vessel violently in the predawn hours.
Suddenly a thunderous roar echoed through the bowels of the ship. The crew felt the gigantic tanker rise out of the turbulent ocean. This was followed by a shudder and an ear-splitting crash when the Pendleton nosed down seconds later.
Captain Fitzgerald wasn’t sure exactly what had happened, but he knew by the sound that the ship had cracked. He immediately went to the radio set to issue an SOS, but the power had gone out.
Eighteen-year-old seaman Charles Bridges was asleep in his bunk when the ship tilted and cracked. He quickly grabbed a flashlight and ran to the top deck and then out on the catwalk leading to the bow. “Then I stopped in my tracks,” remembered Bridges. “The catwalk floor disappeared. I realized just two more steps and I’d drop straight down into the ocean.”
Bridges wheeled around and scurried to the mess deck, shouting, “We’re in trouble! The ship has broke in two!”
Some of the men immediately wanted to lower the lifeboats. But Bridges told them that they were crazy, that the lifeboats wouldn’t stand a chance in the enormous waves.
When the ship split in two, Captain Fitzgerald and seven other men were on the front section, called the bow. Their half of the ship now drifted away from the stern, the rear section, where the chief engineer, Raymond Sybert, and Charles Bridges huddled together.
George “Tiny” Myers, the ship’s cook, tried to stay positive. He was a large man, weighing about 300 pounds. Usually he was singing or joking. But today he encouraged the men around him to be brave and work as a team. It would be a big team, because a total of 33 men were on the stern.
The sailors on the back half of the ship knew the radio was in the bow. They also knew that once the ship split in two, the radio would be useless, because the ship’s power came from the stern. That meant no emergency message could go out and the Coast Guard would not be aware of the disaster.
Sybert and Bridges nervously looked at each other, a feeling of hopelessness spreading over them. Bridges was thinking, Who will come and save us?
Text copyright © 2020 by Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman
Illustrations copyright © 2020 by Mark Edward Geyer