Brooklyn man tells poignant tale of ‘perfect storm’ survival

Thirty years ago, last month, Nelson Simon received a call from a friend, Peter, about an opportunity to crew a ship leaving from Brooklyn to Bermuda.

Simon had virtually no sailing experience, but he agreed to leave his Park Slope apartment to meet Peter at the Natural History Museum that night – October 23, 1991 – and hear the ship’s captain speak. of his adventures at sea.

It was there that he found himself accepting an invitation to help navigate the 123-year-old Anne-Kristine ship from Brooklyn’s Mill Basin to Bermuda, although he doesn’t necessarily want to.

“There is an element of my immigrant journey, as someone who wants to welcome people, falls in there, because I didn’t want to lose face,” said Simon. BK reader. Simon immigrated to the United States from Bolivia as a child.

Author Nelson Simon. Photo: Supplied / Nelson Simon and Chicago Review Press

“I couldn’t say no. If I could have said no, I don’t think I would have gone.

This “yes” would change the course of his life.

What they didn’t know at the time was that the ship was heading for deadly Hurricane Grace, which would later be known as “The Perfect Storm,” commemorated in the 2000 film from the same title.

For four grueling days in October 1991, Simon and seven others continued to fight for their lives as the old schooner faced monstrous waves and slowly, then quickly took to the water.

Somehow the crew managed to hold out long enough to be rescued by the US Coast Guard. Other crews who found themselves in the storm – a seasonal anomaly – were not so lucky.

Now, three decades later, the resident of Prospect Lefferts Gardens has published a book telling the unlikely tale of how he – a novice sailor – and his deck mates survived this now infamous storm.

The book, The Soul of the Hurricane: The perfect storm and an accidental sailor, is now available.

“It’s one of those things that you wouldn’t wish on anyone, but you won’t give it up either,” Simon said.

“It has defined a lot of my life, there are things I am still learning about myself because of it.”

Simon decided to write the book around 2018. A few years ago, he hadn’t realized how fascinated others would be with his story.

While at his shuffleboard club in 2016, Simon chatted with a team of people from a sailing club. He mentioned he was in Hurricane Grace and the club invited him to come speak at their next lecture series.

This opportunity led Simon to do a storytelling presentation in maritime museums and yacht clubs for a few years entitled “The accidental sailor. ”

A friend saw it and insisted that he show it to a library in New Jersey. It was there that Simon was spotted by an agent, who secured him a publishing contract for a book about the Incredible Survival Story.

Simon spent over a year researching the book. Although he and his teammates had a life-threatening experience together, they did not know each other before and did not keep in touch.

Simon tracked them all down and successfully interviewed six of his fellow sailors. “I loved talking to them, it was a very emotional experience for me,” he said.

He has traveled across the country conducting interviews, extracting expedition records, weather reports, researching the ship and its explorer captain, Norman Baker, and delving into his own immigrant past and complicated relationship. with water.

One of his most memorable talks was with the Coast Guard pilot who rescued them overnight, as each crew member had to jump blindly into the pitch black ocean below. as Anne Kristine sank into the storm.

Norman Baker with Anne Kristine in the background. Photo: Mary Ann Baker / Supplied

“This man has saved thousands of people over the years and I asked, ‘How does this one compare? He said nothing else came close. He’s a religious man, he said, ‘I felt the hand of God. I had no chance to run this helicopter, I don’t have this skill.

The process of writing the book also evoked almost physical memories of the experience for Simon.

He said, as he used to tell the story, that he was talking about being on the ship’s deck in the middle of the night and staring at the helicopter light without remembering if he was scared or not.

“At the time, it was an honest assessment. But when I was writing the book, I was thinking about it, trying to remember exactly how I was feeling, and I was setting here in my living room and I started to shake. It was the memory of my body telling me: ‘You were afraid. You were terrified.

Simon is The Soul of the Hurricane: The perfect storm and an accidental sailor at all the major booksellers, as well as at the Greenlight bookstore in Brooklyn, where he also did an interview for the launch of the book.

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