Saturday, Labor Day weekend, 1951, dawned mild and cloudless over Montauk. Hundreds of passengers tumbled from the Long Island Rail Road’s weekend express train, the Fisherman’s Special, when it pulled in from New York City. The weather only confirmed the postwar optimism of the blue-collar workers who had thronged to this fishing village for a holiday of deep-sea angling.
In America, in 1951, it was easy to believe that anyone could make money and enjoy the good life, and no place suited that mood better than a fishing town. The Montauk fishing business was booming. The dock the arriving anglers swarmed over had been named, without a trace of self-consciousness, Fishangri-la, and the waiting fishing boat captains could see no obstacle to a record weekend.
Maybe it was naive optimism that propelled Captain Eddie Carroll away from the dock that morning with sixty-two passengers aboard his fishing boat Pelican, some thirty more than safe capacity. He was everyone’s favorite skipper, a handsome World War II veteran with an easy manner, an endless supply of fish and war stories, a sturdy forty-two-foot boat, newly rebuilt engines, and an uncanny ability to find good fishing. In his pocket that day he carried the ring that he would soon slip on the finger of his Swedish bride-to-be.
But Eddie’s luck was about to run out. Even as the Pelican cut its outgoing swath through the sun-spangled Atlantic, a jet-stream trough of Arctic air high overhead, undetected by forecasters, was pressing down on the pool of warm air beneath it like water building behind a dam. The Pelican and forty-five people aboard, including Captain Carroll himself, would never return to shore.
Dark Noon is a suspenseful and ultimately heartbreaking sea story. It’s also a journey back to the America of the early 1950s, when a laborer could buy a round-trip train ticket from Queens to Montauk and fish all day with Captain Eddie for $8.00. The Pelican's passengers, like postwar America itself, were blinded by hope. They baited their hooks and waited, wondering what they would find in the deep and shining waters of the Atlantic, unaware of the dark storm gathering overhead.
Tom Clavin was editor of the East Hampton Independent and the Southampton Independent, two of the country’s most award-winning weeklies, for ten years. In addition to fifteen years writing for the New York Times, he has authored numerous articles appearing in such periodicals as Reader's Digest, Golf Magazine, Parade, and Family Circle. Mr. Clavin has written and edited hundreds of pieces on fishing and boating.
“The Pelican was being pushed once more onto its port side, and Eddie knew with sad certainty that this time it was not stopping . . .”
When Captain Eddie Carroll put to sea on Labor Day weekend 1951, he didn’t know how many passengers were aboard his overloaded boat. He didn’t know that an unpredicted storm would descend from a cloudless sky before the morning was over. He didn’t know how swiftly, then, his faith in his boat and his own abilities would be overturned.
Dark Noon is a taut and suspenseful re-creation of a fateful day at sea. It is also a story of the postwar American dream as experienced in the fishing village of Montauk, Long Island, where fish were money and where optimism and success went hand in hand. And it's a story of the end of an era, when one terrible disaster changed the fishing culture of a prosperous port forever. Every dream has an end. In Dark Noon the end comes in a violent storm. Montauk would never be the same.