by John Kovach
HAN Network Editorial Director
John Aldridge assessed his situation as he floated alone in the North Atlantic, watching the lobster boat he had fallen from sail away, those onboard asleep and unaware of his plight.
“Today is the day you’re going to die,” Aldridge said on Yankee Fisherman on the HAN Network during a recent interview. “Who gets to know that today’s the day you’re going to die?”
On July 24, 2013, Aldridge, with his lobstering partner, Anthony Sosinski, and another crewman were 40 miles off the coast of Long Island. Sosinski and the crewman slept below deck as Aldridge was on watch, which the three-man crews rotate.
Working to open a hatch to adjust a valve, Aldridge reached for a cooler, snagging the handle with a metal hook used to move items along the deck. Suddenly the plastic broke. Their boat, the Anna Mary, has no transom: It’s easier to slide lobster traps off the back that way. There was nothing to stop Aldridge as he fell off the back of the boat.
There was nothing to stop the Anna Mary, operating on autopilot, from continuing on its course at six and one-half knots, leaving Aldridge alone and adrift in open water, with no one in the world knowing his predicament.
At 2:30 in the morning Aldridge had become A Speck in the Sea, the title of the recently recently released memoir in which the two longtime friends tell the story of their 12-hour ordeal in the North Atlantic: Aldridge clinging to hope and struggling to stay afloat and alive, Sosinski trying to retrace steps and determine just where his friend might be.
Sosinski was awaked by the third crewman with news that Aldridge was not on the boat. Sosinski turned the boat around, contacted the Coast Guard and began to retrace the route.
The boat was by then 60 miles off the coast.
Sosinski was able to learn that the Anna Mary had circumnavigated a scallop boat, which meant he had to be in the wheelhouse then. There was word of a phone call that had gone unanswered. He knew Aldridge would not wake him once they reached the first traps.
“It’s almost like the CSI, looking for clues,” Sosinski said.
It is a book of realizations.
Aldridge realizes his boots are airtight, and traps air in them to fashion a makeshift life preserver by holding one boot under each arm. He realizes that Sosinski is awake when he hears helicopters overhead, heralding the search by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Setting goals, Aldridge said, was the key. The first was stay alive through the night, as sharks swam nearby. Daylight gave the chance to find a buoy attached for lobstering gear he knew was nearby.
“We live out there,” Aldridge said.”We are always out there. We know who is fishing out there.”
Those who fished the waters with Aldridge and Sosinski were offering help, and clues. Sosinski was learning of a deviation in course, which meant his friend had been in the wheelhouse at that time. He learned of a phone call that was never answered. Sosinski knew he would be roused from sleep once the boat reached the first set of traps. He was sharing that information with the Coast Guard and closing in, he had hoped, on where his friend might be.
“I had this little square spot where he could have fallen in the water,” Sosinski said. “It was a guess.”
Aldridge watched the helicopters fly back and forth, finally realizing he had to get himself to where he could be seen.
“Enough is enough,” Aldridge said. “I’ve got to go that way.”
“I was trying to will him back to the boat,” Sosinski said. He later learned that twice the Anna Mary had sailed past Aldridge.
Both Aldridge and Sosinski take the Anna Mary out with different crews. Had the two of them not been together, they agreed while talking on the HAN Network’s Yankee Fisherman, the outcome may have been different.
“By all accounts no one has ever been found,” Aldridge said. “You know as a fisherman you’re done.”
That’s why, Sosinski said, the brotherhood of commercial fishermen and the wider community of Montauk came together at the news “Johnny is missing.”
“Everybody’s focus was to find John,” Sosinski said.
A Speck in the Sea: A Story of Survival and Rescue, was published by Weinstein Books. The publisher reports there is talk of the book being turned into a movie.
The rescue of Aldridge made national headlines in 2013 and was the subject of a cover story in the Sunday Magazine of The New York Times on Jan. 2, 2014. The story has also been optioned for film by The Weinstein Company and is in priority development with BAFTA-winning screenwriter Jeff Pope (Philomena) as well as producers Rachael Horovitz (Academy Award-nominated for Moneyball, and Emmy and Golden Globe winner for Grey Gardens), and Jason Blum (Academy Award nominee for Whiplash, Emmy winner for The Normal Heart).
The interview on Yankee Fisherman can be found at HAN.Network. Click shows, select Yankee Fisherman and find the July 13, 2017, episode.