Simple Courage: A True Story of Peril on the Sea by Frank Delaney“HEAVEN HELP THE SAILOR ON A NIGHT LIKE THIS.”
–old folk prayer
In late December 1951, laden with passengers and nearly forty metric tons of cargo, the freighter S.S. Flying Enterprise steamed westward from Europe toward America. A few days into the voyage, she hit the eye of a ferocious storm. Force 12 winds tossed men about like playthings and turned drops of freezing Atlantic foam into icy missiles. When, in the space of twenty-eight hours, the ship was slammed by two rogue waves–solid walls of water more than sixty feet high–the impacts cracked the decks and hull almost down to the waterline, threw the vessel over on her side, and thrust all on board into terror.
Flying Enterprise’s captain, Kurt Carlsen, a seaman of rare ability and valor, mustered all hands to patch the cracks and then try to right the ship. When these efforts came to naught, he helped transfer, across waves forty feet high, the passengers and the entire crew to lifeboats sent from nearby ships. Then, for reasons both professional and intensely personal, and to the amazement of the world, Carlsen defied all requests and entreaties to abandon ship. Instead, for the next two weeks, he fought to bring Flying Enterprise and her cargo to port. His heroic endeavor became the world’s biggest news.
In a narrative as dramatic as the ocean’s fury, acclaimed bestselling author Frank Delaney tells, for the first time, the full story of this unmatched bravery and endurance at sea. We meet the devoted family whose well-being and safety impelled Carlsen to stay with his ship. And we read of Flying Enterprise’s buccaneering owner, the fearless and unorthodox Hans Isbrandtsen, who played a crucial role in Kurt Carlsen’s fate.
Drawing on historical documents and contemporary accounts and on exclusive interviews with Carlsen’s family, Delaney opens a window into the world of the merchant marine. With deep affection–and respect–for the weather and all that goes with it, he places us in the heart of the storm, a “biblical tempest” of unimaginable power. He illuminates the bravery and ingenuity of Carlsen and the extraordinary courage that the thirty-seven-year-old captain inspired in his stalwart crew. This is a gripping, absorbing narrative that highlights one man’s outstanding fortitude and heroic sense of duty.
“One of the great sea stories of the twentieth century… [a] surefire nautical crowd-pleaser.”
--Booklist é (starred review)
“Frank Delaney has written a completely absorbing, thrilling and inspirational account of a disaster at sea that occasioned heroism of the first order. In the hands of a gifted storyteller,
the ‘simple courage’ of the ship’s captain and the young radio man who risked their lives to bring a mortally wounded ship to port reveals the essence and power of all true courage–
a stubborn devotion to the things we love.”
–Senator John McCain
The Flying Enterprise Complex
The SS Flying Enterprise drama
The final voyage of the SS Flying Enterprise started happily enough with everyone on board looking forward to spending Christmas at sea. But what awaited the passengers in the Atlantic Ocean was not the Christmas present they were expecting. On Christmas Eve the ship ran into a gale that quickly developed into a storm, then a hurricane that turned out to be the most powerful and destructive phenomenon in that area for 37 years. It sank ships, drowned men and even did enormous damage on shore. The emergency situation that built up around the Flying Enterprise in the days after the storm caught the attention of people all around the world. News reporters from America, Scandinavia, Australia and New Zealand converged on the Cornish port of Falmouth in the hope of witnessing the triumphant end of the long-running rescue of the SS Flying Enterprise and her brave captain. The usually dour Falmouth town council added to the festive spirit by decking the streets with bunting and flags of all nations, in anticipation of a parade and civic reception when the ship finally arrived.
The wreck that towered high above us, as we swam over the seabed at 85m, had to be that of the Flying Enterprise. No torch was necessary, because the floodtide slack and the sun high in the sky gave Richie Stevenson and I the best conditions for viewing this historic wreck we were ever likely to experience. Our excitement at being the first to visit it was overwhelming. Before long, we found that we had swum almost its entire length. As we made our way back to our shotline, we stopped to look around the intact bridge. The telegraphs with their enamel faceplates remained bolted to the floors, and thats not something you often see on a shipwreck off Britain. Richie disappeared inside, while I spent a few moments mentally comparing the exterior construction to the photographs I had seen.
The ship was sold in and then operated in scheduled service under the name Flying Enterprise. At this time, her name was changed to the Flying Enterprise and re-registered in New York. Four days later, on Christmas night, she encountered a storm in the Western Approaches to the English Channel. The cargo then shifted. An SOS was issued on 28 December, by which time she was listing 45 degrees to port. Greely responded, Sherborne being first to arrive, early in the morning of 29 December. Carlsen, however, was reluctant to evacuate passengers and crew to a British ship.
A moment later the stack lights of the mighty Queen Elizabeth were thrown on, illuminating the sea between them. This extraordinary nautical salute was described to me almost half a century ago by Capt.
Every day, the radio and newspaper reports became longer, more detailed and more excited as everyone — from small boys to grandparents — kept watch to learn what might be the fate of the stricken freighter Flying Enterprise and its heroic skipper, Captain Kurt Carlsen. The freighter Flying Enterprise wallows in rough seas, Jan. The ship that was to inspire such massive media coverage was an ordinary 6, ton cargo ship that would by now be long scrapped and forgotten had it not sailed into the worst storm to hit the Atlantic in 35 years. It was sailing from Hamburg in Germany bound for New York with a cargo of pig iron and furniture. On board were 40 crew and 9 passengers. The Flying Enterprise was miles off the southwest coast of Ireland on Christmas Day when it was hit by huge waves driven by a mph gale.