“Speck in the Sea” and Life as a Montauk Lobsterman

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John Aldridge, left and Anthony Sosinski.

“The Ocean’s your mother, your bitch and your lover and nobody gets to ride free. It’s a roll of the dice if she’ll let you survive so bow down, boys, to the Queen.” – “The Tale of Johnny Load” by Nancy Atlas

By Kathryn G. Menu

It’s a story of split second decisions gone wrong, of an individual’s will to survive despite all odds, of the dangers inherent in life on the Atlantic Ocean, and of a community that refused to give up on one of their own.

And it’s the story of Montauk — not the grotesque version found in reality television — but the true Montauk, a place rooted in family, fishing and the sea.

On May 23, “A Speck in the Sea: A Story of Survival and Rescue” officially hit bookstore shelves and became available for online purchase at places like Amazon. Written by lobstermen John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski, the story — also being developed into a film by the Weinstein Company — recounts the harrowing night in July of 2013 when Aldridge was thrown off the back of the Anna Mary while Sosinski slept below deck.

The book details Aldridge’s fight for survival in chilly 72-degree waters deep in the Atlantic, as well as the efforts of Sosinski — Aldridge’s partner and best friend from childhood— local families, fishermen and the U.S. Coast Guard to find the then-45 year-old lobsterman and bring him home to Montauk.

In mid May, a day after setting about 200 lobster traps roughly 40 miles off Montauk, Aldridge — nickname “Johnny Load” — and Sosinski — otherwise known as “Little Anthony” — said the entire experience has been surreal, from the moment Aldridge fell off Anna Mary at 3:30 a.m. on July 24, 2013 through his rescue and the whirlwind of media attention that followed. The truth is, they noted, these stories don’t traditionally end well when it comes to the fishing and lobster industries — perhaps one reason Aldridge and Sosinski’s tale garnered such widespread interest and attention.

“In Montauk, for us, everyone just can’t wait to see the book,” said Sosinski.

“The fishing community is pretty tight,” added Aldridge. “Fishermen, farmers — the struggle we go through to produce the products we catch, we grow, we all understand it. Everyone sticks together out here. Everyone takes care of each other. No one leaves anyone behind.”

That is really the heart of Aldridge and Sosinski’s story. It all began with what Aldridge admits was a poor decision on his part. On his own, while Sosinski and mate Mike Migliaccio slept below deck, Aldridge decided to pump water into the holding tanks of the Anna Mary, to ensure the water would be cold enough to hold the lobsters they would harvest in just a few hours. To do that, he needed to move two coolers that weighed hundreds of pounds, using a box hook latched on one handle to pull them off the hatch. As he used the weight of his body to pull at the coolers, the handle snapped.

“The coolers stop, but I kept going, still holding the hook handle, stumbling backwards fast toward the rear of the deck, where there is no gate, no rope, no nothing to hold me or for me to hold,” Aldridge wrote in “A Speck in the Sea.” “And I am out of control. I am stumbling backwards one, two — how many seconds? Just like they say, time freezes. The seconds move like molasses.”

He landed in the Atlantic Ocean at 3:30 a.m. Sosinski would not wake until hours later to discover his best friend was gone. And a frantic search, involving Coast Guard units from three states and a fleet of local fishermen, began.

Alridge survived 12 hours in the Atlantic, first because of the green rubber boots he used like pontoons — filling them with water, allowing him to swim to a lobster buoy. With over two dozen fishing boats searching the waters for Aldridge — including Sosinski in the Anna Mary — it would be a Coast Guard helicopter that would spot him, on its last pass before running out of fuel. When he emerged from the water, Aldridge’s body temperature was at 93 degrees Fahrenheit.

The news of his disappearance, and subsequent rescue, was covered by the local East End media, and picked up by The New York Times in a magazine piece by Paul Tough entitled, “A Speck in the Sea.” It was that story that the Weinstein Company would option for a book and film.

“He was found in the afternoon, and most people did not feel he was alive,” said Sosinski. “Everyone’s efforts to bring him home really came together. And his story was amazing — how he kept his lips above water, a fleet of fishermen spending hundreds of gallons of fuel to race out and look for him. They don’t do that everywhere, but they do that in Montauk. They do that in Sag Harbor too — look at the Cinema fire. That is what our communities do.”

“No doubt,” said Aldridge to his friend. “It’s definitely a dying breed.”

While both men said their industry is in decline ­— there is a shortage of permits available, and bodies interested in getting into what is admittedly dangerous work — neither Aldridge or Sosinski said they can imagine doing anything else.

“There are too many freaks on land for one,” laughed Aldridge. “We catch lobster and I can’t imagine doing anything else. Some people sit in traffic, our struggle is weather and regulations.”

“Every day is an adventure,” added Sosinski. “Yesterday we had whales around our boats. We were whale watching on the job.”

A reading of “A Speck in the Sea” will take place with John Aldridge and Anthony Sosinski at BookHampton in East Hampton on July 13 at 5 p.m.

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