The True Story of a Family’s Love and the Will to Survive
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The harrowing story of a nautical hit-and-run accident off the coast of New Zealand that destroyed an American family.

In 1993, Judith Sleavin, her husband Mike and their children, nine-year-old Ben and seven-year-old Annie, set out to sail around the world in their 47-foot sailboat. On the night of Nov. 24, 1995, a South Korean merchant ship crashed into the Melinda Lee and fled. Ben died immediately, Annie drowned later and a delirious Mike plunged suicidally to his death after her. Judith, the sole survivor, saw it all. In this understated but vivid account, her close friend Rumberg chronicles the collision, the deaths at sea, the 42 hours Judith spent clinging to an overturned dinghy in freezing waters and the painful years after she was rescued. Judith’s back was broken and her skull fractured in the collision; for weeks in the hospital, “she was terrified that she was going to live, without her beloved family,” writes Rumberg. The author describes Judith’s successful subsequent efforts to manage her severe post-traumatic stress disorder, to make a new life for herself in New Zealand and to identify and bring to justice the owners of the vessel that struck her sailboat. The identified ship was a log carrier called the Pan Grace. Two of its officers received slaps on the wrist from the Korean Maritime Board, and the ship was back in the water. Judith sued the company that owned the Pan Grace in a U.S. civil court and used the settlement money to create a foundation dedicated to improving maritime safety, plagued by unenforceable regulations and loose governance of offshore waters. Rumberg shows how much the support of friends, especially in the sailing community, contributed to Judith’s survival.

Absorbing tale of a catastrophe at sea and its aftermath.

Pub Date: Feb. 24th, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-399-15535-2
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15th, 2009