In February 1978 a blizzard hit the Northeast of the US. On land and on sea weather was wreaking havoc. Around 5:00 PM on February 6, 1978 the oil tanker, Global Hope, contacted the Coast Guard in Gloucester, Massachusetts. The tanker had dragged their anchor and had water coming in the engine room. Earlier Station Gloucester had contacted the Global Hope to ask if they had dragged their anchor after calls from local residents came in. At that time the captain ‘confirmed’ that he had not dragged anchor. The Coast Guard dispatched two vessels, the Decisive and Cape George, and two boats to aid the Global Hope. The blizzard was continuing to mount.
Since the Cape George and Decisive were still a ways off, Station Gloucester had sent the 41353 and 44317 out together. However, 41353 was forced to turn back not long after starting out, due to the violent weather. The 44317, crewed by 4 men, proceeded with the mission. It was tough going for the 44317 as they were tossed around by the waves. Soon their equipment was knocked out and their radar wasn’t functioning. This was compounded by the fact they were navigating through a hazardous area. But they were calm through the ordeal and handling themselves very well.
While all this was going on, Frank Quirk was aboard his pilot boat, the Can Do. He and his friends had been listening in on the radio communications. In the past Quirk had been on hand during rescue missions. The Can Do had been converted into a pilot boat by Quirk, who owned and operated it.
After listening in on the radio communications between the 44317 and Station Gloucester and hearing the 44317’s predicament, Quirk decided to head out and see if he could lend a hand. Along with him were four others, three of whom he told to leave due to the danger involved. They stayed however. The crew’s names were: Frank Quirk, Charlie Bucko, Don Wilkinson, David Curley and Kenny Fuller. Of the 5, Quirk and Bucko had the most experience. Bucko had been a marine in Vietnam and been wounded twice. He later joined the Cost Guard, but had left the previous year.
Just as the Can Do was leaving Gloucester Harbor, the 44317 hit rocks and the engine quit. Station Gloucester’s commanding officer Edmund Paradis, who had been in constant contact, radioed them to drop their anchor. Bob McIlvride, in command of the boat, knew it would be suicide to send someone out to drop the anchor. He told Paradis he would and…didn’t. Instead the crew worked to get the engines restarted which they accomplished. The Surf Patrol had been able to spot the 44317 and helped its crew to maneuver away from rocks on the shore via radio. Miraculously the boat would later make it into Beverly Harbor and to safety. They had had to ditch the possibility of reaching the Global Hope.
In the meantime the Can Do was being battered. The “radar went out and the AM antenna went overboard” Quirk radioed. It was a precarious situation, but Quirk’s voice remained calm. Winds reaching 70+ mph were beating down on the Can Do. Paradis had sent the 41353 back out and it struggled on. From the breakwater they were to try and get a fix on the Can Do, which was headed for the harbor.
At about 1:00 AM Bucko radioed Station Gloucester. They were in distress. The windshield had had a hole blown in it and water was coming in. In the process Quirk’s head had been injured, which the crew was able to bandage up. It would later be shown that Quirk’s head injury wasn’t a minor scrape, but serious. He had been unconscious for a short time. The others found a mattress down below and stuffed it in the hole of the windshield. When Quirk came to he told Station Gloucester that he thought they were around Magnolia Beach. On shore, people drove out onto the beach. Shining their headlights out at the sea they hoped the Can Do would see them. Then communications stopped. Station Gloucester got in contact with Group Boston asking that they help them establish communications with the Can Do. Group Boston was able to pick up faint messages.
On shore amateur (ham) radio operators were trying to get a fix on the Can Do’s position but were unsuccessful despite numerous attempts. Amateur radio operator Mel Cole was able to establish communication, and began relaying messages to the Coast Guard. At 1:55 AM a message from the Can Do came in, “We’ve lost it! It’s all gone! We’ve had it!”. Afterwards news came that the Can Do’s crew had been rescued and were headed to a hospital. It was a relief. Then Quirk radioed that it wasn’t true and that they were aground, “No Power. Taking on Water”. By 2:15 AM they had the “anchor set and are holding our own”. They were unable to restart the engines. Their other radios had by this time shorted out. The last message received from the Can Do was from Quirk indicating they were moving aft because it was wet where they were.
In the morning the Decisive went to aid another vessel that had survived the night before setting out to locate the Can Do. The Decisive could not find the pilot boat, but the crew did note that the Global Hope was aground. The Coast Guard would eventually take its grateful crew off. Throughout the night the Decisive and Cape George had also had tough going. Ice had formed on the vessels making them top heavy and crew members were seasick. The Cape George had never gone to aid the Global Hope due to the danger, but had been carried over the breakwater and into Gloucester Harbor.
The next day a boat fender and life ring bearing the name Can Do washed up on shore. Later Quirk and Wilkinson’s body also washed up on the beach and the police retrieved the bodies. Kenny Fuller and David Curley’s bodies were also found. On the 15th a plane went out looking for the Can Do. They located the banged up wreck, upright, in the water. In the engine room divers found Bucko’s body. They also found that Can Do’s anchor line had parted ways, which had been the fears back onshore.