printed copy

Sailing into the Abyss: A True Story of Extreme Heroism on the High Seas

William R. Benedetto, Howard B. Thorsen

ISBN 0806526467
Publish Date 3/7/2006
Format Trade Paperback
Categories Citadel, Military
Currently out of stock

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Winner of the 2006 United States Maritime Literature Award

Shortly before Christmas, 1969, the Merchant Marine vessel SS Badger State weighed anchor near Seattle and departed for Da Nang, Vietnam. On board was a dangerous cargo of bombs being sent to support American troops fighting overseas. But what began as an unremarkable voyage soon went drastically—and terrifyingly—off course….

“A thoroughly gripping story of disaster at sea.” —Publishers Weekly

Using eyewitness accounts, official documents, and rarely seen photos, Sailing into the Abyss presents a minute-by-minute narrative, as viewed through the eyes of the ship’s few survivors. Well into their voyage, Captain Charles Wilson and his crew discovered that the weather report calling for clear skies was wrong—dead wrong. When two colossal storms converged on their vessel, a mighty wall of water rolled the Badger State fifty-two degrees to port, causing 2,000-pound blockbuster bombs to break loose in one of the cargo holds. And then the unthinkable happened—an explosion rocked the ship, blasting a hole through its hull and forcing Wilson to sound the abandon ship signal. To add to the crew’s danger, another bomb sank their fragile lifeboat. On their own amid the punishing waves, the men floated helplessly in the freezing waters of the North Pacific as still another natural foe turned its fury on them.

“As exciting as any fictional thriller.” —Phillip Margolin

Richly detailed and featuring compassionate portrayals of compelling real-life heroes, Sailing into the Abyss finally gives much-deserved recognition to the courage of those who survived the tragedy—and those who did not. It is a fascinating look at the human drama behind the deadliest sea disaster of the Vietnam War, celebrating the triumph of the spirit in the face of adversity.

“A high-quality disaster narrative.” —Booklist

William R. Benedetto joined the U.S. Coast Guard in 1946 and spent the following twenty-eight years in maritime activities. He served aboard search-and-rescue cutters; rescued fishing vessels; handled port security on the Great Lakes; and served as shipping commissioner in such active ports as New Orleans, San Pedro, and Portland. He later became an attorney and an avid student of merchant marine history, particularly the story of the Badger State. His articles have appeared in Harper’s Magazine and USCG Magazine. He lives in Wilsonville, Oregon, near Portland. Please visit his website,

View Congressional Record Certificate

On June 8, 2006, the national U.S. Maritime Literature Award for 2006 was formally presented to William R. Benedetto by the Portland chapter of the U.S. Navy League. Making the presentation on behalf of the League were (left to right): Robert Sheveland, Board Member; Captain Patrick G. Gerrity, Commanding Officer of the local Coast Guard station; Captain Alex Mackenzie, U.S. Navy (Ret.), President of the league; and Lonnie J. Roberts, County Commissioner

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Customer Review

Life & Death on the High Seas (Tuesday, November 21, 2006)
Reviewer: Lee Gonnella

Truth is more terrifying than fiction in the case of this fantastic book, and I couldn't put it down. This is the story of ordinary hard working merchant-marines thrown into extroidinary circumstances through no fault of thier own, and an incredibly valiant response. I read alot of non-fiction and survival books, and this is the best since THE PERFECT STORM. The author does an excellent job of reporting and provides a credible background that will leave you on the edge of your seat, desperately hoping these brave men can endure. I strongly recommend it to anyone with a military background or any adventurist.

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