ONLINE REVIEW: Journalist Chris Gerrib, October 27, 2006
Surviving The Andrea Doria
I recently finished reading Alive on the Andrea Doria, written by Pierette Domenica Simpson. Her story is similar to many first-generation Americans. Her mother immigrated to America when she was 18 months old, leaving her in the small town of Pranzalito, Italy under the care of her grandparents. It wasn’t until Pierette was nine that her mother, now re-married, was able to send for her. This is where her story diverges from the norm. Pierette and her grandparents sailed to America on the last voyage of the Andrea Doria.
The first chapter of Ms. Simpson’s book is the riveting first-person account of her voyage, culminating with her arrival in New York City on the liner Ile De France. One of the more heartwarming features of this lovely and well-illustrated book is a picture of the telegram Pierette’s grandparents sent to America. “Tutti Salvi,” it says. “All Saved.”
This well-researched book, published in Italian and English, is divided into two parts. Part One, which is two-thirds of the total book, is the story of some of the various people of all walks of life onboard the Andrea Doria that night. It recounts their efforts to survive and rescue loved ones. In one case, that of Doctor Thure Peterson, trying to free his trapped wife, the efforts were in vain. Ms. Simpson does a masterful job of making you feel like you are there, and also refutes one of the sinking’s myths, that of cowardly or incompetent crew members.
The second part, called “Stories of the Ship,” attempts to analyze why the collision happened, why the ship sank and its lure to scuba divers today. Here Ms. Simpson is on less sure ground, but her extensive research generally rescues her. The chapter spent analyzing that the collision between Andrea Doria and the liner Stockholm is more like a legal case then an explanation of what happened. She arrives at the same conclusion that most other mariners did – the collision was largely the fault of the Stockholm – but downplays two contributing factors.
As a former naval officer, the Andrea Doria was explained to me as an object lesson of being “dead right.” Captain Calamai (on the Doria) didn’t have to maneuver. He did – but his four degree course change was imperceptible either visually or by radar. Also, both ships were placing an unwarranted faith in radar bearings. Even with modern equipment, radar bearings can be two or three degrees off. This can result in ships being hundreds of meters from where they think they are, which can change a close passage into disaster.
Despite this quibble, which is difficult to make understandable to a non- mariner, I am a big fan of this book. Ms. Simpson has delivered a well- researched, entertaining and exciting book. Fans of nautical history or just people looking for a good read should go out and find a copy of Alive on the Andrea Doria.