On February 5th, 1978, a storm of epic proportions was developing as a secondary low off of Norfolk, Virginia. This low-level system was captured and steered slowly north-northeast into a pool of very cold artic air. Intensifying rapidly and tapping into the warmer gulf stream Atlantic waters, the storm dumped 30+ inches of snow in metro Boston over the next 3 days.

On Cape Ann, the storm began about 3pm in the afternoon of the 6th. Seas were building rapidly in the increasing northeast winds and the oil tanker ‘Global Hope’, anchored off of Salem, Massachusetts was beginning to drag its anchor and was slipping toward shoal water inside Salem Harbor, off the area known as the Willows. In Gloucester, the Coast Guard’s CO Mike Paradis was staying in constant touch with the lumbering vessel and wanted them to try and steam to deeper water and re-anchor before seas got worse. However, the skipper of the Global Hope was not confident in his ability to navigate safely around several navigational obstacles and complained that his charts were unclear. Being of Greek origin he spoke very broken English and was hard to communicate with as well over the static of the VHF radio.

At about 5pm, the Coast Guard dispatched a small 44-footer, the 44317, to assist the Global Hope but in hind sight, with zero visibility and 30-foot seas, there was nothing the '44 could really do once it got there anyway. A 41-footer was also sent but turned back just outside Gloucester’s Dog Bar breakwater after getting pummeled outside the lee. In fact, the crew on the 44317 never even saw the tanker because they limped past it into Beverly Harbor with no radio or radar in blinding snow with zero visibility.

At about 3:30pm, Gloucester pilot boat Captain Frank Quirk and 2 of his potential crew had stopped by Sandy Bay Communications on Main St. after lunching and socializing at the Cape Ann Marina on the Annisquam River. They brought in a handheld VHF radio and requested additional crystals be installed in it, so they could communicate with the Global Hope and the Coast Guard on 2 separate frequencies. In the days before digital tuning, VHF radios and scanners had to have individual crystals installed for each frequency desired. In the end, the crew took a different handheld unit because of time restraints.

Quirk lingered in the store with owner Joey Enos and (author) employee Chris Spittle as they too were listening to the situation on the store scanner and that is when the captain of the Global Hope decided he could not and would not try to relocate his ship as requested by the commander of Gloucester Station. Quirk used the stores telephone to call down to CO Paradis on Harbor Loop and get a direct update on the situation and asked if he might be needed. Quirk had assisted the Coast Guard many times in the past and received several awards, one in particular just the previous year for the heroic rescue of crew members of the 282-foot tanker Chester Poling off Eastern Point, which split in half. Now seas were continuing to build, and the snow was thick, as dusk set in around 4pm. Enos and Spittle bid Quirk and crew good-bye and good luck as they closed the shop amidst the now quickly accumulating and drifting wind-swept snow. Spittle took home a new scanner to listen to the possible rescue attempt, the Coast Guard operations and DPW frequencies.

Once aboard the his pilot boat Can Do, tied up safely in Gloucester's inner harbor near Cripple Cove, Captain Frank Quirk and 3 friends were continuing to monitoring the situation. Quirk was pondering whether to try and help given his extensive knowledge of the area as he had shuttled between his dock in Gloucester and Salem Harbor to deliver pilots hundreds of times. At the same time, the USCG 44317 was reporting vicious seas, radar failure and turmoil off Bakers island, about halfway between Salem and Gloucester. It was at this moment that Quirk looked at partners Ken Wilkerson and Dave Curley and said that he was going out to help. Quirk called his friend and former Coastie Charlie Bucko and explained the situation. Charlie went right to the dock to meet them. So now Quirk, and his 4 “crew” members, Charlie Bucko, Ken Wilkerson, Dave Curley and Kenny Fuller began the journey to the outer harbor.

Seas inside Gloucester’s Dogbar Breakwater were now 4-8 feet and the Can Do was slow in making the head of the harbor even with wind astern. As they reached Eastern Point and came out from the shelter of land, Quirk reported that seas were 10 feet and he was having trouble seeing through the blinding snow and salt spray. At about 9pm, the 44317, once feared lost, was spotted limping into Beverly Harbor awash but safe. They had taken several huge waves broad side, wiping out their communications and for a while, their engine. Getting the engine finally restarted, they headed for safety ignoring an order from their Commander to drop anchor. Even if Quirk and crew had known this, they were now furiously battling the ever-building 16-20 foot seas at the mouth of the harbor and were running blind with no visibility and minimal radar.

Somewhere during this time they tried turning around and heading back into Gloucester Harbor but made no progress against the now 65 plus mph winds and 24 plus foot seas. Just after midnight Charlie Bucko came on the radio and reported that a window in the cabin had smashed in and they were attempting to stuff a small mattress into it to stop taking on water. The broken window had apparently slashed Frank Quirk's head and ear in the process also, it was heard by those listening on scanners (By yours truly) and in cars along the North Shore. At times transmissions of their peril was radioed by Bucko but not Quirk, leading those to believe Quirk was hurt more than anyone let on. Just after 1am a mayday was broadcast by Bucko.

Continued attempts to raise the 'Can Do' by the Coast Guard went unanswered and calls from radio operators on the shore, Mel Cole and Warren Andrews, also went unanswered until a weak transmission by Quirk just before 2am. Cole had been the only one to hear the 'Can Do' because they could only use the handheld radio, having no on-board power. The northeast winds were likely gusting above 50 and seas were probably 30 plus feet now in exposed waters with blinding snow and sub freezing temperatures.

An amateur radio operator, Cole remained located in his vehicle on a hill down the coast and claimed later that at 2:15am he could hear Quirk trying to answer on his handheld radio. Quirk reported they had run aground, tossed an anchor and were taking a pounding by the storm. This would basically confirm that they had taken on enough water to lose power and the handheld battery operated radio was all that was left. It also meant that instead of being off the Magnolia section of Gloucester and near the mouth of the harbor, they actually were driven southwest into the Gooseberries, an area of ledge off Misery Island. The 'Can Do’s' last transmission was sometime after 3:30am and reported being aground on “the table” and a hatch coming loose. Adding to the fact they had no power to pump out, they presumably came off the shoal and flipped over, being found a mile to the south west of Bakers and Misery Islands.

Captain Frank Quirk, who heroically so many times before went to the rescue of others in danger, and his crew of 4 fathers, sons and husbands, perished in the Blizzard of ’78. The hull of the 'Can Do' was later found sunk off Tinkers Island, near Marblehead with crew member Charlie Bucko still inside, in the engine room. The others washed up along the shore from Marblehead to Short Beach in Nahant.

As dawn arrived on the morning of February 8th, so did the reality that this was truly a storm for the ages. Hundreds of seaside homes were leveled or badly damaged from flooding. Drifts of snow nipped at second story windows. Seawalls had disappeared. Cars were tossed into harbors. Route 128 offered iconic images of hundreds of stranded vehicles, some buried in drifts 6 feet high. The Coast Guards Cape Ann Station weather station on Thacher’s Island recorded peak gusts around hurricane force (74mph). Eastern Massachusetts and its roads were closed for days as the National Guard helped communities dig out. New friends were made, neighbors helped each other out and nine months later delivery rooms were packed with “blizzard babies”. For those who lived through the 'Great Blizzard of '78', it will always be the storm against which all winter nor'easters are measured. For those of us on Cape Ann, it was indeed the 'Storm of the Century', even above the 'Perfect Storm'.

This document was written and created by Chris Spittle of Cape Ann Weather (Facebook, @CapeAnnWeather on Twitter and dot com). Sources include but not limited to the NWS, the Boston Globe, Coastal Zone Management and Boston Media Services.

Route 128

Route 128


Pilot Boat 'Can Do'

Pigeon Cove, Rockport


LDestroyed Lanesville Seawall, Gloucester

 Destroyed Fish Shack, Pigeon Cove, Rockport


Pigeon Cove, Rockport

 Relocated Fish Shack, Pigeon Cove, Rockport


Rockports iconic Motif #1 was destroyed

Rockports iconic Motif #1 was destroyed


Snowfall was reported at 33" on Cape Ann

Surface map at 700am February 7, 1978