A tale of the wreck of the Mary Ellen Carter that foundered off Bishop Rock on the Isles of Scilly. Actually, Stan Rodgers’ Mary Elllen Carter sank in Nova Scotia but we decided to bring it a little closer to home. Why let facts get in the way of a good story! As it is, the song is possibly not factual but a metaphor for overcoming huge odds or loss by sheer bloody-mindedness and determination. So powerful are the lyrics of this song that it is credited for actually saving a life at sea……
On February 12, 1983 the ship Marine Electric was carrying a load of coal from Norfolk, Virginia to a power station in Somerset, Massachusetts. The worst storm in forty years blew up that night and the ship sank at about four o’clock in the morning on the 13th. The ship’s chief mate, 59-year-old Robert M. “Bob” Cusick, was trapped under the deckhouse as the ship went down. His snorkeling experience helped him avoid panic and swim to the surface, but he had to spend the night alone, up to his neck in water, clinging to a partially deflated lifeboat, and in water barely above freezing and air much colder. Huge waves washed over him, and each time he was not sure that he would ever reach the surface again to breathe. Battling hypothermia, he was tempted to allow himself to fall unconscious and let go of the lifeboat. Just then he remembered the concluding stanzas of “The Mary Ellen Carter”.
And you, to whom adversity has dealt the final blow
With smiling bastards lying to you everywhere you go
Turn to, and put out all your strength of arm and heart and brain
And like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.
Rise again, rise again—though your heart it be broken
Or life about to end.
No matter what you’ve lost, be it a home, a love, a friend,
Like the Mary Ellen Carter, rise again.
He started to sing it and soon was alternately shouting out “Rise again, rise again” and holding his breath as the waves washed over him. At seven o’clock that morning a Coast Guard helicopter spotted him and pulled him to safety. Only two men of the other thirty-three who had been aboard survived the wreck. After his ordeal, Cusick wrote a letter to Stan Rogers telling him what had happened and how the song helped save his life.