Inferno at Sea Selected for 2015 Havana International Book Fair

Beach Haven residents Gretchen Coyle and Deborah Whitcraft will head back to Cuba early next year as their book, Inferno at Sea: Stories of Death and Survival Aboard the Morro Castle, was recently chosen to be part of the 2015 Havana International Book Fair. Before the book was published by Down The Shore Publishing in 2012, the authors spent 10 days in Cuba conducting interviews and research regarding the infamous Morro Castle fire, one of New Jersey’s worst shipwrecks, which killed 137 crew members and passengers on Sept. 8, 1934.

“Deb, Ray Fisk – our Down The Shore publisher – and I are extremely honored that Inferno at Sea has been chosen by Eduardo Fernandez Collado, Cuba’s Director General Feria Internacional del Libro de la Habana, and his committee to be part of the 2015 Havana International Book Fair,” said Coyle. “… Deb and I did research in Cuba in 2011 on Cubans aboard the doomed ship for our book and have made a number of friends we communicate with by email and Facebook, so we are anxious to go back.”

A luxury ocean liner that transported passengers to and from New York and Cuba during the Great Depression in the 1930s, the SS Morro Castle became engulfed in flames eight nautical miles off Long Beach Island. Many aboard the cruise jumped from the fully engulfed ship into a churning Atlantic, and bodies washed ashore as far as Sea Girt. The incident left many people with unanswered questions.

Coyle and Whitcraft’s book tells of the close ties between the United States and Cuba during the 1930s, the effect of the Great Depression on both countries and issues of safety aboard ships at the time – a problem most people thought had been remedied after the Titanic disaster.

“We’re honored to have our book selected by the committee and to be a part of this event recognizing books, authors, historians and publishers from around the world,” said Fisk. “The tragedy of the Morro Castle described in this book shows how connected we are as humans, despite different political realms. The selection recognizes that.”

More than a hundred publishing houses are expected be in attendance at the fair, set to take place at several locations in Cuba Feb.13 to 20. Speakers and presentations, book vendors, poetry readings, children’s activities, art exhibitions and concerts will all be part of the program.

The event, which draws over 600,000 people annually, began in 1982 to promote literacy in the Caribbean nation. Many American writers, including Alice Walker and Libby Fischer Hellman, have participated in the fair.

Coyle and Whitcraft often give local talks and slideshow presentations on Inferno at Sea, whichfocuses on the human side of the disaster. They have detailed the lives of many who were aboard the Morro Castle when the fire erupted.

The authors will speak at the New Jersey Maritime Museum on Friday, Sept. 5, at 7 p.m., and another presentation will be held at the Little Egg Harbor branch of the Ocean County Library on Wednesday, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m.

For more information about the upcoming events, visit

Kelley Anne Essinger, The
August 7, 2014

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