Blog Tour: Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury by Kinley Bryan

Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury CoverTitle: Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury 

Author: Kinley Bryan


Three sisters. Two Great Lakes. One furious storm.

Based on actual events…

It’s 1913 and Great Lakes galley cook Sunny Colvin has her hands full feeding a freighter crew seven days a week, nine months a year. She also has a dream—to open a restaurant back home—but knows she’d never convince her husband, the steward, to leave the seafaring life he loves.In Sunny’s Lake Huron hometown, her sister Agnes Inby mourns her husband, a U.S. Life-Saving Serviceman who died in an accident she believes she could have prevented. Burdened with regret and longing for more than her job at the dry goods store, she looks for comfort in a secret infatuation.

Two hundred miles away in Cleveland, youngest sister Cordelia Blythe has pinned her hopes for adventure on her marriage to a lake freighter captain. Finding herself alone and restless in her new town, she joins him on the season’s last trip up the lakes.On November 8, 1913, a deadly storm descends on the Great Lakes, bringing hurricane-force winds, whiteout blizzard conditions, and mountainous thirty-five-foot waves that last for days. Amidst the chaos, the women are offered a glimpse of the clarity they seek, if only they dare to perceive it.


Lake Huron

That afternoon waves continued to rock the Titus Brown, though not calamitously so. By three o’clock the Old Man still hadn’t come aft for his meal. Normally Cleve might be the one to take something forward for the captain, but he was chopping vegetables for that evening’s shepherd’s pie. Sunny would take care of it. After putting a couple of sandwiches, some pudding, and fruit in a basket, she went to tell Herb where she was going.

He was in the mess room, a spartan space with two long tables surrounded by stools, all bolted to the deck. Several crew members gathered at one table. Herb sat with his back to the doorway, drinking coffee and recounting a youthful misadventure he’d had with his brothers. The man’s nostalgia for his childhood knew no bounds. There was no need to interrupt his trip down memory lane.

Carrying the basket of food, Sunny went out onto the spar deck. The sky had fully clouded over now, and appeared as if dusk, although it was barely three o’clock in the afternoon. The waves were as high as they’d been at Harbor Beach, maybe higher. The Titus Brown had about ten feet of freeboard, and with growing trepidation she watched the waves nearly spill over the starboard gunwales. She should have done this earlier. In any case, Captain Hanna needed to eat.

Despite the boat’s rolling, her balance was good. Her heartbeat quickened as she clipped herself to the starboard lifeline. If a wave washed her over the side, heaven forbid, she would dangle from the cable until somebody hoisted her on deck and though she’d be terrified out of her wits, she wouldn’t drown.

She squinted against the snow flurries and began to tread the long straight path toward the bow. She would have to cross more than a football field’s length of flat deck before she reached the forecastle. The winds were coming strong and loud out of the northeast. A gust of arctic wind struck her face, so cold and fierce that, for a panicked second, she couldn’t breathe.

With her right hand gripping the lifeline, she continued forward, shifting her weight as the boat rolled, watching the waves as they rose ever closer to deck level. She was halfway to the forecastle when a tremendous wave—twice the size of those nearly breaching the gunwales—reached up from the lake’s surface and smashed into the wheelhouse on the starboard side. She inhaled sharply and watched, awestruck. Moments later the force of the blow reverberated in the metal deck beneath her feet.

Sunny knew the strength of water. An icy fear spread through her limbs, rooting her to the deck. She ought to retreat. Even if she did make it forward the captain wouldn’t want to see her in the wheelhouse when he was dealing with rogue waves like that one. And he might not let her return aft if he deemed it too dangerous. Snowflakes whipped about her furiously. She shifted her weight to steady herself as the freighter rolled from starboard to port and back again. What had she been thinking, coming out in this?

“Mrs. Colvin! Get back here!”

The gravelly voice came from the boilerhouse behind her. It was the bosun.

“It’s too dangerous!” the bosun shouted. “Get back now!”

The worry in his voice scared her more than anything. If the typically unflappable bosun was fearful, then she was in real danger. Yes, she would go back. Without another thought Sunny turned and started for the boilerhouse, more quickly now, all the while adjusting her weight to match the rolling of the ship and readying herself for a tremendous wave to crash over the deck as it had the wheelhouse. With a singleness of focus she watched the deck in front of her meet her feet, her vision obscured by the thick snowflakes whipping past.

In her peripheral vision a big wave approached. An awed terror surged in her chest. Even if she ran as fast as she could, it was going to hit before she reached the boilerhouse. Sunny planted her feet on the deck, bent her knees, and clung to the steel cable, her heart racing. In mere seconds the wave closed in. It broke several feet over the starboard gunwales. Freezing spray stung her face and thick water pushed hard against her. She held herself firm against the force of the water, and when it had finally rushed past her, she was still standing, holding her breath. She exhaled shakily and hurried on. Seas on the Great Lakes were short—there would be little time before the next one.

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Kinley BryanAbout the Author:

Kinley Bryan is an Ohio native who counts numerous Great Lakes captains among her ancestors. Her great-grandfather Walter Stalker was captain of the four-masted schooner Golden Age, the largest sailing vessel in the world when it launched in 1883. Kinley’s love for the inland seas swelled during the years she spent in an old cottage on Lake Erie. She now lives with her husband and children on the Atlantic Coast, where she prefers not to lose sight of the shore. Sisters of the Sweetwater Fury is her first novel.

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