Off the coast, two oil tankers got into difficulties in the rough seas and radioed for help.
Fully in the knowledge that a rescue attempt was akin to a suicide mission, the chief of the Massachusetts Coast Guard sent four men on a tiny lifeboat out into the raging Atlantic Ocean to assist the stricken vessels.
What happened next is told in new film The Finest Hours, with Star Trek’s Chris Pine as lifeboat captain Bernie Webber.
“Because this is a true story you want to do justice to these men and what they accomplished,” says the 35-year-old Los Angeles-born star.
“It’s a very simple story about these guys who have jobs to do.
“There are no monsters, it’s just men against the ocean.
“I think there’s something really exciting about seeing men and Mother Nature go at it because Mother Nature doesn’t care who you are or where you come from, she just does her thing.”
For reasons of time and clarity, the two oil tankers that split apart in real-life has been condensed to one in the film.
What hasn’t been reduced is the obvious humility and selflessness inherent in those whose job it is to save lives, no matter the risk to their own.
“There’s this really great audio recording of Bernie telling the story many years after what happened that night, and just listening to his cadence and how he responded to the gentleman asking the questions, you could tell that he had told the story many times and I got the feeling that he didn’t want to talk about it much any more,” says Chris.
“In talking with people who knew Bernie, I found that this was a great part of who he was — a quiet guy who took very seriously a job that he was very good at.
“I like Bernie because he’s not encumbered by cynicism or irony and he’s not slick and sharp.
“He’s not ‘big city’, he’s a man from a different time.”
To add authenticity, the production filmed at the Chatham Coast Guard station, from which Bernie and his crew launched their foolhardy mission.
The nearby shipyards were used to build a massive water tank holding 800,000 gallons of water.
The actors portraying the men aboard the lifeboat spent weeks in the water tank with rain towers, dump tanks and 200-horsepower fans blowing wind and fake snow in their faces.
It’s not an experience Chris will easily forget — or wish to repeat either.
“The special effects team would spray water on us, which would inevitably be very cold, especially since we were filming in Massachusetts in early winter,” he smiles.
The Finest Hours is in cinemas now.