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Talking with 'Lost Boys of Montauk' author Amanda Fairbanks

Sag Harbor writer Amanda M. Fairbanks, whose book

Sag Harbor writer Amanda M. Fairbanks, whose book is "The Lost Boys of Montauk," poses on the dock at Montauk. Credit: Lori Hawkins

On Long Island's easternmost tip stands the Montauk Lighthouse, a fitting emblem for Montauk given its history as a fishing village. That storied past began to change in the 1970s with the arrival of celebrities like Andy Warhol and Halston and Wall Street powerbrokers who turned the hamlet into a tony destination for Manhattan’s monied elite. The 1984 disappearance offshore of Wind Blown and its Montauk-based crew — Captain Mike Stedman, first mate Dave Connick, and mates Michael Vigilant and Scott Clarke — came to symbolize the end of the town as a fishing community as it became instead the last stop in "the Hamptons."

In "The Lost Boys of Montauk," Sag Harbor-based writer Amanda M. Fairbanks, through skillful reporting and masterful writing, captures in haunting detail the lives of the four young crewmen and the foregone world they came to represent. She recently spoke to Newsday about her book.

How did you come across the story?

I was a staff writer at The East Hampton Star, after working at The New York Times and Huffington Post, and in 2016, my editor, Biddle Duke, mentioned the great untold story of the Hamptons. It was about a fishing boat, four young men who lost their lives, and Mary, the dynamic complicated widow who was left behind. He put me in touch with Mary. Over the years, I became obsessed as I learned who these men were by speaking to the women who loved them. The story became a Pandora’s box as I realized all the hidden layers to the narrative. For the people involved and for the townspeople, the story was a living history.

Talk about the fishing industry of which Captain Mike and his men were a part.

In 1984, they happened to be in the sweet spot of tilefishing. They’d go hundreds of miles offshore and catch thousands of pounds of bottom-feeding tilefish. … Wind Blown was lost in a nor’easter in the Atlantic Ocean. From "Moby Dick" to "The Perfect Storm," we are fascinated by stories about the ocean.

These men got on a boat, they go out, they die at sea, and we don’t really know what happened in the last minutes of their lives. For me, the drama unfolds on land. Who were these men?

Describe Mike Stedman.

When he died, he was 32, the father of three young boys. He and Mary had fallen in love at first sight in a bar in Montauk on Christmas Eve night and gotten married. His father had gone to Harvard and risen through the ranks of the United Nations. Mike spent much of his high school years in Africa where his father was on a diplomatic mission. Mike wrestled with being the son of a larger-than-life man. He had just bought Wind Blown. He was no longer the captain of another man’s vessel. He was the owner and entitled to a larger share of the catch.

What was Dave Connick like?

When he died, he was 23. Dave grew up in a Fifth Avenue penthouse. His family had a house in East Hampton; they belonged to the Maidstone Club. They had this fancy life, and he, like Mike, broke away from his father. The day Dave graduated from high school in the city he moved to Montauk and started working as Mike’s first mate. He idolized Mike.

You have described Mike and Dave as rebels.

The sinking of the boat was not a tragedy because these men were doing what they loved. It would have been a tragedy if Mike and Dave had been stockbrokers and gone with the company line their fathers set up for them. But they loved the ocean. There’s such a freedom in that.

Ultimately, your book is about sudden loss.

For everyone in the story, the lack of closure became an issue to confront. As human beings, we need the period at the end of a sentence. We need to see the body of the person we loved to process what happened. One of the mothers went to her grave believing her son was still out there. That sort of magical thinking we do with our brains comes about when there is no closure.

How did writing this book change you?

The pandemic has made us think about our limited time on earth and what kind of stories we want to tell. There is something about this story that touches me deeply. I’m never not at the water when I don’t think about these men. I have such affection for them.

The Montauk in your book doesn’t exist anymore.

The place is radically different than what it was. I want to live in that version of Montauk. There is something innocent and wonderful about it. It’s a slice of paradise of a bygone era.

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