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Ex-Coast Guard officer writes nautical thriller

Feb. 7, 2013 - 10:28AM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 7, 2013 - 10:28AM  |  
Bill Schweigart, a former lieutenant in the Coast Guard, dreamed up the plot for "Slipping the Cable" while seasick aboard medium endurance cutter Bear.
Bill Schweigart, a former lieutenant in the Coast Guard, dreamed up the plot for "Slipping the Cable" while seasick aboard medium endurance cutter Bear. (Courtesy of Bill Schweigart)
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If you've ever served under a toxic leader and dreamed of putting him in his place — but could do no more than salute — you can live vicariously through the main character in a former Coast Guardsman's novel.

"Slipping the Cable," written by former Lt. Bill Schweigart, tells the story of a junior officer tormented by his skipper aboard the fictional medium endurance cutter Sentinel.

In the first 10 pages, Captain Aregood forces Ensign Kelly Sensor to go above deck in a severe storm and navigate with a sextant, a nearly impossible task during which he is roughed up and hits his head.

The commanding officer continues to torture Sensor, making him complete tedious paperwork and revoking his liberty. When Sensor tries to escape during a port visit to Key West, Fla., the captain pursues him on land — and the port call turns deadly.

According to the author, the book is all about "sex, drug busts and rock-and-rollin' waves" — but it's not inspired by a particularly awful leadership experience.

"At some point in your career, you're going to run into somebody who you may not necessarily agree with all of their decisions," he said. "In the military, you just have to do your job and focus on the mission. In fiction, you can do whatever you want."

Though Schweigart said he based some characters loosely on his former shipmates aboard the medium endurance cutter Bear, the Coast Guard Academy graduate stresses the book is completely fictional and that the main character, Sensor, is not autobiographical.

Except for one thing — violent seasickness.

"When your head's in a toilet and you're getting seasick, you really wish you were someplace else," he said. "It didn't happen all the time, but it was a really lively ride."

The inspiration for the novel came to him during one of these bouts of seasickness. While wishing to be somewhere far from the ocean, he slowly began developing the characters and plot of "Slipping the Cable."

Broadening the appeal

While Schweigart, who served five years in the Coast Guard, said he thinks nonstop action will make the book popular with the military crowd, he said he went light on the nautical jargon and military acronyms whenever possible to make it accessible to civilians.

Melissa Newman, publisher at Martin Sisters Publishing, declined to offer sales figures for the book but said it has done well with both civilian and military audiences since its October release.

"[Schweigart] is a master at dialogue and narrative, and at marrying those two things together. A lot of elements that go into making a great book, he had them all," Newman said.

Schweigart sees his book as a way to both entertain military audiences and educate the general public about the important, dangerous missions Coasties complete every day.

"I wanted to tell a fun, exciting story using the Coast Guard as a backdrop, and it's an absolutely colorful, fascinating backdrop," he said. "When you feature the Coast Guard in your story, half the work is done. The excitement is in the DNA."

Schweigart is working on his second novel, a supernatural thriller set in Washington, D.C., which Newman said she hopes to publish at Martin Sisters. He's also planning a sequel to "Slipping the Cable."

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