TRAVERSE CITY — Peer closely enough at the movie screen and you might spot it: the vintage U.S. Coast Guard boat currently sitting outside George Powell’s workshop.

The Suttons Bay shipwright is restoring the boat — a 1940s USCG 36460 motor lifeboat — that stars in water scenes in the Disney feature film “The Finest Hours.” The action-adventure thriller opens nationwide Jan. 29.

The film is based on the most daring small-boat Coast Guard rescue mission in history on Feb. 18, 1952. A massive storm split the oil tanker SS Pendleton in two, trapping more than 30 sailors inside the sinking stern off the coast of Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Coxswain Bernie Webber — played by Chris Pine — and three other crew members from the then-Chatham, Massachusetts Lifeboat Station set out on a 36-foot motor lifeboat to try and save the crew.

“One of the unique things about the rescue is that the boat is rated to rescue 12 people,” said Powell, of the Suttons Bay marine restoration company Planksters. “In this particular rescue they rescued 32 people — and they did it in a raging snowstorm.”

The boat Powell is restoring is owned by Jeff Shook of Fenton. It’s one of four boats — including one discovered in a Boston boneyard and another owned by the Michigan Lighthouse Conservancy Shook directs — used in the movie to stand in for the real boat.

That boat is five years older but is in the same configuration. It’s owned by the Orleans Historical Society in Massachusetts, where it’s on display every summer.

“We restored this boat to the point that the movie could use it,” said Shook, who served as a motor lifeboat technical consultant and also supplied authentic marine radios and microphones for the film. “They didn’t want everything fully done because they needed to make all the boats look the same.”

That meant painting its historically accurate white exterior a cream color so it wasn’t too bright for the cameras and punching a hole in the windshield.

Shook said producers for the film began seeking boats about two and a half years ago, even before hiring a director. They rented the boat for almost a year in 2014-15 for shooting in Massachusetts.

“They went around the country looking for examples of that boat,” Powell said. “This is one of three in the original configuration that operate.”

The 20,000-pound vessel was built in 1941 with a solid bronze keel and represents state-of-the-art construction of the time.

“It was a boat built primarily for survival in extreme weather conditions,” Powell said. “It can roll over and right itself. It’s got multiple watertight compartments so it’s hard to sink.”

Still, Powell said he knew nothing of the dramatic rescue mission until after the boat arrived for restoration in 2012. In 2014 a colleague who had been in the Coast Guard bought the book that inspired the movie.

“You just imagine those desperate circumstances as you’re crawling around the boat and those compartments, and imagining what it would have been like for those people,” Powell said.

The movie focuses on only one rescue but there were two that night, including crewmen from the oil tanker Mercer, which also split in half in the storm. The Coast Guard sent all their assets to that wreck before learning of the Pendleton, Shook said.

“There were 80 people in danger that night. The Coast Guard rescued 70 out of 80,” he said. "In real life the (Pendleton) broke apart so fast there was no time to get a distress call out. They were out there alone with no one knowing until they heard on a short-wave radio that rescue was coming."

Coast Guard rescue team engineer Andy Fitzgerald — acted by Kyle Gallner — still is living and played an extra in the film. The last crewman from the Pendleton died in 2013.

Shook, who works in industrial manufacturing and is devoted to preserving lighthouses, Coast Guard stations and things associated with them, purchased the boat from a Maine owner who died before he could restore it. Currently all structural repairs and restoration is completed and the boat awaits final wiring, equipping, painting and fitting-out.

Powell estimates he and others will have about 1,400 hours of work in the boat by the time restoration is complete in the spring.

Shook plans to display and talk about the boat at a Traverse City conference of the Michigan Lighthouse Alliance in May. Then he'll donate it to the Michigan Maritime Museum in South Haven, where visitors can ride in the boat.

Meanwhile he plans to watch the movie at Grand Blanc's Trillium Cinema, where he and his wife will hold a private, black tie-optional viewing party.

Powell will view it at the Bay Theatre in Suttons Bay, where he'll speak about the boat's restoration in an opening night benefit for the nonprofit Inland Seas Education Association.

“I think I’ll also want to see it in IMAX, too,” he said. “I’ve worked too hard to not get the maximum effect.”

The Bay Theatre and the Inland Seas Education Association will show "The Finest Hours" on Jan. 29 to raise funds for ISEA's Schoolship Program scholarships.

Suttons Bay shipwright George Powell will give a slide show presentation on the restoration of the film's starring boat starting at 6:30 p.m. The movie begins at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $25 for adults, $12 for U.S. Coast Guard personnel, and $15 for children 10 and under, and include a medium popcorn. They're available at the ISEA office at 100 Dame Street in Suttons Bay and at Bahle's in downtown Suttons Bay. Tickets also can be paid for by phone, at 231-271-3077, and picked up at the theater the night of the movie.

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