Cape Cod is steeped in stories of the sea, descendants of seafaring families and cemeteries dotted with gravestones that commemorate the hundreds of lives lost in tragedies at sea.

Journalist and author Brian Murphy explores one story in that long-standing historical record when he speaks about his new book, “Adrift,” at 2 p.m. Sunday at Centerville Historical Museum on Main Street.

In “Adrift,” Murphy recounts the true story of the three-masted packet ship John Rutledge and its fatal collision with an iceberg in the North Atlantic on Feb. 20, 1856, during the return leg of a voyage from Liverpool to New York. The boat carried 123 passengers and a crew of 24, and most went down with the ship after the icy impact splintered the hull.

Five lifeboats with a clutch of survivors drifted off in different directions, four of them disappearing without a trace. Of the remaining 13 passengers on the fifth lifeboat, only young crewman Thomas Nye would survive, with the ship’s log in his possession.

Thomas W. Nye (1834-1905) was a member of the illustrious seafaring Nye family that came to America in the 17th century, settling in Sandwich on Cape Cod and in the Fairhaven and New Bedford areas. Though he very well could have, young Nye, of Fairhaven, didn’t call on his substantial family connections when applying to sail aboard the packet ship John Rutledge. At 22, he chose to sign on as a deckhand for the round-trip transAtlantic voyage.

Piecing together information from newspaper accounts, diaries, family records and the salvaged log (now at Mystic Seaport Museum), Murphy has meticulously reconstructed the events of the tragic collision at sea and its aftermath. He describes the events on the lifeboat that led to the death of 12 of the castaways, with Nye the only survivor. Close to death, Nye was rescued after nine days following an against-all-odds encounter with another vessel taking a more southerly course due to weather and ice.

Author Murphy, who has homes in Centerville and Washington, D.C., was a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press for 20 years, joining the staff of the Washington Post in 2014. He decided to write a book on the Rutledge tragedy after discovering a reference to the wreck and its sole survivor noted in an exhibit about shipwrecks – on view at the Centerville Historical Museum in 2016. The idea “came from practically across the street” from his own Centerville home, he says.

“I like the research,” he says. “It’s the journalist in me.” Once a thread of information is discovered, “It’s important to follow the lead.”

Interestingly, Murphy found more local connections when he learned that 19th-century Centerville resident Alexander Kelley (1824-1856) had been the captain in command of the ill-fated vessel. It was his first run in command of a transAtlantic voyage. The old Kelley family home is located a few doors from the museum, and there’s a grave marker for him in the South Congregational Church cemetery just around the corner. In part, it bears the poignant inscription, “He sleeps beneath the blue lone sea.”

Murphy says he hopes the book not only preserves the story of this tragedy at sea, but also serves as a kind of homage to the many thousands of people who have perished at sea over the years and who remain unnamed, their lives unrecorded. “I’d like people to think about all those lost at sea,” he says, adding that every time he visits the ocean, “I think of their faces … and the hardships they faced.”