Author Topic: The gales of November, a Great Lakes shipwreck  (Read 208 times)

Offline TelePlay

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The gales of November, a Great Lakes shipwreck
« on: November 10, 2017, 09:04:21 AM »
This fateful story actually started 42 years ago yesterday afternoon, November 9, 1975, when after loading on 26+ tons of taconite (iron ore) pellets at a port in Superior, Wisconsin (on the far west end of Lake Superior) to be delivered to the Lake Huron iron works plants in Detroit and Toledo, the ship left port on its last journey. In a bit more than 24 hours later, the Great Lakes iron ore carrier Edmund Fitzgerald broke into two pieces with the loss of all 29 crew members.

Lake Superior is an east-west great lake and strong, west winds can cause the east end to become treacherous. I remember that day well having grown up and was currently living on Lake Michigan just east of Green Bay. The reason for its sinking are still controversial. Some say a deck hatch opened taking on wave water, some think the ship taking the northern route was blown of course and ended up too close to the east end shoals where it hit bottom. Whatever the cause(s), the end came late in the afternoon of November 10th when the 729 foot long ship broke into two pieces in about 535 feet of water. It sank quickly, some 15 miles short of the shelter of Whitefish Point. None of the bodies were ever recovered and are thought to be within the ship to this very day.

The wreckage was found 4 days later by a U.S. Navy plane equipped with a magnetic anomaly detector. In May of 1976, the US Navy returned with its CURV III state of the art submersible unit and took 43,000 feet of video tape and 900 photographs of the wreck, the bow sitting upright and the stern inverted in the lake bed. From the photos, artists created images of the ship's final resting place. The Edmund Fitzgerald is the most discussed ship wreck except for the Titanic with much of that attention owed to Gordon Lightfoot's haunting ballad, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."

The full story of that day can be found here, quite a good read in that another ore carrier, the Anderson, was some 10 miles behind the Fitzgerald on the same course and the two captains were in radio contact with each other. The Anderson Captain gave a chilling report of the weather that day including the 12 to 16 foot waves rolling over the ships from the west. I can't imagine what it would feel like to be on the bridge, feel a huge wave hit the ship on the stern, then wash along the top length of the 700+ foot long ship toward the bridge and then when hitting the front end bridge superstructure, send the complete bow, the bridge, downward submerging it completely until the ship popped back up and righted itself. These ships were made to take it unless compromised in some way and taking on water.
« Last Edit: November 10, 2017, 11:16:29 AM by TelePlay »
            John . . .


Offline AE_Collector

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Re: The gales of November, a Great Lakes shipwreck
« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2017, 11:02:09 AM »
Thanks for the research John. Gordon Lightfoot’s song does make me listen carefully to the words each time I hear it on the radio.

Of all the Cruises we have been on we have been very lucky with the weather. We have had some memorably rough water on occasion but really nothing of any consequence. The *thud* is always a little surprising when a wave or swell slams the side if the ship with what I would call a direct hit (IE: square on rather than rolling down the side of the ship). These happen randomly in mildly rough seas. I’ve heard people say silly things like “we must have just hit a whale”. Now if the seas are just a little more active and maybe it is dependant on just how the swell hits the side of the ship, it can start a side to side vibration in the hull that you can literally feel travel from one end of the ship and back again, and frequently back and forth a second time before subsiding. This all happens in 2-3 seconds. Mariners must have terms to descibe this phenomena but I don’t know what it is.