Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Fateful November Evening

Thirty eight years ago on this day, the Edmund Fitzgerald sank near Whitefish Point.  All 29 members of her crew perished.  This is probably one of the more famous maritime disasters on the Great Lakes, mainly because it is one of the more recent major disasters.  Also because there is a song written by Gordon Lightfoot about it.
 This is a diorama depicting the William Clay Ford attempting to search for survivors.  The Captain of the William Clay Ford at the time was Don Erickson.  He joined the Arthur M. Anderson in a search for her despite the dangers to his ship and crew.  I kind of wish the stories of these two ships were just as famous as the Edmund Fitzgerald because that was an amazing display of bravery to do that.
 The Edmund Fitzgerald was launched in 1958 and at the time, she was considered as the Queen of the Lakes because she was the first ship built to the new Seaway dimensions (although she was only 729 feet long).  She held that title until 1959, when the SS Murray Bay was launched with her length of 730 feet long.  She could carry a little over 26,000 tons of cargo.  She would hold a number of cargo records (probably until the introduction of the 1000 footers).
 This model is the closest I'll probably ever get to photographing her.  I really wish I could have seen her in person.
 The Edmund Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin at 14:15 on November 9th, 1975.  She was under the command of Captain Ernest McSorley.  At the time, the National Weather Service predicted nasty weather that would hit south of Lake Superior, so Captain McSorley took her on her normal route (rather than hugging the Canadian side of Lake Superior to get some shelter from nasty weather).  The Fitzgerald was delivering taconite to Zug Island in Detroit.  At 17:00, she joined the Arthur M. Anderson which was under the command of Captain Jesse B. "Bernie" Cooper.  At 19:00, the NWS issued gale warnings for all of Lake Superior.  Both ships altered their course to seek shelter in the northern part of Lake Superior.

At 15:30 of November 10, Captain McSorley radioed the Anderson that his ship was taking in water and was starting to develop a list.  Shortly after 16:10, he radioed the Anderson to report that he lost his radar and would like assistance from the Anderson to guide him to Whitefish Bay.   The Anderson was able to guide her through the storm.  The last communication from the Fitzgerald came at 17:10 on November 10, when Captain Cooper asked the Fitzgerald how she was doing.  The Fitzgerald replied, "We are holding our own."  It is believed that she sank shortly after this.

I've posted about the Anderson's story before.  I don't really know much about the Ford though but I do know that both of those ships deserve some credit for their brave acts that night.
You may ask about the anchor here?  Well, it was the bow anchor of the Edmund Fitzgerald and was lost in the Detroit River shortly before she went down.  It's a pretty impressive sight.

But out of the tragedy of the Fitzgerald came a number of improvements.  There were some changes in Great Lakes shipping regulations that mandated improved survival suits, depth finders, positioning systems, increased freeboard and more frequent inspections of ships.  I'm not sure what good the survival suits would have been though because I don't know how quickly the Fitzgerald went down but every little bit helps I suppose.

So take a moment to remember the lost crew of the Fitzgerald and also take a moment to remember the two brave Captains that went out to search for her.

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