We saw this boat on 3 September 2009. It is like the shape of an ore boat we usually see off the shore of Lake Huron, near the cottage
south of Cheboygan, but it is unusual. I’ve never seen a white boat on the lake! They have always been dark grey or black. It is the only boat we saw that weekend. It’s not surprising that we would not see boats, considering the poor economy. I’d guess there has not been a lot of shipping on the Great Lakes this year. But a white boat like that is a first in all the 30+ years I’ve visited there. Maybe someone knows what it was? …ghost or illusion… just closer to shore? Odd, at any rate.
Now my post today:
The Great Lakes boat, The Edmund Fitzgerald, went down in an early storm on
10 November 1975. It was only fifteen miles short of Whitefish Bay on Lake Superior. All 29 crew were lost. Historically, Superior has been kinder to boats which have passed the point.
(Read details of the event here.
At that time, it felt to me as though our modern technology must/should have been more than a match for the power of the natural world.
But…no. Physics and psychology have proven to be a downfall of many, many, even in recent times… Then, back then, it was shocking. Oh, but then,
are not bad things always shocking?
Lake Superior was certainly a presence while I was growing up. When we lived in the Keweenaw, I lived “across the street” from a dock that loaded taconite on Great Lakes boats. Those boats were huge! But I never did get close to one. The mines were still working in the Copper Country, at least until 1968 or 69… There was a train, which ran on tracks 200 feet from my house, that brought coal from the boats to the mines/processing plants, and taconite back to the boats. They did not do public tours. My friend Mary Ellen’s father was a captain of a vessel on the Lakes. My mother’s cousin from Helsinki was a merchant marine; he once sailed to Detroit and came to visit us in the UP when I was little.
This clip includes footage about the launching of the Edmond Fitzgerald at River Rouge, and an open house in Milwaukee, WI with people touring what was at the time the largest boat on the Lakes.
You’ll have seen, if you watched the whole video, another launch—that of USCGC MACKINAW (WLBB-30) in April of 2005—Marienette, WI
You can see the side-launching technique from many angles, the same technique used to launch the Edmond Fitzgerald. It is said that when the Edmond Fitzgerald was launched, it displaced more water than expected and fell sideways too far. Apparently a man, seeing the wave move toward him had a heart attack and died. Not an auspicious launch perhaps, but looking back on events is done from a different perspective.
Music and lyrics ©1976 by Gordon Lightfoot
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they called “Gitche Gumee.”
The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead
when the skies of November turn gloomy.
With a load of iron ore twenty-six thousand tons more
than the Edmund Fitzgerald weighed empty,
that good ship and true was a bone to be chewed
when the “Gales of November” came early.
The ship was the pride of the American side
coming back from some mill in Wisconsin.
As the big freighters go, it was bigger than most
with a crew and good captain well seasoned,
concluding some terms with a couple of steel firms
when they left fully loaded for Cleveland.
And later that night when the ship’s bell rang,
could it be the north wind they’d been feelin’?
The wind in the wires made a tattle-tale sound
and a wave broke over the railing.
And ev’ry man knew, as the captain did too
’twas the witch of November come stealin’.
The dawn came late and the breakfast had to wait
when the Gales of November came slashin’.
When afternoon came it was freezin’ rain
in the face of a hurricane west wind.
When suppertime came the old cook came on deck sayin’.
“Fellas, it’s too rough t’feed ya.”
At seven P.M. a main hatchway caved in; he said,
“Fellas, it’s bin good t’know ya!”
The captain wired in he had water comin’ in
and the good ship and crew was in peril.
And later that night when ‘is lights went outta sight
came the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Does any one know where the love of God goes
when the waves turn the minutes to hours?
The searchers all say they’d have made Whitefish Bay
if they’d put fifteen more miles behind ‘er.
They might have split up or they might have capsized;
they may have broke deep and took water.
And all that remains is the faces and the names
of the wives and the sons and the daughters.
Lake Huron rolls, Superior sings
in the rooms of her ice-water mansion.
Old Michigan steams like a young man’s dreams;
the islands and bays are for sportsmen.
And farther below Lake Ontario
takes in what Lake Erie can send her,
And the iron boats go as the mariners all know
with the Gales of November remembered.
In a musty old hall in Detroit they prayed,
in the “Maritime Sailors’ Cathedral.”
The church bell chimed ’til it rang twenty-nine times
for each man on the Edmund Fitzgerald.
The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call “Gitche Gumee.”
“Superior,” they said, “never gives up her dead
when the gales of November come early!”