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Sun Nov 10, 2019, 07:49 AM

44 Years Ago Today; "When the gales of November came early..."

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Edmund_Fitzgerald


SS Edmund Fitzgerald, c. 1971

SS Edmund Fitzgerald was an American Great Lakes freighter that sank in a Lake Superior storm on November 10, 1975, with the loss of the entire crew of 29. When launched on June 7, 1958, she was the largest ship on North America's Great Lakes, and she remains the largest to have sunk there.

For 17 years, Edmund Fitzgerald carried taconite iron ore from mines near Duluth, Minnesota, to iron works in Detroit, Toledo, and other Great Lakes ports. As a workhorse, she set seasonal haul records six times, often breaking her own previous record. Captain Peter Pulcer was known for piping music day or night over the ship's intercom while passing through the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers (between Lakes Huron and Erie), and entertaining spectators at the Soo Locks (between Lakes Superior and Huron) with a running commentary about the ship. Her size, record-breaking performance, and "DJ captain" endeared Edmund Fitzgerald to boat watchers.

Carrying a full cargo of ore pellets with Captain Ernest M. McSorley in command, she embarked on her ill-fated voyage from Superior, Wisconsin, near Duluth, on the afternoon of November 9, 1975. En route to a steel mill near Detroit, Edmund Fitzgerald joined a second freighter, SS Arthur M. Anderson. By the next day, the two ships were caught in a severe storm on Lake Superior, with near hurricane-force winds and waves up to 35 feet (11 m) high. Shortly after 7:10 p.m., Edmund Fitzgerald suddenly sank in Canadian (Ontario) waters 530 feet (88 fathoms; 160 m) deep, about 17 miles (15 nautical miles; 27 kilometers) from Whitefish Bay near the twin cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario—a distance Edmund Fitzgerald could have covered in just over an hour at her top speed. Although Edmund Fitzgerald had reported being in difficulty earlier, no distress signals were sent before she sank; Captain McSorley's last message to Arthur M. Anderson said, "We are holding our own." Her crew of 29 perished, and no bodies were recovered. The exact cause of the sinking remains unknown, though many books, studies, and expeditions have examined it. Edmund Fitzgerald may have been swamped, suffered structural failure or topside damage, been shoaled, or suffered from a combination of these.

The disaster is one of the best-known in the history of Great Lakes shipping. Gordon Lightfoot made it the subject of his 1976 hit song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" after reading an article, "The Cruelest Month", in the November 24, 1975, issue of Newsweek. The sinking led to changes in Great Lakes shipping regulations and practices that included mandatory survival suits, depth finders, positioning systems, increased freeboard, and more frequent inspection of vessels.

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Final voyage and wreck


The National Transportation Safety Board map of probable course of Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur M. Anderson

Edmund Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconsin, at 2:15 p.m. on the afternoon of November 9, 1975, under the command of Captain Ernest M. McSorley. She was en route to the steel mill on Zug Island, near Detroit, Michigan, with a cargo of 26,116 long tons (29,250 short tons; 26,535 t) of taconite ore pellets and soon reached her full speed of 16.3 miles per hour (14.2 kn; 26.2 km/h). Around 5 p.m., Edmund Fitzgerald joined a second freighter under the command of Captain Jesse B. "Bernie" Cooper, Arthur M. Anderson, destined for Gary, Indiana, out of Two Harbors, Minnesota. The weather forecast was not unusual for November and the National Weather Service (NWS) predicted that a storm would pass just south of Lake Superior by 7 a.m. on November 10.

SS Wilfred Sykes loaded opposite Edmund Fitzgerald at the Burlington Northern Dock #1 and departed at 4:15 p.m., about two hours after Edmund Fitzgerald. In contrast to the NWS forecast, Captain Dudley J. Paquette of Wilfred Sykes predicted that a major storm would directly cross Lake Superior. From the outset, he chose a route that took advantage of the protection offered by the lake's north shore in order to avoid the worst effects of the storm. The crew of Wilfred Sykes followed the radio conversations between Edmund Fitzgerald and Arthur M. Anderson during the first part of their trip and overheard their captains deciding to take the regular Lake Carriers' Association downbound route. The NWS altered its forecast at 7:00 p.m., issuing gale warnings for the whole of Lake Superior. Arthur M. Anderson and Edmund Fitzgerald altered course northward seeking shelter along the Ontario coast where they encountered a winter storm at 1:00 a.m. on November 10. Edmund Fitzgerald reported winds of 52 knots (96 km/h; 60 mph) and waves 10 feet (3.0 m) high. Captain Paquette of Wilfred Sykes reported that after 1 a.m., he overheard McSorley say that he had reduced the ship's speed because of the rough conditions. Paquette said he was stunned to later hear McSorley, who was not known for turning aside or slowing down, state that "we're going to try for some lee from Isle Royale. You're walking away from us anyway ... I can't stay with you."

At 2:00 a.m. on November 10, the NWS upgraded its warnings from gale to storm, forecasting winds of 35–50 knots (65–93 km/h; 40–58 mph).[42] Until then, Edmund Fitzgerald had followed Arthur M. Anderson, which was travelling at a constant 14.6 miles per hour (12.7 kn; 23.5 km/h), but the faster Edmund Fitzgerald pulled ahead at about 3:00 a.m. As the storm center passed over the ships, they experienced shifting winds, with wind speeds temporarily dropping as wind direction changed from northeast to south and then northwest. After 1:50 p.m., when Arthur M. Anderson logged winds of 50 knots (93 km/h; 58 mph), wind speeds again picked up rapidly, and it began to snow at 2:45 p.m., reducing visibility; Arthur M. Anderson lost sight of Edmund Fitzgerald, which was about 16 miles (26 km) ahead at the time.

Shortly after 3:30 p.m., Captain McSorley radioed Arthur M. Anderson to report that Edmund Fitzgerald was taking on water and had lost two vent covers and a fence railing. The vessel had also developed a list. Two of Edmund Fitzgerald's six bilge pumps ran continuously to discharge shipped water. McSorley said that he would slow his ship down so that Arthur M. Anderson could close the gap between them.[45] In a broadcast shortly afterward, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) warned all shipping that the Soo Locks had been closed and they should seek safe anchorage. Shortly after 4:10 p.m., McSorley called Arthur M. Anderson again to report a radar failure and asked Arthur M. Anderson to keep track of them. Edmund Fitzgerald, effectively blind, slowed to let Arthur M. Anderson come within a 10-mile (16 km) range so she could receive radar guidance from the other ship.

For a time, Arthur M. Anderson directed Edmund Fitzgerald toward the relative safety of Whitefish Bay; then, at 4:39 p.m., McSorley contacted the USCG station in Grand Marais, Michigan, to inquire whether the Whitefish Point light and navigation beacon were operational. The USCG replied that their monitoring equipment indicated that both instruments were inactive. McSorley then hailed any ships in the Whitefish Point area to report the state of the navigational aids, receiving an answer from Captain Cedric Woodard of Avafors between 5:00 and 5:30 p.m. that the Whitefish Point light was on but not the radio beacon. Woodard testified to the Marine Board that he overheard McSorley say, "Don't allow nobody on deck," as well as something about a vent that Woodard could not understand.[51] Some time later, McSorley told Woodard, "I have a 'bad list', I have lost both radars, and am taking heavy seas over the deck in one of the worst seas I have ever been in."

By late in the afternoon of November 10, sustained winds of over 50 knots (93 km/h; 58 mph) were recorded by ships and observation points across eastern Lake Superior. Arthur M. Anderson logged sustained winds as high as 58 knots (107 km/h; 67 mph) at 4:52 p.m., while waves increased to as high as 25 feet (7.6 m) by 6:00 p.m. Arthur M. Anderson was also struck by 70-to-75-knot (130 to 139 km/h; 81 to 86 mph) gusts and rogue waves as high as 35 feet (11 m).

The last communication from the ship came at approximately 7:10 p.m., when Arthur M. Anderson notified Edmund Fitzgerald of an upbound ship and asked how she was doing. McSorley reported, "We are holding our own." She sank minutes later. No distress signal was received, and ten minutes later, Arthur M. Anderson lost the ability either to reach Edmund Fitzgerald by radio or to detect her on radar.

Search
Captain Cooper of Arthur M. Anderson first called the USCG in Sault Ste. Marie at 7:39 p.m. on channel 16, the radio distress frequency. The USCG responders instructed him to call back on channel 12 because they wanted to keep their emergency channel open and they were having difficulty with their communication systems, including antennas blown down by the storm. Cooper then contacted the upbound saltwater vessel Nanfri and was told that she could not pick up Edmund Fitzgerald on her radar either. Despite repeated attempts to raise the USCG, Cooper was not successful until 7:54 p.m. when the officer on duty asked him to keep watch for a 16-foot (4.9 m) boat lost in the area. At about 8:25 p.m., Cooper again called the USCG to express his concern about Edmund Fitzgerald and at 9:03 p.m. reported her missing. Petty Officer Philip Branch later testified, "I considered it serious, but at the time it was not urgent."

Lacking appropriate search-and-rescue vessels to respond to Edmund Fitzgerald's disaster, at approximately 9:00 p.m., the USCG asked Arthur M. Anderson to turn around and look for survivors. Around 10:30 p.m., the USCG asked all commercial vessels anchored in or near Whitefish Bay to assist in the search. The initial search for survivors was carried out by Arthur M. Anderson, and a second freighter, SS William Clay Ford. The efforts of a third freighter, the Toronto-registered SS Hilda Marjanne, were foiled by the weather. The USCG sent a buoy tender, Woodrush, from Duluth, Minnesota, but it took two and a half hours to launch and a day to travel to the search area. The Traverse City, Michigan, USCG station launched an HU-16 fixed-wing search aircraft that arrived on the scene at 10:53 p.m. while an HH-52 USCG helicopter with a 3.8-million-candlepower searchlight arrived at 1:00 a.m. on November 11. Canadian Coast Guard aircraft joined the three-day search and the Ontario Provincial Police established and maintained a beach patrol all along the eastern shore of Lake Superior.

Although the search recovered debris, including lifeboats and rafts, none of the crew were found. On her final voyage, Edmund Fitzgerald's crew of 29 consisted of the captain, the first, second and third mates, five engineers, three oilers, a cook, a wiper, two maintenance men, three watchmen, three deckhands, three wheelsmen, two porters, a cadet and a steward. Most of the crew were from Ohio and Wisconsin; their ages ranged from 20-year-old watchman Karl A. Peckol to Captain McSorley, 63 years old and planning his retirement.

Edmund Fitzgerald is among the largest and best-known vessels lost on the Great Lakes but she is not alone on the Lake Superior seabed in that area. In the years between 1816, when Invincible was lost, and 1975, when Edmund Fitzgerald sank, the Whitefish Point area had claimed at least 240 ships.

Wreck discovery and surveys
A U.S. Navy Lockheed P-3 Orion aircraft, piloted by Lt. George Conner and equipped to detect magnetic anomalies usually associated with submarines, found the wreck on November 14, 1975. Edmund Fitzgerald lay about 15 miles (13 nmi; 24 km) west of Deadman's Cove, Ontario, 17 miles (15 nmi; 27 km) from the entrance to Whitefish Bay to the southeast, in Canadian waters close to the international boundary at a depth of 530 feet (160 m).[50] A further November 14–16 survey by the USCG using a side scan sonar revealed two large objects lying close together on the lake floor. The U.S. Navy also contracted Seaward, Inc., to conduct a second survey between November 22 and 25.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 07:53 AM

1. It would be hard for me to imagine a song more evocative of this tragedy...

The dark, cold winds of November bring this all back every year. To all lost and all left behind.


And to Gordon Lightfoot for his timeless remembrance.

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Response to hlthe2b (Reply #1)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 11:21 AM

14. The song is absolutely haunting. I agree that it is evocative of the event.

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Response to lastlib (Reply #2)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 08:05 AM

3. Crud. I did a search on "Edmund Fitzgerald"

Nothing recent came up.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Reply #3)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 09:56 AM

6. It's okay. I would have missed the anniversary had it not been for your post.

After refreshing my understanding of the circumstances of the tragedy. I placed my own post on Facebook.

Thanks for posting!

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Reply #3)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 11:47 AM

16. I guess I did it incognito....

...without using the name. 'Sa'right!


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Response to lastlib (Reply #2)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 11:08 AM

13. I too did a search and didn't find anything so I decided to post something.

Great minds etc....


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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 08:11 AM

4. Thanks for posting this n/t

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 09:37 AM

5. I live in the region where some of the crew members lived.

One of the daughters is a good friend. This is always a sad few days for her and the remaining family.

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Response to usaf-vet (Reply #5)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 10:46 AM

10. I was in Ashland, WI that night...

...interviewing for a job...

I spent the next 10 years in Ashland and know that the residents never forget this anniversary.

It was raining and windy in Ashland while the interview was going (it started at 5 PM) on but Lake Superior was really churning...

When we got back to our relatives place in Mellen we saw a Duluth Weatherman (KBJR I think)somberly read the transmission from the Anderson that she had lost contact with the Fitz...and she was presumed lost...

We stayed with relatives in Mellen (25 miles south) that night where it SNOWED...over 12 inches of Thundersnow...had to dig our car out that morning.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 10:15 AM

7. Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point, Michigan

If you're ever in eastern Upper Peninsula Michigan, be sure to visit this little gem of a museum. It features the history and models of many wrecks, including artifacts brought up from the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 10:21 AM

8. RIP



Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours....

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 10:32 AM

9. I remember seeing an hour-long documentary (A&E, I believe)

Was wonderfully done

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Original post)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 10:56 AM

11. I remember it. My grandad used to sail the lakes & knew Captain McSorley well.

I remember my mom, dad, & grandparents all piling into the car every once in a while on a Sunday and driving up to Sault Ste Marie to the Soo Locks and watch the freighters go through, then eat Sunday dinner at Tyson's REstaurant in Mackinaw City on the way back home. Their chicken pot pies were awesome. "Big Fitz" was H-U-G-E, the biggest ship I'd ever seen.

I remember the storm, too. It was really bad even in the lower peninsula. I was in college by then & my boyfriend & I drove the 20 miles to Lake Michigan to watch the waves crashing onto the Grand Haven pier. Little did we know of the tragedy ensuing on Lake Superior.

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Response to catbyte (Reply #11)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 11:06 AM

12. Wow!!! You were there!

I say that not in any historical excitement, but with respect that you experienced the incident first-hand, from the shore.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Reply #12)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 11:53 AM

17. The waves whipping up on Lake Michigan were at least 25'-30' high & the sleet was

coming down sideways. We mostly just stayed in the car, watching the waves crashing over the top of the lighthouse at the end of the pier. It was wild. The car was rocking in the wind. There are almost always a few morons who venture onto the pier on days like that, but not that day. If it was that bad on Lake Michigan which is a much smaller body of water and much farther south, I can't imagine what it was like on Superior that day & night. I remember calling my grandad when news that "Big Fitz" was missing & even he couldn't believe a ship that big could go down so quickly. He'd known Captain McSorley for years. Grandad had retired from working on freighters by the early 1960s so he didn't know any other crew member.

Gordon Lightfoot really captured the essence of the tragedy with his song. It haunts me every time I hear it.

R.I.P. to the crew.

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Response to catbyte (Reply #11)

Sun Nov 10, 2019, 11:27 AM

15. Fascinating. Thanks for sharing your personal experience.

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