Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Edmund Fitzgerald, Legend Of The Big Fitz

The fateful voyage of the Edmund Fitzgerald:

Fierce autumn storms on the Great Lakes have claimed their victims for centuries. Thousands of vessels have sunk and countless lives have been lost. Native Americans and the French voyageurs in turn mourned their dead. The first recorded tragedy was the sinking of the Le Griffin, belonging to the explorer LaSalle, with a load of furs in autumn of 1680.

Perhaps the most famous of the lakes' tragedies was immortalized by singer Gordon Lightfoot:

The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
of the big lake they call 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 26,000 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

On Nov. 8, 1975, in the Oklahoma panhandle, the beginnings of a storm stirred the air. Picking up force, the storm moved through Iowa and Wisconsin. On Nov. 9, gale warnings were issued for Lake Superior.

By 2:15 p.m. on Nov. 9th, a giant lakes freighter had filled her cargo hold with 26,116 tons of taconite pellets in Superior, Wis., and was on her way south to Detroit, as an uneventful shipping season ran down. That vessel was the Edmund Fitzgerald. [...]

There were 29 men aboard on that November day, captained by Ernest McSorley, 63, of Toledo. [...]

The Fitzgerald came within 20 miles of the vessel Arthur Anderson, under the helm of Captain Jessie B. Cooper, near Two Harbors, Minnesota. The Anderson was also loaded with taconite pellets. The captains commiserated by radio over the storm's increasing intensity, and at 2:am Monday, the morning of the 10th, they decided to change course and take the northern route along Superior's north shore. This would put them in the lee of the Canadian shoreline, which hopefully would protect them from the gale force winds which were whipping up the seas.

At 7 a.m. Captain McSorley contacted his company to report that weather would delay his arrival at the Soo Locks. The Anderson was following the Fitzgerald at a distance of nearly 16 miles and keeping in contact.

Winds were high, and getting worse. Waves were eight to 10 feet in the early afternoon and increasing in power and size as the day wore on. [...]

As heavy snow began to fall, visibility became nil and the Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared from the Anderson's view. Waves reached 12 to 16 feet, whipped by winds gusting up to 90 miles per hour at the Soo Locks, which were shut down. The Coast Guard issued an emergency warning: all ships were to find safe harbor. By 6 p.m. the crashing waves were 25 feet high.

By Captain Cooper's reckoning, the Fitzgerald passed closer to the Caribou Island Six Fathom Shoal than he would have taken his own vessel.

McSorley's radar went out so he slowed his ship to allow the Anderson to catch up and guide him. He was unable to pick up the Whitefish Point radio beacon or see its light. The Fitzgerald also had two vents damaged, he reported, and was listing.

At 7:10 p.m. the Anderson radioed the Fitzgerald to warn of another vessel nine miles ahead, but they assured McSorley that on present course the ship would pass by to the west. The first mate of the Arthur Anderson signed off by asking, "How are you making out with your problem?" The Fitzgerald replied: "We are holding our own."

It was the last contact with the ship.

The snow was letting up and the Anderson crew began sighting other ships. None were the Fitzgerald. The 729-foot mammoth was missing.


Videos are available for purchase at Edmund Fitzgerald.com:

You've heard the story of the ill-fated Edmund Fitzgerald, the 729-foot freighter that sank in a violent Lake Superior storm in November 1975. There has been no greater loss in Great Lakes history and very few disasters anywhere have captured the imaginations of marine enthusiasts in such a compelling fashion. Southport Video takes you to the site of the famous vessel's resting place. Compelling underwater footage of the wreck as it is today, and rare footage of her launch and sailing, combined with numerous rare photographs, beautiful artwork, computer animation, and exclusive expert testimonials, present the story of the Fitzgerald's colorful past and tragic demise.

* * * * *

A low-pressure system moved towards the Great Lakes in the early morning hours of November 9th, 1975. By the time this system reached Lake Superior it would be called a Cyclone by the American Meteorological Society. Twenty-nine men stood in the path of this storm, the crew of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald is arguably the most famous shipwreck story told around the Great Lakes. Yet the question remains in the middle of all who hear her tale. What really happened to the Mighty Fitz that cold November night? Some say Lake Superior split her in two and sent her to the bottom, others say she hit a rocky outcropping or shoal that punched a hole clean through her belly. Still others say it was the crew or faulty equipment or an unidentified object. The movie explores all of the possibilities and takes a serious look into the Edmund Fitzgerald Controversy.

With the greatest collection of Edmund Fitzgerald experts and historians investigating all the possible theories behind the famous modern iron ore carrier’s fate, stunning underwater footage, rare photographs and beautiful artwork. This fascinating and educational film is a comprehensive look into one of the biggest questions the maritime community has ever faced.

The Edmund Fitzgerald at Boatnerd.com

S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online

Storm Warning: The Story of the Edmund Fitzgerald

The sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald - November 10, 1975

National Transportation Safety Board: "Marine Accident Report SS EDMUND FITZGERALD Sinking in Lake Superior on November 10, 1975", May 4, 1978. (pdf)

The Witch of November: Saga of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Mary A. Dempsey (pdf)

Sonar Image of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Here is a short video of the 767 ft. Arthur M. Anderson of the Great Lakes Fleet as it sails southbound under the Ambassador Bridge getting "mail by pail" from the J. W. Westcott, the "floating post office" with its own zipcode:


Previous Night Bird's Fountain tributes: 2005, 2006 and 2007.

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