Reading up on the Big Fitz Edmund Fitzgerald

May 3, 2002
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I am planning to purchase via the internet a good book about the Edmund Fitzgerald. One of the key factors I will look for will be good photo/illustration etc.

What would you all recommend as the top 3 to consider?

thanks in advance

Martin
 

Tracy Smith

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Apr 20, 2012
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I've got a copy of "Gales of November: the Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald". It has eight pages of illustrations, including two charts, five drawings, and eight photos.

This book was written in 1981 and is still in print. I thought it was pretty good.
 

Erik Wood

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I have several books on the Fitzgerald as well as a lot of copies of the Coast Guard reports before her sinking. Those reports detail why she was lost and how. Yet very few folks seem to be interested.
 
May 3, 2002
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Thanks Tracey and Erik.
I recall seeing the Coast Guard report online with some excellent drawings to boot. How do you think she sank?

I think she went under nose first by one rogue wave (before McSorely could reach the RT) and then a second acted on her after end to snap her amidships and finish the job.

thanks

Martin
 

Erik Wood

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The Fitzgerald was long over due for a refit. Her hull was not sound in serveral places. I think it is somewhat amazing that she made it as far as she did.

The immediate list and in take of water indicate that she touched bottom and opened a tank or two in the process.

Captain Bernie Cooper had (Captain Cooper is now sailing the big lake in the sky) long supported this idea. McSorely had come very close to a shoal (I forget which one). From that point on his ship was sinking. He mentioned that the ship seemed to be riding a little lower in the water.

These are all indications that the hull was starting to come apart. How she broke in two??? The rogue wave probably didn't most of the work from estimation. Just an opinion though.
 
May 3, 2002
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Erik, you say,
"The rogue wave probably didn't most of the work from estimation" Can I presume you meant to say "Did"?

I Knew she had been knocked about during her lifetime but your "refit overdue...Amazed she survived that long" puts matters in averydifferent light. Her owners certainly would not have wanted that to get out least they end up on the business end of a very nasty class action from the families of the crew. It all sounds like "Kapital Uber Alles!" right down to "hey let's get them to do one more trip before the gales set in".
cheers

Martin
 
Feb 14, 2011
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What was the name of the ship trailing the Edmund-

was it the Arthur Anderson? I believe she saw the huge wave that eventually hit the Edmund Fitzgerald. Is the Anderson still in service?

regards

tarn Stephanos
 
Dec 4, 2000
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The Fitzgerald was extremely limber right from the start. The hull did have cracks and other problems, which were documented during its annual USCG inspection. That's why the ship's certificate was limited to October, after which the ship was supposed to go into drydock for refit.

The problem is that people suddenly decided to buy more automobiles and washing machines during the late summer. That caused a spike in demand for iron ore to make steel. The owners of the Fitz sought and were granted permission to make one last trip. Last, indeed.

In that sense, it wasn't the greed of the owners who sank the ship, it was the demands of people who wanted new Fords, Chevrolets, Maytags, and Kenmore stoves.

In my new book, "White Hurricane," (cheap plug $$) I detail a natural phenomenon of Lake Superior known as the Three Sisters. This is a wave sequence of three, each larger than the previous. It apparently occurs as a result of reflected energy from waves striking the cliff-like shoreline. This creates what scientists know as "standing waves." When two wave trains cross, if the crests are out of synch the result can be almost calm water. But, if the crests are in synch--look out! A wave equal to the sum of the amplitudes of the two trains can result. So, if a 20 foot storm wave crosses a 15 foot reflected energy wave, you can (in theory) get a 35 foot monster.

The Fitz may have struck on Six Fathom Shoal. That could have allowed ingress of water. Or, it is entirely possible that the hull just got tired of flexing and started to come apart. Either way, the Fitz had a fatal defect in its bilge pumping design. The suctions were along the keel in a sump. This worked fine with the ship level. However, once it started to list the water ran to one side and the pumps were useless.

The combination of water in the cargo hold coupled with the Three Sisters on washing over the deck was too much for the Fitz. The appearance of the wreckage indicates the bow simply plowed into the bottom. The men in the engine room were still on the surface when the bow hit. The midsection disintigrated from the forces involved. The stern appears to have circled the bow, striking it at least once, before coming to rest.

The official investigation was on a par with those of the Titanic. Everybody had something to hide. In the end, the ship's hatch covers were blamed for allowing water into the cargo hold. Nobody believed it, but it was an explanation that got everyone "off the hook."

-- David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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I mentioned a Captain Bernie Cooper in a earlier post. He was the master of the Arthur M. Anderson (a ship that is still in service today). The Anderson was a few miles behind the Ftiz.

As Dave pointed out Oglebay Norton (the company which ran the Fitz) had a few things to hide as did the U.S. Coast Guard.

Some of the interesting facts around the Fitz is that she just disappeared. No call for help, no bodies in the water no nothing. That is a indication from an investigation point of view that things happened rather rapidly.

Captain Dave said: "The Fitz may have struck on Six Fathom Shoal."

This is a common thought. One shared by the vessel behind the Fitz and tracking her on radar. Captain Cooper made this comment more then once. This is more the possible. If true it shows just how destructive a grounding can be (hmm didn't some folks write a paper about that in relation to Titanic. I wonder if that will be discussed in Topeka??).

Daves book "White Hurricane" is well worth the $24 buckarros. Especially if you like Great Lakes history.
 
A

Alex Twitchen

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Is that the same Arthur Anderson that assisted in the sinking of Enron ?

Just a thought !
 
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John Meeks

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No...I think that was the 'Arthur Andersen' - must have been a Swedish registered vessel....

John M
 
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lisagay harrod

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Hello All,

Have always been fascinated by the "Big Fitz", so this thread jumped out at me...

I was under the impression that the "Three Sisters" was sort of a myth (courtesy of a Coasty friend), but given the apparent speed of her demise, and her position on the bottom, it fits. Thanks David...My Coasty friend also believes that she grounded.

I've read the offical USCG report before, and the hatch cover summation just didn't ring true for me either. Too pat perhaps...I'm wondering who stood to lose what in regard to how she sank? Who was let "off the hook", and why? Seemed to me that it was just one of those millons of things that can go wrong in deep water.

"What are your thoughts Hobson...?"

Cheers,
Lisa
 

Erik Wood

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The three sisters (depending on who you talk to) are very real. For some reason three massive waves in rapid sucsession are so rare that nobody believes in it. I have heard first hand of there existance from reliable sources.

Oglebay Norton had a lot to loose by the loss of the Fitz as did the Coast Guard. Everybody was let off the hook except those who are not here to defend themselves.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Lake Superior's "Three Sisters" are similar in most details to other 3-wave rogues reported in sailor literature. Most are officially discounted because it's human nature to think that mankind has better technology than a simple lake or ocean wave.

Why three waves? I dunno. Waves on open water have a regular sequence with a "big" one every so many little waves. This pattern is discernable and can be used to advantage if you have to turn or maneuver. You wait for the big 'un to pass and make your turn.

Those who have experience the "Three Sisters" know they are very, very real. I interviewed a fishtug captain from the Keweenaw Peninsula back in 1979. A few years earlier he had been using two tugs to haul a single net. They were about 1,000 feet apart on a rough, but otherwise unremarkable day. Nobody on his tug saw or felt anything unusual until they heard "Mayday" on the radio from their fellow tug.

They rushed over to find the other tug crushed and barely afloat. The crew survived, some with minor injuries to tell a tale of visit by the "Three Sisters." They said the first wave set up the boat for the second. The third plunged down on the 45-footer, crushing the lightweight steel top. The boat was towed to port, but turned out to be a constructive total loss.

On Lake Erie not far from where I sit there is a spot off Peach Orchard Point on South Bass Island where a "hole" often opens up. You will be cruising in 3 to 5 footers when suddenly you fall off a cliff of 15 feet or more. I know of at least two ferries that have been damaged in this manner. Both captains reported the same thing--rough, but not exceptional water and then, BAM!

These things are very real, but do not lend themselves to scientific study because they are both unpredictable and rare. You could spend a lifetime in the wrong spot waiting for the "Three Sisters", while a ship a few hundred yards away is smashed by a "rogue" wave.

More to the Fitz--at the time of the sinking there were rather strong rumors that Captain McSorley had been promised a bonus for sailing late in the season. These accusations were never (to my knowledge) substantiated. However, such was the practice back in 1913 at the time of my "White Hurricane." At least one captain feared he would lose his job if he did not sail. Jimmy Owen took his ship onto Lake Superior and nobody has seen it since.

--David G. Brown
 

Tracy Smith

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What do you think would have happened if Captain McSorley had refused to sail on that voyage because of the Fitz's condition? Do you suppose they might have forced him to retire, or simply fired him?

Have you ever seen an instance of a Captain refusing to take an unseaworthy ship out?
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Tracy -- The storm he faced on Lake Superior was mild compared to the storm he would have faced on shore if he had refused to sail. McSorley would not only have been throwing the condition of his ship back into the face of his employers, but into the face of the U.S. Coast Guard and the insurance companies as well. Do you think for a minute any of these entities would have rushed to his defense? McSorley might have survived, but probably jerking sodas at a 7-11 store.

--David G. Brown
 

Tracy Smith

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And I suppose if he'd either refused to sail or just decided to pick that time to retire, they would have just found another captain and ended up with the same results.
 

Steve Smith

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re six fathom shoal...

A documentary I have suggests the Fitz couldn't have grounded here, since the depth was actually around 10 fathoms - deep enough for the ship to pass safely. An error in trancribing charts had turned "10" into a "6".

Anyone know the truth of this?
 

Erik Wood

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I have refused to sail a ship because of it's condition twice. Both times I was threatened with being fired. Until my union stepped in and told them, they could either fix the ship, or they could hire 200 new officers and crew while facing a multi million dollar high press law suit.

Captains are usually in a loose/loose situation. If they take a wounded ship out on a trip and something happens to it, it is the Captains fault for not knowing better, if I don't take the ship out I could be out of a job and branded for life. Remember that the industry that McSorely worked for wasn't for safety. It was for money. In Oglebay Norton's mind they had nothing to be safe about that was McSorely's job. Oglebay Norton just wanted money.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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The depth of water over "Six Fathom Shoal" was insufficient that night because of the height of the waves. A ship dropping into the trough could still have touched bottom. And, any time a ship touches something hard--it's bad. The amount of damage was obviously not great or the ship would have disappeared long before it did.

Personally, the more I learn the more I am convinced that the Fitz did not strike on the shoal. I think it just slowly started to come apart a bit at a time. With the seas running over the whole length of the ship, a small crack in the deck or topsides would have been enough to start the fatal flooding.

-- David G. Brown