Reading up on the Big Fitz Edmund Fitzgerald

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John Meeks

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Erik,

Just read your post...good for you!

My old man was a merchant mariner, I'm in the construction industry....

Nobody should put great faith in all the 'BS' they see in documentary videos etc. etc. about how 'high tech' and safety conscious everyone is these days!

In my experience - if it will 'save a buck' - it's good!

You would be amazed at some of the things I've been asked to design in the interest of 'making' money in my industry.

Sadly, I don't have a union to look after me - I just have to get belligerent!

Regards,

John M
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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David Brown said: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.

Hmmmm.....

David Brown also said:A ship dropping into the trough could still have touched bottom. And, any time a ship touches something hard--it's bad.

Hmmm x 2.......

This is something very interesting. What could have caused the sudden list and intake of water??? If it wasn't the ship touching bottom and it wasn't a vent cover or covers, what was it???

Sudden list + sudden intake of water = grounding
USUALLY!!!

Not always but usually. I wonder if Captain Dave has a trick up his sleeve???
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Erik -- No tricks, just observations and thoughts based on conversations with a couple of people close to the Fitz. A Coastie (who is long retired) told me about some of the cracks in the floors and longitudinals. He also suggested that the inspectors were "taken care of" rather handsomely that spring for passing the ship into service. Don't know about the inspector part of the story, but I do know that his discussion of problems within the structure match what i have read about that class of vessels.

The Fitz was welded of modern steel. What I know of ship breakups is largely rooted in older technology in terms of both steel and rivet construction. However, most Great Lakes straight deckers seem to come apart first on deck and then collapse at the keel--from eyewitness descriptions. I have not seen any engineering forensics on this, just read what sailors have said.

As I understand the pumping arragements on the Fitz, dewatering was impossible once the ship listed. Water could only be educted from the centerline, so a list moved the water outboard to the curve of the bilge where it could not be removed. Thus, no matter where the ingress, once the Fitz leaned over--the fat lady was warbling.

If the ship did touch Six Fathom Shoal, it may have been because the boat was already waterlogged through a variety of sources. That would have increased the draft somewhat. And, if the ship was listed, the low side would have been even deeper--exposing the curve of the bilge to the bottom.

My cousin's husband served on the Fitz for several years as chief steward. He showed me pictures of the ship visibly bending in a seaway. One was of a "hill" in the ratway so tall you could not see from bow to stern. Those stories that in a storm you could look out a portside porthole on the stern and read the name on the starboard side of the bow aren't far from the truth.

--David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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Oh, now I am very very very very confused. So you are saying that when the Fitz left Duluth or Superiour she was sinking from that point on. If I recall rightly Captain Cooper said that McSorely didn't report the list of the water until just after they passed the shoal. Is that right??

I guess I just think of the suddeness in the list and water intake. Like she hit something or something hit her. I wish you would post a little more indepth thoughts on the subject. I am thinking of making the Fitz my next "project" that will take years.
 
Dec 4, 2000
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No argument with your theory that the ship hit the shoal. This seems to be the most likely possibility. My point is that the Fitz was already making a hard trip by that point in the voyage. From what the Coastie told me, and what I have read in other non-official sources, the possibility of self-destruction cannot be overlooked.

--David G. Brown
 

Steve Smith

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Mar 20, 2011
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Was there not also a very controvesial suggestion, based on evidence noted on the wreck,
that some of the hatches had been improperly fastened by the crew - causing slow but ultimately catastrophic flooding?
 

Erik Wood

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On August 11th 1969 the Edmund Fitzgerald set the last of her cargo loading records. She loaded 27,402 gross tons of taconite in Silver Bay. This record was beaten a year later by fleetmate Homer.

Steve,

This is a common line of thought. One shared by a lot, but not most in the Great Lakes. The hatches way upwords of a couple of tons. It isnt' just a flat plat that covers the space. This a section that actually fits into the hold. The leaking would have been very very slow. Never the less it is a possibility.

I don't by into it. But perhaps Dave B. could chime in on it???
 
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Richard K. Mason

Guest
Good Morning To All;

Cpt. Dave; As soon as I can find a copy, I WILL purchase your book about the "Fitz". If it's like "Last Log Of The "T", then it's gotta be great!

There are some great points raised here. Now, having never been a Mariner, I'm not familiar with this "Three-Sisters-Theory". My question, though, centers on another possibility which may or may not be related to this same thought. Is it possible for this water phenomenon to take place elsewhere, other than the Great Lakes? If so, could we consider the likelihood that THIS may have been the primary cause to the loss of the "Cyclops", or the "Marine Sulpher Queen" in the so-called Bermuda Triangle? Just a thought, but does it hold water?

Have a great day!
Richard
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Richard -- Gotta set the record straight. My book is not about the Fitz. That ship sank in the 1970s. My book is about the 1913 storm that took down a dozen ships and killed 250 sailors. Although the Fitz is widely known, it was a minor event compared to the carnage in 1913.

The Three Sisters are unique to Lake Superior, but the reasons that give rise to them exist in many areas of the world. All you need is to have two wave trains cross and the possibility of so-called "rogue waves" exists.

I'm not a believer in either the Bermuda Triangle or any of the other so-called "triangles." Ships have always gone missing without a trace. And, they always will. Even modern electronics are no match for the boundless energy of the deep. I think we could draw a triangle on the globe anywhere and come up with enough mysteries to make somebody believe that aliens or magentic vortices are at work. Not long ago somebody even created a Great Lakes triangle. Why not a pentagram, or an octogon?

The truth is always a bit duller than fiction. For instance, when I started "White Hurricane" the story going around was that two storms collided and formed a single killer storm. It turns out that the two storms never met and that the highest winds came not from a storm, but a so-called "fair weather" high pressure center. Nothing unusual occurred except for the close timing of the various weather events. It seemed like a single storm when in fact it was just a series of quite normal weather events.

Still, it gives me cold chills to think of surfing down a 35-foot wave in a 500-foot long ore boat...and then noticing a crack in the deck.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Richard K. Mason

Guest
Dave;

Sorry about the mis-understanding regarding your book. Guess I'll have to start paying more attention or just retire from posting.

Humbly,
Richard
 
Dec 4, 2000
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Richard -- your mistake is common when it comes to the Great Lakes. We have a rich maritime history here and our fair share of shipwrecks. But, because of Gordon Lightfoot's song, the only one of wide recognition is the Fitzgerald. Most people immediately assume that unfortunate ship was the biggest disaster on our inland seas. Sadly, it was only a minor incident.

Your mistake is understandable. What I do not understand are the people who live in Toledo and who ride my boat. We to up to the museum ship S.S. Willis B. Boyer for a close look. This ship has been docked in toledo for two decades as a museum and is seen daily on TV weathercasts. So, you would think they would recognize it. NO! "Is this the Fitzgerald?" I am asked constantly (or words to that effect). Even people who live here on the lakes are unaware of those five wonderful bodies of water.

So, no offense taken. And, I can't afford to pay attention until my next royalty check.

--David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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The FITZGERALD's first cargo of taconite pellets was loaded September 24, 1958 at Silver Bay, MN. for Toledo, OH.
 

Dan Cherry

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Mar 3, 2000
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"Is this the Fitzgerald?"

YES! That's why it says "Willis B. Boyer" on the bow...

A local man worked for the docks in Toledo in the 1960s through the late 90s. Because the Fitz was already a well-known vessel, he took his kids to see the ship and after it unloaded, scooped up a bucketful of spilled taconite pellets for them to use as sling shot material. When the ship sank, he put the bucket of pellets away. Just recently, I acquired a portion of those pellets, which may or may not have come from the Fitz. But anyway, In my years of discussions about the Fitzgerald's demise, some believe that the load of pellets shifted and helped push the Fitz to the bottom. After putting these taconite pellets into a box and testing their motion in a list, these things simply do not roll. I forget at this moment what exact degree they do start shifting, but the Fitz must have been partway to the Superior floor before the taconite started tumbling forward....
 

Erik Wood

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The EDMUND FITZGERALD collided with the Canadian steamer HOCHELAGA at the mouth of the Detroit River, May 1, 1970, suffering slight damage at hatches 18 and 19.
 

Don Tweed

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Mar 30, 2006
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Watched a very good documentary on the Big Fitz last night. Ever since Mr. Lightfoot came out with that song I have been interested in her. Have not done much research into her but it is such a sad tale it captivates me.
Anyway, the show delved into the three possibilities of her sinking. I tend to lean towards that maybe she bottomed out on some shallow rocks and began to take on water. When the big waves caught up with her she nose dived to the bottom. The 250 foot long trench she made in the lake bottom would explain part, but not all, of this theory. Once she struck bottom the propellers torqued the stern and twisted it in such a manner resulting in the stern being upside down. Also, the 28,000 tons of iron ore pellets slamming forward when she hit bottom would explain the hatches being blown off. To say the hatches were not "dogged" down properly is saying there was neglect involved and I cannot blame those poor souls envolved because they are not here to defend themselves. These are just my opinions and in so many cases envolving shipwrecks the final answer will always remain a mystery.
Best regards, Don
 

Erik Wood

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Apr 10, 2001
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I too watched a documentary on the Fitz a couple of nights ago on the History Channel. I enjoyed the computer graphics and for a History Channel documentary they got most of the facts correct.

I have never believed in the "hatches" theory, I have for the most part been of the opinion that she grounded on the shoal and was sinking ever since. How she broke up I have never really touched, but the History Channel showed three possibilities that intrigued me. I will have to do more research (this will be in a long long line of other things that I want to research) on the Fitz.

I have studied her and her crewmen for quite some time.
 
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Ah the Fitzgerald....I have read everything about this ship I can get my hands on. The book entitled The Night The Fitz Went Down by Hugh E Bishop is the best. I think it tells the absolute true story of this ship. The Fitzgerald suffered from a loose keel throughout her life and McSorley was in the habit of beating hell out of her in any weather or sea. That night he just ran out of miracles.
 

Erik Wood

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McSorley, was and is like every Great Lakes skipper to include myself. The ship doesn't make money hiding from bad weather. This was McSorely was on his last run of the season, and stopping wasn't a option.

That being said, there are times when you need to just go and hide. That November night was probably one of them. But we can't condemn McSorley for knowing what we know, he didn't have the information.