White Hurricane by David G Brown


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Dec 12, 1999
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Today, I got my copy of this book, and I've just started to read it. There are some rather gruesome pictures of sailors washed up on the beach. David says:

Scores of frozen bodies washed onto the beaches of southeastern Lake Huron. They were found both huddled together and alone. Some appeared to have struggled, while others were composed and serene . . . the beach held one gruesome discovery after another. Sometimes, a stretch of beach would be cleared of bodies only to have new ones appear as the waves brought them to shore.

The "White Hurricane" clocked winds of more than 80 miles an hour. Interestingly, David quotes from the Cleveland Press on pages 210-211, as follows:

Greed

Just one more trip --- just a little fatter dividend -- just a hundred or so seamen floating dead in the lakes.

Children are fatherless and newmade widows are thrust out into the world to wring from it a hard living because rich vesselmen are willing to imperil the lives of their employees in the name of greed.

All of the world knows that death lurks upon the Great Lakes in November. None know it better than the boat owners, but their boats are insured.

So nine great Cleveland vessels are lost or missing and 168 members of their crews have died.

The November dividend has been paid, in coin of human life and suffering.


David also mentions that Great Lakes captains received performance bonuses, and thus, had the incentive to undertake risky November voyages.

Here again (as in Titanic's story), safety is unnecessarily secondary to profit.

It looks like most of the "White Hurricane" ships were lost on Lake Huron, but there were quite a few on Lake Superior, according to a map in the book --- only several on Lake Michigan, and none on Lake Ontario.

He explains that wind speeds increase over water, and "steer" down the lakes with greater velocity.

I just started reading "White Hurricane" and, as such, I haven't got into reading about the stories of the individual ships . . . and the development of the storm -- I'm looking forward to that. So far, it looks like a really interesting book. I recommend it.
 
Oct 28, 2000
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Jan -- Thanks a million for buying my book. I'll be looking forward to your comments when you have completed reading it.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Tracy,

I got mine at Barnes & Noble. It was just released. If it's not on the shelf tell them the name and the author, and they'll order it. The store I went to didn't require a deposit.

So far, I've gotten through the first couple of chapters, which are mainly about the Charles S. Price, a ship that capsized in the the storm. I enjoyed every minute of it.
 
Jul 9, 2000
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I'm about 2/3rds of the way through my copy, and if this account doesn't make anyone respect the sort of power packed by the Great Lakes, I don't know what will. Having said that much, there was one point in the commentaries I think needs to be addressed, to wit;

"Here again (as in Titanic's story), safety is unnecessarily secondary to profit."

While not entirely inaccurate, it suffers from the same problem of all half-truths in that it ignors the rest of the story, and is extremely simplistic. None of these conditions...the incentives, the risk taking etc. would exist if there wasn't a pre-existing demand to support it in the first place. The steel mills needed coal and steel, otherwise they would be shut down and thousands thrown out of work and needed wages. Also, quite a few isolated communities existed then on the Great Lakes which depened on these last late deliveries of food and fuel to get through the winter when re-supply would be virtually impossible. (The Regina's last voyage was made to do exactly that.)

The catch here is that when the storm was brewing, nobody had any real idea just how bad it would be until it was on top of them, and by then it was too late. Whether forecasting was in it's infancy and those living in that era did not have the benefit of knowing what we do now.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
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For those having trouble getting a copy of the book, I have sympathy. Even I haven't received my copies from the publisher. The book distribution system makes buggy whips look high tech!

I'm glad that some of you have started reading "White Hurricane." I do look forward to your comments.

--David G. Brown
 
Jul 9, 2000
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Dave, convoluted, I'm sure, doesn't even begin to describe the problem. I've bookmarked Amazon.uk because they seem to have all the really good titles befor they ever hit the market on our side of the pond. That copy of Norman Friedmans's "U.S. Amphibious Ships and Craft: An Illustrated Design History" which I ordered back in March...when it was originally supposed to be published...still hasn't shipped and now the publication date is listed for July.

I have to wonder why publication dates slip so badly in the USA. Any ideas?

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
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My book was scheduled to be released in April. It was delayed for various reasons never explained to me. I did not complain because an April release date would have put it into the stores at the wrong time of year. It would have been an "old" book in November which is obviously the peak month for interest in the story. Most books of this type are only displayed for about 6 months in the chain stores before being remaindered back to the publisher or sold off by the pound. Thus, an April release would have limited any potential publicity. If you can understand this, please let me know how the underlying logic works. However, I did not make a fuss about delays simply because the worked in my favor. November is much closer to mid-July than to April.

Production delays in book publishing are the norm, not the exception. I am told there is currently a shortage of press time. So, books are backed up waiting to be printed. This may or may not be true, but it's the story my publisher is telling.

Another "dirty secret" is that some books are announced just to see if any interest in them exists. If enough advance orders are not received, the project is cancelled prior to production. So, it is possible to order a book that does not exist and which will never be printed because of lack of pre-production orders.

--David G. Brown
 
Jul 9, 2000
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That "dirty secret" you mentioned would actually explain a few things. I noticed that Ocean Liners by Leo Marriot was being advertised for the longest time as awaiting publication, then one day, I clicked on it only to find it listed as "out of print"

Oddly enough, it had a publication date of October 2002! How can it be out of print if it hasn't even been published?

Strange.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 

Erik Wood

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Another Dave Brown book??? Doesn't he have something better to do with his time then write books about ships.

Wait a second... I don't have anything better to do then read them. DOH!!!

Seriously, good luck with the book Dave and I just may snag a copy of it when I see it.

Erik
 
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Some of the stories in "White Hurricane" are incredible. I just finished the chapter where a crew was beached by the storm, their ship burned, and then they had to walk five miles through heavy snow to a farmhouse, for shelter. Apparently, they all survived.
 
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Jan -- some of that story is incredible, especially the part about throwing the mate at snow drifts to break a path. (This was before the day of dwarf tossing contests.) Still, their ship did go aground, did catch fire, and they did have to walk through a blizzard to safety. Have you come to the story of Sadie, the assistant steward who was washed out of the galley and down into the engine room? The story of her working waist deep in freezing water (in bare feet) to feed the crew is apparently true.

-- David G. Brown
 
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I don't doubt any of it, David. I mean "incredible" in the Ernest Shackleton sense, these are incredible stories of perseverance. I haven't got to Sadie's story yet.
 
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The most incredible event has to be Captain Jimmy Owen setting off across Lake Superior in a roaring gale before his ship's hatches were closed and dogged.

--David G. Brown
 
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David,

I just finished November 8, 1913. I noticed that the McGean sailed by Cedar Point, which was a popular bathing beach, at the time. This brought to mind the S.S. Eastland, which was a passenger ship (and a very unstable one at that) and which capsized in 1915. It used to travel between Cleveland, or Chicago, and Cedar Point. I'm wondering if you know where that ship was during the storm?

Right now, I'm also wondering what's going to happen to the Waldo's men and women, after she ran aground. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for them.
 
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To my knowledge, the Eastland was not involved in the 1913 storm simply because of the month--November. Eastland was an excursion steamer and the summer season was a distant memory by the time of the storm.

Eastland gained its infamy by rolling over in the Chicago River while still tied to the wharf. At least 850 people died, mostly the wives and children of employees at a nearby Western Electric plant. They had boarded the ship in hopes of a pleasant outing at the company picnic.

Passing the legal buck over responsibility for the tragedy turned the event into what was the longest-running court case in U.S. history.

For those of you who think Waldo is a funny guy in striped sox, Jan is referring the a ship, the L.C. Waldo, that grounded off the Keweenaw Peninsula in Lake Superior. The crew found refuge in the forecastle while hurricane-force winds whipped up 35 foot waves around them. In an attempt to survive, they burned the ship's wooden superstructure in a fireplace created out of the captain's bathtub.

--David G. Brown
 

Erik Wood

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I can't wait to get my hands on your new book Dave. Sounds like there are some incrediable sea stories in there.

Erik
 
Oct 13, 2000
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convnetional wisdom has it that the Eastland tragedy was a direct result of the Titanic disaster. after Titanic, when the lifeboats for all law came into effect, it was the overloading of lifeboats onto the Eastland's upper decks that caused the ship to become unstable. I have always wondered if that was true. did conventional wisdom get it right, David? do you know?

best, Michael (TheManInBlack) T
 
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Michael T -- there is more than a grain of truth in what you say. Suddenly after Titanic ships were forced to carry lots of heavy lifeboats 'way up on the top deck. This had the effect of reducing their metacentric heights--that is it made them "tippy." The legislators who passed laws requiring lifeboats knew nothing of naval architecture and were totally unaware that these requirements actually made water travel more unsafe. Of course, the voters didn't know either.

Eastland did have an extra load of lifeboat weight when it rolled over. That must have been a contributing factor. But, so were the wooden decks that were "repaired" with poured concrete. And, we can't ignore that the ship had been a "crank" vessel from the minute it was launched.

So, I think the lifboats did, in fact, contribute to the death toll. They were not the only factor in the accident, however.

-- David G. Brown
 
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