Model by Wood Wings
50 Years ago today the most infamous vessel of the Great Lakes was launched. Farlane writes:
It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon on June 7th, 1958, as more than 10,000 people lined the banks of the Detroit River. They had come to witness the launching of Hull 301 at the Great Lakes Engineering Works of River Rouge, Michigan. Mrs. Edmund Fitzgerald, wife of the president of the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company for which the ship was named, christened the brand new ship and at 12:34 p.m. the 729 ft. “Edmund Fitzgerald” slid gracefully into the basin amid cheers, salutes, and well wishers.
Professional Mariner gives us a bit more insight:
In 1958, when it was launched, the 13,632-ton, 729-foot-long ship was the largest carrier on the Great Lakes and remained so until 1971. In 1964 it became the first ship on the Great Lakes to carry more than one million tons of ore through the Soo Locks.
Nov. 9, 1975 started as a crisp, calm, sunny day along the U.S.-Canadian border. On that day Edmund Fitzgerald, one of the largest freighters on the Great Lakes, left Superior, Wis., to deliver iron ore pellets to Zug Island in Detroit. It carried a crew of 29 men. Luck was not with the ship or the crew. They would soon be lying at the bottom of Lake Superior.
Shortly after leaving Superior on what would be its last voyage, Fitzgerald made contact with Arthur M. Anderson, bound on a similar route for Gary, Ind. The two freighter captains discussed a storm that had brewed the night before in the Plains and proceeded northward toward the Great Lakes. According to the National Weather Service, it appeared to be a “typical November storm.”
At 1900 the Weather Service issued a gale warning for Lake Superior. The Weather Service predicted east to northeasterly winds during the night, shifting to northwest to north by the next afternoon. At approximately 2240, the Weather Service revised its forecast for eastern Lake Superior to easterly winds becoming southeasterly the morning of Nov. 10. At about 0200 on the 10th, the Weather Service upgraded the gale warning to a storm warning.
NOAA has a website dedicated to the weather side of this memorable story which can be found HERE.
If you are in Detroit tomorrow June 7th be sure to attend one of the memorial events listed HERE and for event listings throughout the Great Lakes click HERE. Otherwise you can watch the live webcast HERE.
Edmund Fitzgerald Online has the Top Ten theories about the sinking:
Faulty hatch covers
Another theory, which is very disliked by many Fitz enthusiasts, is that the men may not have properly fastened the series of clamps that were used to hold down all of the the hatches, and therefore water seeped in.
Previous structural damage may have caused the sinking.
Huge waves swamped the ship and it sank. Many people call these huge waves (so big they are detected by radar) the Three Sisters.
Lack of proper repair from previous damage may have played a role
A huge wave rode up between two swells and the ship snapped in half.
A wave engulfed the ship, pushing the front of the ship underwater. The ship then hit ground, and broke in two…this may be why the two portions of the ship are so close.
Waves lifted both ends of the ship (bow and stern), but the center of the ship containing the cargo was not held by a wave, so the overload forced the center downward, sinking and/or breaking the ship in two.
For more official (and research?) theories be sure to read the offical NTSB investigation report.
Launching the Edmund Fitzgerald