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The Story of the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Posted by Lorac Wednesday, 9 June 2010

 A few posts ago I showed a photo of Old Woman's Bay on Lake Superior which is one of the 5, and most notorious of the Great Lakes.  It is the largest freshwater lake in the world by surface area and is the world's third largest freshwater lake by volume. Lake Superior has a surface area of 31,820 square miles (82,413 km2), which is approximately the size of South Carolina, USA. There is enough water in Lake Superior to cover the entire landmass of North and South America with 1 foot (30 cm) of water.
Annual storms on Lake Superior regularly record wave heights of over 20 feet (6 m). Waves well over 30 feet (9 m) have been recorded. I alway think of the Edmund Fitzgerald when I think of Superior due to the song about the disaster, the subject of Gordon Lightfoots 1976 hit song "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald".

SS Edmund Fitzgerald (nicknamed "Mighty Fitz," "The Fitz," or "The Big Fitz") was an American Great Lakes freighter  launched on June 8, 1958. At the time of her launching, she was one of the first boats to be at or near maximum St. Lawrence Seaway size which was 730 feet (220 m) long and 75 feet (23 m) wide. From her launching in 1958 until 1971 the Fitzgerald continued to be one of the largest boats on the Great Lakes.

On November 10, 1975, while traveling on Lake Superior  during a gale , the Fitzgerald sank suddenly in Canadian  waters approximately 17 miles (15 nmi; 27 km) from the entrance of Whitefish Bay  at a depth of 530 feet (160 m) The sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald is the most famous disaster in the history of Great Lakes shipping. Fitzgerald left Superior, Wisconson on the afternoon of Sunday, November 9, 1975 under the command of Captain Ernest . McSorely. She was en route to the steel mill on Zug Island, near Detroit, Michigan, with a full cargo of taconite A second freighter, Arthur M. Anderson , destined for Gary Indiana out ofTwo Harbours, Minnesota, joined up with Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald, being the faster ship, took the lead while Anderson trailed not far behindCrossing Lake Superior at about 13 knots (24 km/h; 15 mph), the boats encountered a massive winter storm, reporting winds in excess of 50 knots (93 km/h; 58 mph) and waves as high as 35 feet (11 m). Because of the storm, the Soo Locks at Sault Ste. Marie were closed. The freighters altered their courses northward, seeking shelter along the Canadian  coast. Later, they would cross to Whitefish Bay  to approach the locks.
Late in the afternoon of Monday, November 10, sustained winds of 50 knots were observed across eastern Lake Superior. Anderson was struck by a 75-knot (139 km/h; 86 mph) hurricane-force gust. At 3:30 pm Fitzgerald radioed Anderson to report a minor list  developing and top-side damage including the loss of  radar. Visibility was poor due to heavy snow, and the Coast Guard warned all ships to find safe harbor. Two of the Fitzgerald's six bilge pumps were running continuously to discharge shipped water. The lighthouse and navigational radio beacon at Whitefish Point had also been knocked out by the storm. Fitzgerald was ahead of Anderson at the time, effectively blind; therefore, she slowed to come within 10 miles (16 km) range so she could receive radar guidance from the other ship The Anderson was soon after notified by the Coast Guard that the Soo Locks were closed due to the storm and all ships were advised to find safe anchorage.
For a time Anderson directed the Fitzgerald toward the relative safety of Whitefish Bay. At 5:45 pm, Captain McSorley radioed another ship, Avafors, to report that Fitzgerald was suffering a bad list, had lost her radars, and had seas washing over her decks. McSorley described the situation as, "One of the worst seas I've ever been inThe last communication from the doomed ship came at approximately 7:10 pm, when Anderson notified Fitzgerald of an upbound ship and asked how she was doing. McSorley reported, "We are holding our own." A few minutes later, she apparently sank; no distress signal was received. Ten minutes later Anderson could neither raise Fitzgerald by radio, nor detect her on radar . At 8:32 pm, Anderson was finally able to convince the U. S. Coast Guard that the Fitzgerald had gone missing. Up until that time, the Coast Guard was looking for a 16 foot outboard lost in the area. The United States Coast Guard finally took Captain of the Anderson, Jesse "Bernie" Cooper, seriously shortly after 8:30 PM. The Coast Guard then asked the Anderson to turn around and look for survivors.
Once Anderson noted the loss of Fitzgerald, a search was launched for survivors. The initial search consisted of the Arthur M. Anderson, and a second freighter, SS William Clay Ford . The efforts of a third freighter, the Canadian vessel Hilda Marjanne , were foiled by the weather. The U.S. Coast Guard launched three aircraft, but could not mobilize any ship. Her crew of 29 perished in the sinking with no bodies being recovered. When the wreck was found, it was discovered that the Fitzgerald had broken in two.


  1. Neat post of that famous wreck, the inspiration for Gordon Lightfoot's song. :)

  2. Lorac Says:
  3. Thanks EG!

  4. happyone Says:
  5. I know this story well. It is a favorite of my husbands. When he hears the song which Gordon Lightfoot sings, its enough to bring tears to his eyes. It gets to him every time!

  6. Lorac Says:
  7. A very sad tale Happyone! Also a great song by Gordon!

  8. Thanks so much for educating folks about Lake Superior and the Edmund Fitzgerald....I live by Lake Superior and it is gorgeous and powerful and mysterious and a thousand other adjectives..we are lucky that the entire north border of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan's shores are Lake Superior and we love it here.

  9. Arti Says:
  10. Didnt know about that story..thanks for such an informative post..

  11. Lorac Says:
  12. Retired One, it is indeed a wonderful lake!

    Arti,glad you enjoyed it!

  13. Judy Says:
  14. Superior is a mighty lake indeed! I sometimes wonder how anyone has the courage to face her!

  15. Lyn Says:
  16. Great to find a blog of a fellow Canadian/Southern Ontario resident who loves photography and nature. I am so happy that you told the story of this famous Canadian marine tragedy. The Gordon Lightfoot tune is one of my favourites and it gets me everytime.

  17. I enjoyed your post. I recently read a book of essays about adventurous women. One of the stories was about a woman who was embarking on a circumnavigation kayak trip of Lake Superior. The short account covered only the first week of your paddle, but even that seemed grueling. I can't imagine what the entire voyage was like. - Margy

  18. karen Says:
  19. Hi! I am just trying to catch up, having been away for too long.there is so much to read on your blog, and such amazing photos - I just haven't had the time to go all the way back yet! Hope you are keeping well.. best wishes from Africa! :)

  20. me Says:
  21. Very interesting. I had never realised that the skinking was so recent


  22. Jenn Jilks Says:
  23. There is a wonderful fiction book about this story. Joan Skelton's The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald. A great read for middle-aged women like me!!!


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I have lived in Georgetown for 37 years but have traveled around a great deal. I own my own business which takes a lot of my time but try to blog as much as possible! I love to take pictures, no training, just a love of photography. Enjoy the pics but please do not copy them.
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