The Fitzgerald’s last voyage … via Twitter

Thirty-nine years ago today, I read a news story on a radio station for the first time. The Edmund Fitzgerald was missing on Lake Superior.

The story, thanks in large measure to a popular song, is second only to the sinking of the Titanic when it comes to seafaring lore.

It was loaded with ore from Duluth, heading for Detroit. The song from Gordon Lightfoot said it was going to Cleveland, but Cleveland fit the lyrics better, I suppose.

The ship set out at 4:30 p.m. 39 years ago yesterday, by 3:30 39 years ago today it was in trouble, and by 7:15 pm 39 years ago today, it was gone.

To remember the occasion, the National Weather Service in Marquette is tweeting the weather in “real time” today.

  • davehoug

    I believe it left port with some navigation or radar problems. It may have hit a shoal that was known and usually avoided, thus letting water into the hold. I do not think it had any warning system that water was in the bottom of the hold. Maintenance is often ignored in the push for productivity, but it sure has a downside when the odds catch up.

    • theoacme

      I believe a chapter of Marlin Bree’s book, In the Teeth of the Northeaster: A Solo Voyage on Lake Superior, dealt with the shoal theory, and there’s some tantalizing support for that theory from the radio transmissions from Captain McSorley and the Edmund Fitzgerald.

      Not certain maintenance was more than a contributing factor – in Bree’s book, he recounts the Finnish sea captain’s remark about Lake Superior to the pilot of his vessel, something like “ach, it’s just a lake!” as it headed inbound to Superior before it hit the peak of that same storm…you can imagine the captain’s reaction during the peak of the storm was somewhat censored by Bree.

      But, no matter what happened, Gordon Lightfoot had it right about the big lake:

      Superior, they said
      Never gives up her dead
      When the gales of November come early…