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Old 11-12-2013, 10:10 PM   #1
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Default Witch of November

National Post Article

Text below heavily edited due to Corfid size constraints. Read full article above.

Witch of November: The cruel month that has seen many Great Lakes sailors perish beneath the waves
Mark Bourrie, National Post

Only the very superstitious believe in curses, Jonahs, jinxes, ghost vessels — and the Witch of November. And even the superstitious know in their hearts that the blackest of clouds is without malice, the most savage wind is a random force of nature, and that a storm is just a storm.

Still, more ships have been lost on the Great Lakes in November than in any other month. The last-minute run before freeze-up, the sunny day that masks the coming of a gale-force blizzard, both are known end-of-season hazards. The short days and long dark nights of November have affected the judgement, sapped the courage, and snapped short the lives of too many sailors. And there’s always another ship’s master who thinks he can outrun a building storm and get one last run in.

The Armistice Day Storm of Nov. 11, 1940 was, according to meteorologists and sailors, at least as vicious as the 1913 storm. In all, the storm claimed five vessels and 66 lives, all of them on Lake Michigan.

After a warm morning, the winds struck carrying rain which changed to snow as the temperature plummeted. The winds soon reached hurricane strength.
By the time the storm reached Lake Michigan, it had already done most of its killing: some 110 duck hunters who had gone out into the woods of Minnesota and Wisconsin in the abnormally warm holiday weather froze to death. They had left home in fall jackets and rubber boots, poor protection against that night’s sub-zero temperatures and howling winds. Snowdrifts that grew to 20 feet stopped them from finding shelter.

The Minnesota State Climatology Office rated the Nov. 11, 1940 snowstorm as the number two weather event of the 20th century. Only the 1930s dust bowl was worse.
The Edmund Fitzgerald was the last, and most famous ship to succumb to the Witch of November. (Those who are superstitious may want to knock on wood). When Edmund Fitzgerald was launched in 1958, she was — at 729 feet — the largest ship on the Great Lakes. On the afternoon of Sunday, Nov. 9, 1975, the Fitzgerald left the Burlington Northern Railroad dock in Superior, Wisconsin, at the extreme southwestern end of Lake Superior. She was loaded with just over 26,000 tons of iron ore pellets, headed for a steel mill in Detroit, just a few miles from where she was built.

Capt. Ernie McSorley and the members of the crew knew that a gale was moving toward Lake Superior from the U.S. southwest. The National Weather Service issued a gale warning for all the Great Lakes on Sunday night at 7:00 p.m. By then, Edmund Fitzgerald was steaming up the Minnesota shore of Lake Superior in the company of the Arthur M. Anderson, another ore freighter.

At about 2:00 a.m., McSorley and Jesse Cooper, the captain of the Anderson, decided the storm was dangerous and moved their ships to the sheltered northern route of Superior’s north shore, past the Ontario towns of Thunder Bay, Nipigon and Schreiber. Early Monday, a camper on the southern coast of the Slate Islands, off Terrace Bay, saw Fitzgerald and Anderson pass by as the winds picked up and the waves began to build.

Throughout the trip, Fitzgerald, the faster of the two ships, steadily pulled in front of Anderson, in 60-kilometer winds. Off Michipicoten Island, Fitzgerald signalled the first signs of trouble. The waves were still less than four metres high and the winds were nearly calm, but McSorley reported to Cooper that his ship was “rolling some.” An hour south of Michipicoten Island, McSorley asked Anderson’s captain to help him navigate, because the Fitzgerald’s radar wasn’t working.

Without radar, the crew had no way of determining their position and the ship may have drifted toward the Canadian shore and smacked its bottom on a shoal. The wind was now approaching 70 k.m. an hour. McSorley radioed Anderson to say Fitzgerald was listing.
By then, waves were building quickly, high enough to roll over the decks of both ships. Cooper later said the waves were three to four metres high. The force of the pounding water crumpled several of the Anderson’s lifeboats. The two freighters were steering directly for the centre of the low pressure area.

At 6 p.m., half an hour after nightfall, the waves had risen to nearly 30 feet. An hour later, Anderson called Fitzgerald with some navigational information. Then, 10 minutes later, when asked how Fitzgerald was doing, McSorley sent Copper: “We are holding our own.”
Cooper noticed that the radar showed Fitzgerald 15 kilometres away, just approaching Whitefish Point. An Anderson bridge officer glanced at the radar again and Fitzgerald was gone.

The lack of a distress signal and the fact that bodies were never found strongly suggests Fitzgerald went to the bottom before any crew members had a chance to move from their stations, if they were on duty, or their berths if they weren’t.
The bow of the boat plunged first into the water. Within seconds, it was far enough down that water pressure smashed every window, forcing water into the forward cabins and drowning or crushing the men inside. Fitzgerald was actually longer than the lake was deep. Her bow, with the weight of the fully-loaded ship behind her, hit the bottom within a few seconds.

As the Fitzgerald’s bow dug into the bottom, her stern rose above the waves. The ship tore in half about midway along her deck and part of the hull disintegrated into a flutter of crumpled, torn steel plates that quickly plunged to the lake bottom. The stern of the Fitzgerald rolled as it fell, landing on the bottom upside down
Remembrance services were held at the home ports of the ship’s crew and at Detroit’s old Mariners’ Church. A haunting song by Canadian folk singer Gordon Lightfoot ignited the public’s imagination about the Great Lakes’ last big wreck.

In the summer of 1995, the bell of Fitzgerald was raised and placed on display in a memorial at Whitefish Point, Michigan. It was replaced on the wreck by one inscribed with the names of the lost crewmen.
It’s been nearly 40 years since the lakes claimed a full-sized freighter. A century ago, the loss of two or three in a year was considered normal. The ships are safer, the communications and weather forecasting systems are better. But complacency is bait that serves the Witch well.

National Post
Mark Bourrie is author of three books on Great Lakes shipwrecks. He is presently writing Kill the Messengers, a book on government information control that will be published by HarperCollins next year.
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Old 11-13-2013, 06:53 AM   #2
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Good to see you online Yuri!

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Old 11-13-2013, 10:28 AM   #3
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Thanks, Yuri. An excellent article containing much Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck information I hadn't read anywhere before.
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Old 11-13-2013, 09:41 PM   #4
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Oh THAAAAT Witch of November.

I thought the story was based on a derogatory title for Char as she flogs her Massey hall tickets every cuppla years !

(More seriously that was a good read.)
Inventor and highly successful user of the " Reverse Polarity Chick Magnet" !
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Old 11-20-2013, 11:24 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Sydney Steve View Post
Oh THAAAAT Witch of November.

I thought the story was based on a derogatory title for Char as she flogs her Massey hall tickets every cuppla years !

(More seriously that was a good read.)
no no no - Out on Shuter in front of Massey I am a "ticket pimp" trying to sell tix for people who bought them but didn't make it!

Witch is just NOT me..
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edmund fitzgerald, gales of november

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