Ever year, I post a tribute to the men who sailed on the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. I just found this description of the ship and the lake, and I was so impressed with this description that I wanted to share it. I especially like the part where that Skipper says “it’s just a lake!”
http://www.uh.edu/engines/epi1378.htmquote:Today, just a lake! The University of Houston's College of Engineering presents this series about the machines that make our civilization run, and the people whose ingenuity created them.
The Great Lakes are just that to most of us. They're just lakes. When I was a child, I'd visit the north shore of Lake Superior in the summertime. As its gentle waves lapped at my feet, it seemed just like ten thousand other Minnesota lakes. The only difference was that you couldn't see the other side. It revealed none of the majesty or the menace of the open seas. Yet the voyage from Duluth to the eastern end of Lake Ontario is almost a thousand miles.
The Sault Ste Marie locks opened in 1855; and they connected Lake Superior to Lake Huron. Iron ore began moving from Minnesota's Mesabi Range eastward to the steel mills. As shipping began in earnest, we saw why the Indians named Lake Superior Gitche Gumee -- why they held it in awe. Ships found themselves sailing a treacherous ocean. Today, we count some six thousand Great Lakes shipwrecks, and November seems to be the worst month. On November 13, 1913, a single storm sank 12 ships and killed 250 people. The great blizzard of November 11, 1940 (which I remember from my childhood in Minnesota), sank two ships and killed 46 people.
The largest ship went down on November 10th, 1975. It was the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald. The day before, the 17-year-old Fitzgerald had left Superior, Wisconsin, loaded with almost 30,000 tons of iron ore pellets called taconite. In her star-crossed life the Fitzgerald had run aground once, she'd collided with the walls of the locks twice, she'd lost an anchor on one trip and suffered structural cracking on another. This time she left Superior with two damaged hatches. And twenty minutes after she sailed, gale warnings were posted. Just past midnight, winds were reaching sixty miles per hour and driving ten-foot waves.
By the afternoon of November 10th, the Fitzgerald had suffered more damage and was running both her 7000-gallon-per-minute pumps. Then she lost the single antenna that served both her radar units. So she radioed the Whitefish Point radio station and asked for help with navigation. Now her troubles really began compounding.
The Whitefish radio beacon was out. The Fitzgerald might've been helped by radio equipment aboard an ocean ship that was in port at Whitewater. But that ship's captain scoffed at the storm. He said, "This is just a lake," and he sailed off.
So the Fitzgerald blindly rode 16-foot waves. She began to list. With water washing over her wheelhouse the captain sent a last tight-lipped message: "We're holding our own." Then the Fitzgerald and her 29-person crew vanished. The following spring, search boats found what was left of her on the bottom. Like the Titanic, she'd split in two as she sank. The stern section lay upside down, the bow, right side up.
Gitche Gumee had claimed her 6000th ship, and we're left with those words, "It's just a lake." After 118 years this ocean, posing as a lake, was still deceiving us with her placid everyday face.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston, where we're interested in the way inventive minds work.