GALES OF NOVEMBER: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald by Robert J. Hemming

GALES OF NOVEMBER: The Sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Email this review


On November 10, 1975, the 729-foot ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank--possibly within 10 seconds--during a night of wild violence in which two storms collided over Lake Superior. No one survived. Here, Hemming graphically recreates the tragedy and (from interviews with their families) profiles the 29 crew members. It was the last year before retirement for Bob Rafferty, 30 years a ship's cook on the Lakes' iron ore boats, who was filled with premonitions despite his spanking new stainless steel galley. Captain Ernest McSorley, veteran of 44 years on the lake, loved his ship ""Big Fitz""--its ""strange majesty . . . isolated grandeur""--but he too was ready to retire. The wife of First Mate John Henkle McCarthy, says: ""I don't miss the pay-checks or the fancy house or any of the other things he gave us, I miss the laughter."" McCarthy's addiction to the Lakes kept him away from his family nine months a year, and after 30 years he was deeply guilty. It was an underwater reef, not in its right place on the ship's map, that seemingly foundered the second largest freighter on the lakes: the shoal came up to 36-feet below sea-level while the Fitzgerald was drawing 27 feet of draught. A big wave caused the ship to ""hog"" (lift its middle), splitting fence cables and masking a collision with the shoal which punched three plates out of the frame and caused flooding. The flooding first filled the front hold below the cargo of pellets. With engines laboring to pump water while the ship listed, ""Big Fitz"" sounded like she was shaking apart. The 96.6 mph wind blew off the antennae, the radar scopes went blank. On shore the homing beacon was blown out, so the ship was ""blind."" The bow, pushed under by a monster wave, then by a second before it could recover, sent the ship down like a whale, lights still blazing. The five minutes of sinking to the bottom are rendered with icy horror and compassion. Altogether: a large-hearted, admirable reconstruction.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Contemporary Books