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Modern Great Lakes Shipwrecks
|Author||Topic: Modern Great Lakes Shipwrecks|
posted 11-21-2012 11:17 AM ET (US)
Below is a short summary and time line of some notable modern-day ship wrecks in the Great Lakes. All of these have occurred in my lifetime, and I remember hearing about them all, except for the Bradley, as I was a bit too young (only 8-years-old).
CARL D. BRADLEY, November 18,1958, Lake Michigan, 35 crew, 33 lost
M/V MONTROSE, July 30 1962, Detroit River, no crew lost
CEDARVILLE, May 7, 1965, Straits of Mackinac, 35 crew, 10 lost
NORDMEER, November 19, 1966 Lake Huron, no crew lost
DANIEL J. MORRELL, November 29, 1966, Lake Huron, 29 crew, 28 lost
SIDNEY E. SMITH, June 5, 1972, St Clair River, no crew lost
EDMUND FITZGERALD, November 10, 1975, Lake Superior, 29 crew, 29 lost
USCGC MESQUITE, December 4, 1989, Lake Superior, no crew lost
The list is by no means comprehensive. I am sure there are some other ships wrecked or lost in the past 62 years I have missed, but the above are, in the main, events that I can actually recall when they happened.
There has been some evidence or investigation or speculation that the steel used in ship building prior to 1948 was generally a brittle steel, and this may have contributed to the loss of some of these older ships like the BRADLEY and the MORRELL. They were lost in heavy weather when their hulls broke in two. They are on the lake bottom, and can be visited by divers.
The MONTROSE, the CEDARVILLE, and the SMITH were lost as a result of collisions with other vessels. The MONTROSE was salvaged and continued her career. The CEDARVILLE remains on the bottom, a popular dive site. The SMITH was salvaged and became a waterfront dock in Sarnia.
The FITZGERALD is unique among this group in having no survivors, which has made the circumstances of her sinking the subject of much conjecture and speculation. She remains on the bottom of Lake Superior, in 530-feet of water, and beyond the reach of divers (due to the technical difficulties and legal entanglements).
The USCGC MESQUITE was moved from the site of the original wreck and then sunk as a dive site.
It has been 23 years since any major ship wreck on the Great Lakes has occurred, at least one that I can recall. Have I omitted any modern-era ship wrecks of note?
posted 11-21-2012 01:09 PM ET (US)
You forgot about the Franscisco Morazan. Sank in the early '60's off south Manitou island in Lake Michigan.
Also, it's about 10 years prior to the Bradley, but didn't several ships sink in the Armistice Day Blizzard?
Last "modern" one I can think of: the Steinbrenner. Lost in 1953 on Superior.
posted 11-21-2012 01:23 PM ET (US)
It is also interesting to look at the age of the ships when they were wrecked.
BRADLEY = 31-years service
MONTROSE = (unknown, can't find build data)
CEDARVILLE = 38-years service
NORDMEER = 12-years service
MORRELL = 60-years service
SMITH = 66-years service
FITZGERALD = 17-years
MESQUITE = 47-years service
The NORDMEER was the newest ship in terms of service life. She was lost as a result of a navigational error and hard grounding. The other big lake vessels, the MORRELL, CEDARVILLE, and BRADLEY were older ships, having at least three decades of service or more. The SMITH was the oldest, at 66-years. She was lost because she was underpowered and could not handle the strong current in the river.
The FITZGERALD was just a teenager in service years, only 17-years of service. She was in her prime. Also, she had never been cut into and lengthened. She was sailing in her original hull configuration. Many lakers have been cut apart and lengthened over their careers, but the FITZ was intact, just the way she had been built. Her loss, with all hands, has always been very disconcerting.
posted 11-21-2012 01:29 PM ET (US)
I started the list on the basis of wrecks I could remember when they happened. The STEINBRENNER was too early for me, as I was only two years old when she went down. She had been in service 52-years when she sank in a storm in Lake Superior
The MORAZAN didn't attract my attention when it foundered, but I have since been past it twice to take a look.
I also saw the NORDMEER in person when she was still mostly intact and sitting above the water. It was a very eerie sight to see in August , 1989, when we sailed by. Her topsides were all black, and once I saw her I lost all interest in getting closer. She looked much too spooky for me.
posted 11-21-2012 09:11 PM ET (US)
The Francisco Morazan is a regular stop for us on every trip to the Manitou Islands.
posted 11-22-2012 10:27 AM ET (US)
Jeff--The article on the MORAZAN in Wikipedia is interesting. The mention of the islanders coming aboard and helping themselves to the cargo reminds me of the stories I have read of the people of Newfoundland. It is said that many homes on the coast of Newfoundland are built from materials obtained from ship wrecks along the coast. Farley Mowett tells a story of a stranded ship; when the salvers give up due to the storm conditions and the ship is officially abandoned, the locals from the Newfoundland coast came out in their small boats and took everything they could find off the ship, including, Mowatt relates, tossing some live cattle into the sea and towing them to shore! Well, perhaps some exaggeration from Mowatt, but a good story.
I have echo-sounded the CEDARVILLE, which rests in about 100-feet of water just east of the Mackinac Bridge. Now I see the two sections of the MORRELL are not too far from Port Austin. They are about 17 to 20 miles offshore. It might be an interesting trip to see if the hull can be located with SONAR. It is in about 200-feet of water.
posted 11-22-2012 12:27 PM ET (US)
[Changed TOPIC. Please start a new thread for that new topic. Thanks--jimh]
posted 11-23-2012 10:58 PM ET (US)
The STEINBRENNER sank in Lake Superior in 1953. I was listening to a retrospective on the sinking of the FITZGERALD that was made in 1995. One of the people interviewed commented about the FITZGERALD sinking by pointing out it was the first ship lost on Lake Superior in 22-years. They didn't mention the STEINBRENNER, but when I subtracted 22 from 75 I realized that the reference was to that event. Then it occurred to me that we have gone a long time since any big Great Lakes ship wreck. It has been 37-years, if you don't count the MESQUITE--she really didn't sink and there was no loss, but she did wreck.
A period of 37-years is a long interval in Great Lakes maritime history, and we have been fortunate there have been no major ship wrecks. The age of the ships now sailing has been getting steadily older, too, as there have not been many--perhaps no--major Great Lakes freighters built recently.
posted 11-24-2012 11:41 AM ET (US)
Wisconsin public radio station KUWS produced an excellent three-hour documentary on the EDMUND FITZGERALD sinking. I highly recommend listening to this audio presentation. You can obtain a copy from
posted 11-24-2012 10:34 PM ET (US)
The Morrell is another of our dive sites (both sections) and the sole survivor, Dennis Hale, is a friend. He authored a very interesting autobiography that's available from his for purchase. He's been taken to the wreck to watch dives being done on her. Interesting guy.
It sticks up like a sore thumb on a sounder.
posted 11-24-2012 11:44 PM ET (US)
I bought Dennis's book right after it came out. I think I met him at a Lighthouse society fair in Alpena several years ago.
posted 11-25-2012 09:29 AM ET (US)
He's a very interesting guy. Never really recovered emotionally from the sinking, but is doing better as he shares his story. He gave a talk in Muskegon a month or so ago at the Shipwrecks and Technologyy symposium and it was fascinating. I should have realized that Muskegon was close enough for you to travel to. It was a good symposium, with one of the highlights being a full engine run of the SS Silversides (fleet diesel submarine). I presented a talk of sidescan sonar as well. Next year we should make a date to attract a group of Whaler guys there.
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