The legend lives on from the Chippewa on downOf the big lake they call Gitche Gumee The lake, it is said, never gives up her dead When the skies of November turn gloomy. -Gordon Lightfoot
The storm that raged against the Edmund Fitzgerald produced hurricane force winds howling more than 69 miles per hour and waves towering over 25 feet. Fitzgerald was also loaded down with 26,116 tons of taconite pellets. That is enough iron to create roughly 7,500 automobiles (stat courtesy of "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Frederick Stonehouse). The storm she was traveling in was one so bad that the forecast technology used at the time had sorely underrated its power.
Whether it was failed hatch closures as the Coast Guard concluded in its investigation or a poorly chartered shoal that ripped into the ship's hull one thing remains true. The storm that was raging on November 9-10, 1975 was one of the worst storms ever recorded on any of the great lakes. Even the captain of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Ernest M. McSorley, remarked that it [the storm] was "one of the worst seas he had ever been in."
A new report issued this month by the NOAA found that the Edmund Fitzgerald was caught up in the worst of the storm conditions in one of the worst areas on Lake Superior. Through the use of what NOAA terms "hindcasts" (forecasts in retrospect) they noted that the Fitz met her fate during a six-hour window of the storm's ultimate fury. The Edmund Fitzgerald was also heading south when the waves were just battering her from west to east.
The wave action can be backed up in Capt. McSorley's remark to the Arthur Anderson's Captain, Jesse Cooper, that his vessel was "rolling some." Heading south would create a rolling effect from the waves running from right to left against (and over) the ship. The storm might not have been the ultimate cause of the Edmund Fitzgerald's sinking, but it must be considered a major player at a minimum.
Visit the NOAA website for details of the report.
Additional information on the Edmund Fitzgerald available online: Wikipedia - Edmund Fitzgerald S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald Online NOAA's Marquette, MI Office From Amazon.com you can also purchase - Mighty Fitz : The Story of the Edmund Fitzgerald "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" - this was the source of some of the additional information for this article