they slow down, and the wave heights grow as the water “piles up.” Also, with strong winds blowing, breaking waves can be expected. Historically, wind speeds in excess of 87 knots have been recorded, so in major storms you would expect to encounter “fully developed seas.”
This is what happened on November 18, 1958, when the Carl D. Bradley, a 638-foot-long ore carrier left a dock near the southern end of Lake Michigan and proceeded north, heading for Lake Huron. The wind blew heavily that night and by the next day had reached 52 knots, creating large waves that broke over the bow of the ship—one of the two surviving crewmen later estimated the wave heights as 30 feet, which tends to agree with fully developed sea conditions that might have occurred. Just before darkness arrived, the crew heard several loud noises and realized the vessel was breaking up. They had time for a quick Mayday before the Bradley broke into two parts. Within minutes, the two halves of the ship sank and the crew of 35 was in the freezing water. Four men managed to make it to a raft that had floated free before the Bradley sank. Two of them died during the long night, but two managed to survive and were rescued by the coast guard in the morning.20
The largest freighter ever lost on the Great Lakes was the Edmund Fitzgerald. Another victim of a sudden November storm, the Fitzgerald sank on November 19, 1975, with a crew of 29 men on board. There were no survivors. The tragedy was memorialized in a well-known song by Gordon Lightfoot, “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.”
What happened was this: After taking on a load of 26,000 tons of taconite (iron ore) at Superior, Wisconsin, the Fitzgerald headed northeast and then east along the length of Lake Superior toward the Soo Locks and Sault Ste. Marie, bound for Detroit. About 15 miles behind the Fitzgerald was the Arthur M. Anderson, another ore carrier that maintained radio and radar contact with the Fitzgerald until she sank.
The storm came over the lake near Marquette and blew northwest toward Canada. The Soo Locks reported peak winds at 87 knots and the locks were shut down. Captain Jessie B. Cooper of the Anderson reported that waves 8 to 12 feet high were washing over his deck. He later told Fred Shannon (a researcher investigating the sinking of the Fitzgerald) that one wave hit the stern quarter of the Anderson and