Rogue waves on the Great Lakes

What really happened to the Edmund Fitzgerald? Some new evidence from Dive Detectives suggests that it was broken up by extra-high rogue waves during a hurricane-force storm. The investigating board was quick to blame employee error in leaving hatch covers improperly latched–although the sailor’s lives depended on doing it right. However, other ships on the Great Lakes are known to have broken in half without warning. If it weren’t for the testimony of a single survivor, it, too might have been written off as employee error. Another ship manufactured in the same way developed cracks and broke up while being towed away for demolition. At the time the Edmund Fitzgerald sank, the load limits had been increased so that it was carrying more than it was designed for and riding lower in the water. It had been inspected for structural safety only ten days before.

The Edmund Fitzgerald

Both ships are lakers, long, broad ships limited by the size of the smallest locks that they’ll pass through. The assumption in building them is that the lakes do not develop waves large enough to, say, lift the ends of the ship and leave the middle unsupported or vice versa, or to twist it like a sponge. Ocean-going ships, or salties, are shorter, with the bridge in the middle to help reinforce the ship’s body. The superstructures of lakers are at the ends, leaving a large area free for cargo loading–but leaving the middle weaker.


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