Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Lighting The Way On The Great Lakes!!

In the 1800's there were over 3200 commercial ships on the water at any one time.  Today there are only around 200, but they are HUGE!!!  In years past there have been about 300 ships that sank, resulting in the deaths of 320 people at Whitefish Point, the Graveyard of the Great Lakes.  From 1816 when the Invincible was lost, until 1975 when the Edmund Fitzgerald disappeared, lighthouses have been lighting the way on the Great Lakes.

This is the Iroquois Lighthouse at the mouth of the Saint Mary's River.  It has been beautifully restored and is kept up by the Historical Society.
You might think lighthouses have pretty much become a thing of the past around here with the advent of GPS, but many are still in use.  
You can even climb to the top of the tower if you have the nerve ... at first look, it didn't appear scary, but the 72 steps are VERY narrow.  At the top, I had to duck down as I climbed the inside steps and hung on for dear life with one hand while clutching my camera in the other.  YAY ... I made it!!!
The view was amazing as I looked out over the mouth of the river.  Some places are so narrow, it's hard to imagine the ships of old without the best steering abilities, coming through these waters.  
Yikes ... now I have to go down???  I secured my camera so I would have both hands free for a strangle hold on the railing, and with heart pounding, ducking as low as I could, I inched down the first 8 steps ... backwards ... to where I could stand up straight and turn around.  The stairs at our old ranch house were just like this ... but much BIGGER when you're a kid!!
The view from the bottom was even better as the big waves started rolling in.  Although it was mostly sunny yesterday, the wind was blowing up some big rollers.
We continued our adventure to Whitefish Bay where this unique lighthouse stands.  It's over 100 years old, but built with steel pipe.  The living quarters are also unique, in that it is a duplex to accommodate two families ... not split crosswise like you would think, but longways.  One family lived on the ocean side, one on the off side. 
Most of the buildings here have been beautifully restored and access is granted with a museum ticket.  The building on the right held a boiler that was constantly tended, to provide steam power to blow large horns when it was foggy or there was severe weather.  This being located at the top of Whitefish Bay, before passing into the mouth of the Saint Mary's River, it is known as the Graveyard of the Great Lakes.  Since 1971, the lighthouse and horn have been automated and are controlled from Sault Sainte Marie.
This rudder and tiller found by the Historical Society Dive team in 1978, belongs to the M.M. Drake, which took on water and sunk after hitting a ship it had been towing, while trying to save the crew.  I was told by one of the divers here that the 30-45 degree water has great visibility and none of the "growies" you find in salt water that cover and destroy the ships.  They appear pretty much as they did a hundred years ago.  You just have to be able to dive to 146 feet and deeper!!  That requires special certifications that my claustrophobia doesn't allow!!
This point is where most of the accidents happened.  It seems in a lot of cases, ships were passing in the narrow channels, when all of a sudden they would sharply turn into the other, causing enough damage to sink.  In the museum, many of the artifacts from the wrecks have been displayed, along with the circumstances of the sinking.  VERY interesting museum!!!
One of the recent tragedies, the loss of the Edmund Fitzgerald and all of her crew in 1975 has never been explained.  In a massive storm, she was being followed by another ship who thought she was too close to the shoals, when suddenly she disappeared from radar.  Her last radio response was that they had it made ... 
Divers finally found the ship in two pieces when they went down in this dive suit to over 400 feet.  At the request of the crew's families, everything was left intact.  A sad ending to all aboard, it will forever remain a mystery as to what happened.
Back in Sault Ste Marie, we had an amazing lunch at Karl's Cuisine ... smoked pulled pork with an apple butter barbecue sauce and white cheddar cheese, toasted to perfection on a grill ... a whitefish sandwich on fresh multi grain bread and a YUMMY Reuben ... followed up with THIS!!  Bread Pudding ... easily ranking #2 on our all-time best bread pudding list, dropping Cabelas Restaurant to #3.  It was soft, gooey, covered in bourbon sauce and light-years above many others we have tried.  Definitely stop in here for the food and service!!!
As we were leaving, one of the big ships came in ... the Walter J. MacArthur Jr ... to the largest lock.  We quickly crossed the street and climbed up the viewing platform to watch her go through.
Right on her heels was the John B. Aird.  Being narrower, she slipped in to the lock closest to us.  The race was on to see who could get through the fastest!!
In the above picture on the right, you can see the level of the Walter J.  In this image, you can see the level after the water had been removed from the lock.
Not without their dings, as nice as these laker ships look from a distance, up close you can see the wear and tear!!  The front ends are all dinged with huge dents from maneuvering into the locks.  
Both ships finally at their lowest level, the Walter J. left first ... the John B. having to wait until the lane was empty before sliding quietly away.
Just another amazing day with the Westerfields on the Great Adventure!!  I just have to keep pinching myself ... I can't believe I drove the whole way and am having such great experiences with these two wonderful people!!  Today I'll move back to the Elks Lodge for the remainder of the week!!

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