Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The loss of the Fred McBrier as told by diver Tony Gramer

One of my favorite parts of diving shipwrecks is the clues left behind from the ship’s final moments.
Quite often you will see the ship “as is,” meaning exactly how it was topside in the frantic minutes before succumbing. Of course, the impact of the vessel hitting bottom and the course of time will break up the ship, but many of those “as is” clues will remain.
That is what intrigued me the most while listening to diver Tony Gramer describing the loss of the steamer Fred McBrier, which sunk in just seven minutes after being struck midship by another vessel in 1890 in a thick fog.
The McBrier sits in 89 to 104 feet of water in the Straits of Mackinac, about nine miles west of the Mackinac Bridge.

The ship is upright and the rudder is hard a-starboard, and the throttle was set at a very low speed. That means the ship was moving cautiously in conditions with poor visibility when it tried at the last minute to swerve out of the way of the oncoming ship. That moment in time is forever preserved at the bottom of Lake Michigan, where both the rudder and the throttle remain in those same positions.
That night in October 1890, the Fred McBrier was loaded with iron ore, towing two schooner barges. She, along with the larger propeller, the Progress, had exchanged fog horn signals, but the signals were misinterpreted. Moments later, the much larger Progress emerged from the thick soup and plowed into the Fred McBrier enbedding itself about midship portside. At that time, the Progress was stuck into the McBrier and stayed there until all of the crew got off safely. When the Progress pulled back and away from the McBrier, the latter sunk in three minutes.
Gramer first dove the wreck in 1979. At that time, visibility was so poor, he could hardly see his hand in front of his face. He dove it again in 1986 – same thing. Then, he dove it again in 2011 and, thanks to zebra mussels, the visibility was 50-60 feet.
Here is my interview with Tony Gramer regarding the Fred McBrier at The Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dossin Maritime Symposium today at Belle Isle

I went to the Dossin Maritime Symposium today at Belle Isle. I had a great time and will be bringing you stories and video from that event next week.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Great Lakes history is revealed in its ancient shorelines, reefs and lake levels

The state of Michigan has a rich geological history.
And the evidence of that history is still all around us. In many cases, all we need to do is look below our feet.
Or, in many cases, in the water below our feet.
Luke Clyburn, a United States Merchant Marine Captain operating the research/training vessel, the Pride of Michigan, admits he sailed the Great Lakes for years without giving second thought to what might lie below. Now, as president of the Noble Odyssey Foundation, which brings scientists and young people together to document underwater research projects, he leads efforts to document understanding of Great Lakes science and history.
“The Great Lakes cover up the history for this part of the world,” Clyburn said. “It’s underneath our shorelines that we’ll find out what happened 7,000 years ago.
“For years, I travelled the Great Lakes without giving thought to the fact that the lake levels could have been different. Once I realized that the changes were there, I really started looking and realized that there is so much that is yet to be discovered.”

At one time, before glaciers moved into the area and melted, the lakes were much, much shallower. As a result, those ancient shorelines are now several miles out into the lake. That results in the strange phenomena of seeing tree stumps sitting deep on the bottom of the lake. Many of those stumps are nearly 8,000 years old, leftovers from a region that looked nothing like it does today.
“A lot of people swim right over a tree stump and it never means a thing to them,” Clyburn added. “Until all a sudden there is a purpose for the tree stump being there, and they say, ‘Wow, this is pretty neat.’ ”
I have an interest in another part of the Great Lakes ancient history – its ancient reefs. Long before any animals even walked on land, what is now Michigan was covered by a shallow saltwater sea. Close to my parent’s retirement home in the south-central part of the Upper Peninsula, I have discovered hundreds of fossilized corals imbedded in the limestone shores of Lake Michigan. Nowadays, whenever I visit my parents, I head to that same shoreline looking for and photographing those coral fossils. But for years, just like Clyburn and his maritime travels, I walked over these fossils without even giving a second thought.
Here is my interview with Clyburn regarding Michigan’s ancient shorelines.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Adaptive scuba and kayaking returns to Eastern Michigan University

Adaptive water sports instruction (scuba and kayaking) return to the greater Detroit area on Sunday, April 15 at the Michael Jones pool facility of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. The event will be held from 10 am to 3 pm and invites anyone with a physical challenge to come and try.  First Dive (scuba) and First Paddle (kayaking) are programs of the Orthotic & Prosthetic Activities Foundation and offer an introduction to the world of adaptive recreation across the country with First Clinics. Local hosts for this First Dive and First Paddle Clinic are Becker Orthopedic of Troy, Ropp Orthopedic Clinic in Commerce Township and SOAR – Special Opportunities for Advanced Rehabilitation, a non for profit support group in the greater Detroit area. There is NO CHARGE for First Dive or First Paddle, but participants need to register.  For more information and to register, please contact Emily Irvine at 248-766-8150 or or Joe Cloutier at Huron Scuba at 734-994-3483.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Artist's rendering of the attempt to find survivors of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

This week, I received an email from Doris Sampson, an artist/photographer from Duluth, Minn., who read my stories about Capt. Donald Erickson and his subsequent passing. As you may recall, Capt. Erickson and his crew of the William Clay Ford were the first responders to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Sampson told me she believes she is the only person to accurately paint the search for the Fitzgerald, which was conducted by the William Clay Ford and the Arthur Anderson.
Here is a portion of the story Sampson told me.
After interviewing Capt. Erickson at the Dossin Marine Museum, (in Detroit) in the William Clay Ford pilot house, on March 15, 1999, in September she proceeded to do the painting based on Don's personal description of the night.
Doris Sampson's artwork.

She then met with Don in Toledo on the way to Dayton, Ohio, in April, 2000, to have the painting printed into a limited edition; and he confirmed that everything in the painting was accurate.
On the return trip, she met with him again on April 10 at the Old Mariners' Church in Detroit, where they both signed the Artist Proof Series of the edition.
“He will be sorely missed because of what a wonderful person he was, and because of his willing contributions to Great Lakes freighter history in the sharing of his story to many, including myself,” Sampson said.
On this page your will see a couple of Doris Sampson’s photographs of the painting and of Capt. Erickson signing the painting.
Capt. Donald Erickson and Doris Sampson signing the Artist Proof Series of the illustration.

Doris Sampson’s other work can be viewed at