Messing About in Boats

This is about boats, so of course it’s about desire. The beautiful forms of boats arouse the longing to have one, and to go places you couldn’t without it.  My father had this bad as a kid. In the summer of 1932 in Duluth, he talked his friends into building the next best thing to […]

The Journey Home

LAKE MICHIGAN—MONDAY, OCTOBER 17, 2005 Second Mate Patrick Pettit was in the map room as the American Spirit sailed out of sight of the Upper Peninsula and eased its way into Lake Michigan. Pettit was chatting up a visitor while hunched over a map on the drafting table, charting the boat’s course with a pencil, […]

Water and Steel

Port of Duluth—Saturday, October 15, 2005 In the middle of the night, at the end of a long day in the middle of October, I found myself sitting in a recliner. I was in the lounge of the penthouse high above the long deck of the American Spirit, a thousand-foot bulk freighter. We were plunging […]

Nature Lover

Minnesota boasts no defining fine artist, no painter of universal renown. Alexis Fournier, Seth Eastman, Nicholas Brewer, Wanda Gag, Dewey Albinson, George Morrison—any of these names may ring a distant bell. But Minnesotans have no Albert Bierstadt or Winslow Homer, no Grant Wood, Georgia O’Keefe or Frederic Remington to lionize. The central Minnesota town of […]

For Those About To Get Off The Rock…

It wasn’t love, but it was enough to risk his life for. It was the first morning of 1992 at five a.m. on Madeline Island and the bar had emptied out when Tommy Nelson, the ponytailed owner of Tommy’s Burned Down Café, spun out onto Lake Superior in his 1972 Cadillac Fleetwood and was surprised […]

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Too Deep, Too Dark, Too Cold

The gales of November still rage with controversy and treachery, as shipwrecks and their grisly cargo become the hot new tourist attraction. A beacon of light shines out from the tip of an eighty-mile stretch of shoreline known as Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast. It shines from the lighthouse at Whitefish Point, Michigan, over an area […]

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Sole Survivor

Back in 1966, Dennis Hale had been sailing for three years, all of them on the 580-foot freighter Daniel J. Morrell. The Morrell was in its sixtieth year, one of the oldest of the many freighters plying the Great Lakes. The ship had just finished its already long season, but when another freighter developed engine […]

The Wreck of the Madeira

In late November 1905, one of the worst storms still on record overtook Lake Superior in what became known as the “Mataafa Blow.” Just north of Split Rock, the steamer William Edenborn struggled along the North Shore on its way to Duluth, towing behind it the Madeira, a massive 436-foot schooner-barge. As the winds swelled […]

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

When the Edmund Fitzgerald was launched in 1958, it was the largest ship to sail the Great Lakes. At 729 feet and able to haul more than 25,000 tons of iron ore, the freighter was dubbed “The Pride of the American Flag.” Year after year, the Fitzgerald hauled iron ore and taconite out of the […]

The Big Blow of 1913

November is readily acknowledged as the stormiest month on the Great Lakes. Each year around the beginning of this steely month, over the largest bodies of fresh water in the world, two storm tracks converge. From the north bear down the Alberta Clippers, full of freezing polar air. From the lee slopes of the Rockies […]