And Superior has a harder fate in store for many of those who take the last ill-fated trip of the season. Sailors dread it more than the tragedy of dense snowstorms, when they run upon the rocks, for even there hope does not die; they dread it more than the fierce, sledge-hammer wash of Erie in a storm; more than the fearful dash for port in Lake Michigan, where ports are few; and this fate is the fate of "the little ice devils"-—those masses of ice which freeze upon a ship until she is weighted beyond control. In these days of late navigation—days of fierce battles with snow, ice, and wind, days of death and destruction as they are never known upon the salt seas—is material for a generation of writers; unnumbered stories of true mystery, true romance, and true tragedy, which, if fed to the nation in popular form, would be of immeasurable value to lovers of the literature of adventure. The Great Lakes by James Oliver Curwood, 1908.
The Superior, Wisconsin/Minnesota Point Entry and lighthouse pictured in calm weather.
Fall storm, Superior, Wisconsin, November 1968.During the fall season on Lake Superior it is a common occurrence to have at least one very violent storm on Lake Superior, but one storm I witnessed was exceptional.
My father, Jane, and I drove out late this Sunday afternoon onto a narrow finger of land known as Wisconsin Point.
We went to see just what the raging lake would be like when whipped into an anger fury by a full gale force wind.
While parking the car, the shuddering wind blasted us with sand and icy pelting spray that coupled to make a deafening roar.
We watched the sixty foot tall lighthouse on the east jetty completely buried in crashing seas…a sight beyond belief.
There were four people trapped inside the lighthouse structure and several days would pass before they could leave their imprisonment.
The approach to that lighthouse had been constructed of huge boulders the size of small houses, and the mammoth waves crashing into and over them scattered the rocks about like so many pebbles on the beach.
If this sounds bad, you will not believe the sickening horror we felt as the next chain of events unfolded.
Out on the lake and headed into port was an eight-hundred foot Great Lakes iron ore freighter with the full brunt of that savage storm sweeping it along on a path of no return. As large and as powerful as this ship was, it was no match for the killer storm.
With the wind on the ship’s stern, it was impossible for the crew to turn their ship into the wind. Their fate was sealed. They had no other choice but to run the inlet.
What we witnessed next made our hearts nearly stop. We held our breath as we watched a huge wave break under the stern of this mighty ship. It lifted the stern and sent the ship into a broach position that turned it beam to the sea. The power and force unleashed by the giant wave took all control out of the hands of the crew. Their fate rested with Mother Nature while the ship washed out of control sideways towards the inlet with its rock jetties.
In the blink of an eye it was over. The massive vessel had gone surfing sideways through the outer and inner jetties, and then into the safety of the harbor.
For those aboard that got to stare the Grim Reaper squarely in the eye, that blink of the eye must have felt like an eternity.
After reading terrifying storm stories and witnessing the gale force storm at Superior's inlet, Jane and I still went on to fulfill our dream and ventured out there onto Lake Superior confronting the mighty Gitche Gumme.
I had a Dream – Dursmirg is born.
In 1972 our 46-foot sailing dreamboat Dursmirg was launched and Jane and I sailed away from Superior, Wisconsin, to the salty sea.
Henry Rowe Schoolcraft, serving as a geologist on the 1820 Lewis Cass expedition to establish the source of the Mississippi River, traversed the Great Lakes 152 years before the maiden voyage of our Dursmirg.
Schoolcraft’s 1820 stagecoach and birch bark canoe adventure from New York to the western terminus of Lake Superior was before the completion of the Erie Barge Canal.
Schoolcraft wrote the account of his epic expedition in his book Narrative journal of travels through the northwestern regions of the United States...performed as a member of the expedition under Governor Cass in the year 1820, Albany: E. & E. Hosford, 1821.
I have published our epic voyage in the four volumes of Travels of Dursmirg. All are available in paperback and digital editions worldwide.
- Sailing Beyond Lake Superior
- Sailing the Sea Islands
- Sailing the Florida Keys
- Sailing to St. Augustine
- Sailing to Lake Superior: A Trip Down Memory Lane