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Old 10-01-2007, 14:15   #1
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Lakes verses Oceans.

Some sailors, both those on the Great Lakes and the Oceans, underestimate the storms on the Great Lakes. For you doubters I would like to present some information:

"It is estimated that between 6,000 and 10,000 ships have sunk or been stranded since the early 1800s, many with partial or total loss of crew. The Great Lakes area is prone to sudden and severe storms, particularly in the autumn from late October until early December. In the worst storm recorded at least 12 ships sank, and 31 more were stranded on rocks and beaches. At least 248 sailors lost their lives." - wikipedia

The above information is a tally of shipwrecks since 1800. Based on information from this alternate website:
The Great Lakes Shipwreck File 1679 - 1998
The first ship that sank on the Great Lakes was in 1679. Which means the wikipedia estimation of shipwrecks is excluding 120 years of sailing.

I can't find a number for how many ships have sunk on the oceans. I have heard it is roughly the same or less than the sinkings on the great lakes. But I have never seen that information myself. anyone know?

One question I would like to raise: is it possible the ships sailing the lakes were smaller or weaker? making them more prone to sinking?

These photographs were taken late 2006 aboard Misener Steamships’ MV Selkirk Settler as she crossed Lake Superior in typical (or so they say) November weather.









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Old 10-01-2007, 14:32   #2
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Hi Chad,
Nice photos,
Looks like the guys on deck watch got a bit wet.
I think we all understand how any open stretch of water given enough wind can soon see seas build up to such a size, especially if the water is not too deep or has an adverse water flow.
I've no idea on how many ships have sunk globally tho' - and suspect no one else has either.
So maybe the story that more ships beig lost on the Great Lakes than all the Oceans is more likely a local folktale, as opposed to a known fact?
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Old 10-01-2007, 14:44   #3
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I'll pipe in since I'm one of the biased ones Chad probably is talking about.

I can't speak from facts addressable on the internet, only from experience.

First, I do think the weather on the Great Lakes in the winter is some really REALLY scary stuff. No doubt about it. I'd also say the weather at the same latitude in the North Atlantic is similar, or even much worse due to prevailing Westerlies and the amount of fetch between Nova Scotia and say... England.

Both areas experience the same storms, since these storms move West to East across the USA and Canada (generally speaking).

Some trends that support the high number of vessels lost in the Great Lakes might be:

1) There is a significant amount of commercial traffic going on at all times in a small area of water
2) Some may underestimate the Great Lakes in the winter

I spent all my years sailing in the North Atlantic and Caribbean. I spent a few weeks in the Great Lakes a year ago last August. While underway, we experienced some storms and a freak 50-60mph wind storm (According to NOAA).

In any case, that type of wind in an open ocean would have been quite uncomfortable. In our case, it was not a big deal as the seas don't really build in the Lakes to the extent they do in open ocean, given the same weather conditions. There is always some piece of land within a reasonable distance creating less fetch. Of course, this applies to summer thunderstorms and the like, not to the howling winter weather that has probably claimed more ships.

One thing though... the place is shallow! Maybe some of the ships grounded and then sunk? I know the wind can really move water around, so that it piles up on one shore and leaves another shore very shoal. Could be a factor?

I won't anger the "Lake Gods" by saying the Great Lakes are nothing, but they certainly aren't as violent as the open sea/ocean on the same day under the same conditions. The wave action gets more rough when you combine the breakers with the swells.
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Old 10-01-2007, 14:51   #4
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I'm sorry that last picture in the set, the one with the huge breaker hitting the cargo ship broad side, that is some scary sh*t.

...I'm just gonna leave it at that.
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Old 10-01-2007, 15:18   #5
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Holy ****!

I think I'll take up macrame instead
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Old 10-01-2007, 15:33   #6
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I read sometime after the Edmund Fitzgerald sinking that ships built solely for Great Lakes traffic were longer than those in the ocean. The reason for the difference had to do with the wave periods and heights that could be expected in each area, with the period and height being shorter on the GL's. The longer period and height of ocean waves prevented longer ships because of the danger of the ship finding itself with its bow and stern on adjacent wave crests and unsupported in the trough between.

It seems that the GL wave periods and heights were short enough to span several with long boats. What wasn't known or appreciated at the time was that conditions on the lakes during storms could be such that constructive interference caused very high crests and two of these could coincidently be at a distance equal to the length of a ship.

I think this is what happened with the Fitzgerald - the ends were picked up by crests and the ship twisted and broke in the middle.

I almost didn't write this because my memory is hazy on where/how I heard it. I think it was from a book or documentary, but it could just as easily been heresay from someone else. <reader beware>

Mark
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Old 10-01-2007, 15:44   #7
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What Mark says seems to make a lot of sense. Oh, and those pictures are SERIOUSLY scary.
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Old 10-01-2007, 15:47   #8
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I'd reckon that last wave would definetly pop the side winow's on mine.

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Old 10-01-2007, 15:48   #9
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Quote:
I think this is what happened with the Fitzgerald - the ends were picked up by crests and the ship twisted and broke in the middle.
I don't think the exact cause is known of the destruction is known.

The issue of the shorter wave period of the Lakes vs the Ocean is exactly correct. We get the same here on the lower Chesapeake. 8 ft waves on a 40 ft frequency will jar a few things loose while 20 ft waves on the ocean are not that bad at all. Having grown up on Lake Ontario and lived near Lake Superior they are a formidable chunks of water. I have seen 30 ft breakers on Lake Ontario. if you search "lake Superior" on this forum you can see a whole thread on some of the oddities.
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Old 10-01-2007, 15:53   #10
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Agreed Sean.
Just completed reading 'Fatal Storm' given as an Xmas gift. Its the story of the killer 1998 Sydney-Hobart Race in which several yachts simply had thier decks either crushed or split open by the force of the water dumped upon them from large waves.
Highly recommended reading...but could put you off visiting the Bass Straights....
Cheers
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Old 10-01-2007, 15:53   #11
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"wind can really move water around, so that it piles up on one shore and leaves another shore very shoal. Could be a factor?"

I don't think so. Maybe to a very small degree. Tides cant even be noticed without high tech equipment.

"Ships built solely for Great Lakes traffic were longer than those in the ocean."

This would make sense to me. But I don't think that many ship are built just for the great lakes. The boats on the lakes are from the ocean.
I only believe that because the great lakes are having problems with invasive species. The new species are being transported here in the ballast water of ships. ships from the ocean.
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Old 10-01-2007, 15:57   #12
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There has always been a lot of speculation about the Fitzgerald sinking. One theory was that it had hit bottom on a known shoal area near where the ship sank. They theorize that the stern of the boat hit this area while in the trough between waves, and if true it meant the trough had to be at least 30' as this shoal is about 45' deep.
All I know is I was born and raised in the area of the Great Lakes and smart folks give them a lot of respect.
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Old 10-01-2007, 15:59   #13
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The water piling up from wind on the Great Lakes is known as a seiche. I've seen it make a 10" difference in water level especially when a sharp low is coming as well.

What is a seiche?
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Old 10-01-2007, 16:11   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by chad.lawie

"Ships built solely for Great Lakes traffic were longer than those in the ocean."

This would make sense to me. But I don't think that many ship are built just for the great lakes. The boats on the lakes are from the ocean.
I only believe that because the great lakes are having problems with invasive species. The new species are being transported here in the ballast water of ships. ships from the ocean.
chad.lawie

Most of the cargo vessels plying the Great Lakes were purpose built for the lakes. Those that go through all the lakes are usually built to the length of the smallest lock. Some that stay up north are longer. There are ocean going boats on the lakes (salties) but this traffic has been decreasing mainly because of container ports.

The largest and longest boat in the world are tankers and the largest tankers are much longer than lake boats.
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Old 10-01-2007, 16:38   #15
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[quote=chad.lawie]"wind can really move water around, so that it piles up on one shore and leaves another shore very shoal. Could be a factor?"

I don't think so. Maybe to a very small degree. Tides cant even be noticed without high tech equipment.
******************************************
[End Chad's Post]


Sorry, Chad. This is incorrect. How would you explain the phenomenon called "storm surge?" This is an ocean term, mostly, but it applies to all bodies of water.
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