Troubled Waters

Perhaps the almost constant news of Hurricane Matthew got me thinking about water and oceans and being safe. Being about 350 miles away from the Atlantic, my personal experiences with hurricanes have been mostly rainy days and newscasts. The last time I remember a hurricane making a direct impact on my town was Hurricane Ivan in 2004.

I can never figure out why American journalists have decided that the best time to go to the beach is when a hurricane is due to hit land. While the news anchors are exhorting the public to move inland, the field reporters stand on a dock somewhere in the wind and rain with boats jostling on the waves behind them telling those who tuned into the newscast that they are on a dock somewhere in high winds and heavy rain battering the boats left behind by their evacuating owners. The boats will be fine, fellas. How about spending some time with the boat owners and everyone else hunkered down in a shelter fearing for their lives and loved ones.

Something completely unrelated then got me thinking about ships at sea. I’ve never been on a ship at sea. The only times I’ve been on any boat larger than one you can pull behind your SUV was a ferry from Long Beach to Catalina (a once was enough experience), a sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico (a once in a lifetime experience), and a fishing boat on Lake Erie (a perennial favorite). In yesterday’s paper there was an article about some guy who posted a video of a ghost ship sighted on Lake Superior near Marquette, Michigan. Experts said it probably was a lighthouse that appeared to be moving because of visual illusions due to water vapor and mist. The article wrapped up saying that between 6,000 and 30,000 ships have been lost on the Great Lakes.     le-griffon

Wait a minute. Between 6,000 and 30,000 ships have been lost on the Great Lakes? That’s a heck of range. Because I have that kind of time (as you by now undoubtedly know) I thought I’d do some research. I found about 150 documented shipwrecks on Lake Erie alone. (I started there since if it ever should come to it, that’s the body of water that would probably do me in.) In all, I found documentation for 302 ships that sunk in the Great Lakes since the “Le Griffon” went down in a storm on Lake Huron in 1679. That’s a far cry from 30,000 but that’s still a bunch of boats. How would that compare to an ocean, say the Atlantic Ocean with its annual 6 month hurricane window?

Again, because I still have the time, I did some research. As near as I have been able to put together, beginning in 1600 (so we can compare oranges to oranges) I found 310 ships going down – excluding warships during times of war – in the Atlantic and her contiguous seas. The cynic in me thought with the size, scope, and weather on an open sea that there would have been more. The good guy in me appreciates the lives spared on all the thousands of ships that stayed afloat. Although many wrecks were attributed to weather conditions, I was only able to determine that five went down in hurricanes. The most recent was the freighter “el Faro” that was lost in Hurricane Joaquin last year.

I’m not sure how I got from hurricanes to Lake Huron nor from there back to hurricanes. If you do, you probably understand my mind better than I. And that is truly something to be scared of.

That’s what I think. Really. How ‘bout you?

(Image of “Le-Griffon” By Father Louis Hennepin, via Wikimedia Commons, PD)



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