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Call of the North Wind

One of the shipwreck tales that Call of the North Wind tells is that of the sloop of war, the U.S.S. Essex, who ranged the world's oceans in her prime but died a fiery death on Lake Superior. Her remains may be the last remnant of the work of the most famous clipper ship builder of all time, Donald McKay. The Essex (1874 - 1931) was one of his last vessels.

Lake Superior is not only the world's largest freshwater lake, but a fascinating and sometimes dangerous body of water. In his home-built sailboat, and, a catamaran, Marlin Bree retraces voyages of lost ships, early explorers, and heroic sea captains.


The sailing adventure begins in the beautiful Apostle Islands, off Bayfield, WI, and, then thrusts eastward from the Apostles along the Shipwreck Coast. Enroute, the author meets fog, high winds, and out of nowhere, a midnight storm that menaces his 35-foot catamaran.


He sails past sunken ships, pausing to reconstruct their amazing tales, including the most famous sunken ship on the Great Lakes, the Edmund Fitzgerald. He presents an Homage to Two Wrecks -- his story of the bones of two ancient ships that deserved better. One story is that of the ancient Navy sloop of war, signed into commission by Abraham Lincoln, that was burned for her copper. The U.S.S. Essex, built over a hundred years ago as an ocean going Naval ship that ranged the world, was one of the last vessels built by Donald McKay, the American master builder of clipper ships that set so many ocean-going records for speed. Today the bones of the Essex (still buried in the sand off Duluth-Superior harbor) are all that is believed to be left of McKay's fabulous ships, and, as such is an archeological treasure. Bree tells of diving on the wreck and how to find it.


The other wreck in Bree's "Homeage" is the sunken vessel the Pretoria, well over 300 feet in length and possibly the biggest wooden ship ever built. She came to a violent end in a killer gale, killing five orf her crew. She now rests in 52 feet of water.


Bree writes of the "Warriors of the Storm," the incredible life savers of the Shipwreck Coast, as well as the equally amazing "Black Robes" on Superior.


ISBN 0-943400-90-2 /four color, laminated cover / size 6 x 9 inches / quality trade paperback / 224 pages / 24 photos, 50 illustrations and maps. Only $16.95 U.S. and $25.95 in Canada.

Racing the midnight Storm


Excerpt from Call of the North Wind


There was a ghostly feel to the sky and the water. The horizon looked the same in every direction; the fog obscured everything that lay beyond the ship. The fog reflected back the light of the masthead and the bow running lights, giving off a spectral glow.


I was getting tired: the previous sleepless night was catching up with me. Staring into the fog did not help.


I shook my head as if to clear it, determined to concentrate on steering. It was easy to lose few degrees of course in these rolling seas as my mind drifted in and out of its own thoughts. I turned the wheel and watched the digital numbers march up on the compass and, seconds later, on the GPS. I had given up steering by the GPS display alone; in these swells, it was just too slow. Now I read the compass, and checked it with the GPS. I was holding the boat on course for the Keweenaw, now only hours away.


"We'll make it yet," I thought to myself. Down below, the crew were huddled over the main cabin table, playing cards.


* * *


Suddenly, there was a low, moaning sounds that came closer and closer. With a shriek, it descended; I could feel the sailboat caught in a great rushing of wind.


Tullamore Dew threw her bows to one side, then began a slide at an angle, her deck canting as if one bow was on an elevator. I spun the wheel hard to starboard, but there was no stopping her.


I had lost control.


With a gust-lurching crash, we plunged the port bow into a wave trough, then lifted off again, bursting out of the storm wave. I spun the wheel some more; suddenly, she lurched upward for a moment, then righted herself.


From below in the cabin came shouts. Someone threw open the hatch.


"It must have been a microburst from the approaching front," I yelled. "I couldn't hold her when that first gust came through. But she seems steady now."


I peered into the darkness; it wasn't the size of the waves that made my heart pound, it was the speed with which they roared. One bow would be hit by a wave train, causing a shudder, then the wave would pass underneath, dipping the bow, only to repeat the whole motion across the second bow.


We pounded along, up, down and sideways, as if on a watery elevator without a sense of direction.


The fog descended heavily about us, cutting our visibility in the storm. We were flying along, almost blind, headed for a big stone entrway somewhere ahead in the dark. I knew that the entry, with massive stone piers jutting out into Superior, had claimed its share of shipwrecks.


From the navigation station below came Thom's voice. "Well, we're here," he said. I could detect an uncurrent of worry.


"Where?" Joe, the skipper, wanted to know. And so did I.


"The GPS says we're just off the pier. It's right ahead of us."


But beyond the bows, I could see only fog and blackness. My stomach did a quick lurch.


What lay ahead? If we went in too close, we might end up on shore or smash up against a breakwater and go for a swim. Still, we couldn't stay here all right.