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BREE'S BLOG: In The Wake of the Fitzgerald

The hatch cover concerns of the Fitzgerald

No doubt about it: the Fitz had taken a beating in her years of service. As she sailed out of the Superior entryway on her last voyage, she was not a new boat, although when the 729-foot ore boat's keel was laid in 1958, she was the first maximum sized freighter built up to that time and was for a while the largest freighter on the Great Lakes. She made the fastest transport, breaking records for speed (up to 16 mph) and for the tonnage she carried in her three cargo holds (more than a 14,000-ton capacity.) I saw her several times myself as she sailed past the converted boat house I lived in outside Deluth. If you were down at the docks, you could hear the thunder-like concussion of the iron ore slamming down into the 3 cargo holds from the ore unloading docks above. You could see the boat shiver under the load dumped down on her. She loaded in Duluth in about 4 hours, and then the crew began putting on the 21 watertight hatches. They were of a clamshell design (like I built on a miniature scale on my Persistence) which called for a raised cargo hatch that sat upon spar deck coamings that would be closed by a topside hatch that fit over it. The more weight of water that came aboard, the harder the top hatch pressed down on the hatch coaming. The 5/16ths inch thick steel hatches measuring 11 feet by 48 feet were so heavy it took a deck-mounted crane to move them about. In her lifetime of service, she never arrived in port with any water damage in her cargo holds. She was revered as the Queen of the Lakes.
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