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BREE'S BLOG: In The Wake of the Fitzgerald

Ever northward the Big Fitz --- and the storm grows worse

In the wheelhouse, sitting 40-some feet above the water, Capt. McSorley felt secure as he headed his 729-foot oreboat northward. It was warm here, with only occasional bits of Superior spray on the forward windows, and the boat -- despite its "wiggling thing" that they had been living with for years -- was humming along just as it always did. The engine room was far aft and this far forward, the wheelhouse had a commanding view. You could see everything, from the guide pole on the bow right in front of you or aft down the long spar deck. In many ways, it was like an electric ship this far forward, with no engine or prop noise, although the crew in the aft section engine compartment probably felt every movement when the wheel came out of the water. Even with a draft aft of 27 1/2 feet, the giant propeller sometimes came out of the water. The big lake was kicking up now. The expected storm was intensifying. That was why the Big Fitz and the oreboat that had left Two Harbors were both on the northern track. It was late in the season, being out on November 9, but then they had been on this track before, although they usually followed the southern track marked on the charts they carried in the wheelhouse on the large chart table. The veteran lake captain probably grew thoughtful: This would be the last haul of the year, and, though he had not announced it to the crew, his last command. He was leaving the lake far behind to become a land-bound civilian. It would feel good, he probably thought, after all these years on the lakes, seeing his big boat through all the storms and high winds and waves. He noted that as he continued the northern trek that several other oreboats had gone to shelter and one had even left the lake to shelter behind an island on Thunder Bay. He and the Big Fitz would carry on.
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