Apr 28, 2008

On Boating and the Great Lakes

Left: Boaters on the Detroit River

(Wyandotte, MI) As a longtime resident of cities located near the Great Lakes, I can attest to the fact that boating is a past time enjoyed by people from a wide variety of demographic categories. No matter where you live in this region, you probably know someone who owns a boat, and the first warm days of spring mean that waterways in and around the Great Lakes become quite busy.

I spent a few hours on the Detroit River yesterday, watching boats of various sizes cruise along the riverfront. Part of my fascination with boats owes something to the fact that I have never owned one, and I simultaneously feel a strong connection with the water, even a less-than-pristine waterway better known for the presence of toxic waste runoff or floating cardboard boxes.

Perhaps my ancestors were mariners, and large bodies of water strike some chord deep in my DNA, or perhaps my personality is such that quiet hours spent on the water soothe my soul.

Joining the dozens of small watercraft on the Detroit River yesterday was the Edward L. Ryerson, a 730-foot straight-deck bulk carrier that often carries taconite pellets from Minnesota and Wisconsin to steel mills near Lake Erie. The graceful ship took the eastern route around Grosse Ile, so I did not get a closeup look at the magnificent freighter.

And only a person from the Great Lakes can listen to a song like Gordon Lightfoot's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" and not snicker. I was a kid when the song hit the charts, and it still causes me to pause and reflect on the dangers of a mariner's life on the unpredictable Great Lakes. I remember watching a parody of Lightfoot on television some years back, and the performers had a grand time mocking the song for its provinciality, and getting a bit peeved that this tune - which borders on the sacred in some parts - was being made the object of derision.

It must be a Great Lakes thang.


microdot said...

May I recommend a book?

Great Lakes Shipwecks and Survivals
by William Ratigan.

-Sepp said...

Microdot, I have that book right here on my desk! Other great reads are Erie wrecks west and, Erie wrecks east...most excellent reading with backstories about the ships and, what happened to the crews.

steve said...

Dis thred needs a soundtrack. I suggest Heart - Dreamboat Annie!

microdot said...

I had a good friend who was worker on the Edmund Fitzgerald's sister ship which went down in Lake Michigan the one year he opted to not work into the fall.
I have a very powerful nostalgia for the Great Lakes and spent a lot of boyhood summers on my uncles boat, he docked it at the Sinbad's Restaurant Marina in Detroit.
Later, I spent 4 years working on the Toledo Terminal Railroad Drawbridge as the night shift operator.
You get an entirely different sense of Toledo and it's connection to the rest of the Great Lakes and it's relationship to the St. Lawrence Seaway.

historymike said...

Thanks for the book recommendation, Microdot. I'll have to dig up a copy and read it, perhaps even this weekend on a short Michigan trip I am taking.

historymike said...

Other nautical numbers for the soundtrack:

Grand Funk Railroad: I'm Your Captain (Closer to Home)

Otis Redding: Sitting on the Dock of the Bay

Creedence Clearwater Revival: Sailor's Lament

Looking Glass: Brandy

Frankie Ford: Sea Cruise

The Blues Image: Ride Captain Ride

Jay Ferguson: Shakedown Cruise

microdot said...

Ship of Fools...John Cale

steve said...

^^^ such great songs!!