Monday, January 28, 2008

Back to the future

Up on Lake Superior, a duo who are used to scouring the lake bottom for historic shipwrecks are planning to use their formidable skills to help a Marathon, Ontario, family find something quite different -- closure.

Since he was last seen taking off from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario in July 2005, there has been no sign of dentist Ness Amano or his plane, a small Cessna. After an exhaustive search, authorities, including the Canadian Coast Guard and the OPP, all came up empty-handed.

But now Tom Farnquist, who memorably led the operation that brought the Edmund Fitzgerald's bell to the surface in 1995, and his partner Chris Sams are taking up the search. The pair, who are both involved with the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan (Farnquist is the Society's executive director), have a long history of hunting down wrecks in the icy depths of the upper Great Lakes.

One of their higher profile finds was the recent discovery of the wreck of the Cyprus (pictured here), a 420-foot lake freighter that went down in a gale on Lake Superior in 1907. The Cyprus was only on her second voyage when she disappeared, taking all but one of her twenty-three man crew to the bottom with her.

You can read the full story of the search for Ness Amano's plane, from, here.

For more on the discovery of the Cyprus, click here.

For the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society web site, click here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Preorder Lake Erie Stories today!

My upcoming first book, Lake Erie Stories: Struggle and Survival on a Freshwater Ocean, can now be preordered online at and Amazon (along with many other reputable booksellers). By ordering now, you can make sure you get one of the first copies to roll off the presses when Lake Erie Stories is officially released in May.

Crack it open while you're taking a break from cleaning out the cottage this spring. Fascinate your summer guests with your in-depth knowledge of your favourite Great Lake.

Even with the winter wind at full wail, it's not too early to start thinking about your summer reading list.

For the Lake Erie Stories listing, click here.

For, click here.

If you're ordering from the U.S., click here.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Last one out...

The Soo locks, which link Lake Superior to the lower Great Lakes, closed for the season on Tuesday. With that, a tough year for shippers, plagued as they were by low water levels across the Great Lakes, came to a welcome end. Too bad things were far from quiet on this last day. In the Duluth-Superior harbour, at the far end of Lake Superior, there was some very high drama that will no doubt result in a very steep repair bill.

The 1,000-foot laker Walter J. McCarthy was approaching her winter quarters when she hit an unknown submerged object, which pierced her hull near the stern. As the engine room began to flood, the captain sealed it off and the crew of twenty-four managed to get off unharmed. The McCarthy is now sitting upright next to the dock, where it is moored, in only twenty feet of water (so it essentially looks as though it's sitting a bit lower than usual).

Getting the big McCarthy back into operation is going to be one massive job. Before they can assess the damage, the boat's owners will have to pump her out and refloat her, which is not as straightforward as it sounds. If the water inside is heavily polluted, it cannot simply be pumped back into the harbour; it will have to be treated first. Thankfully, little oil has been seen leaking from the McCarthy. Time is also of the essence, as the water flooding the boat is on the verge of freezing with the onset of winter.

To read more about the plight of the Walter J. McCarthy, click here.

To read about the Soo Lock closure, click here.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Labour of love

The visual research for Lake Erie Stories is largely complete (which explains my recent blogging slowdown). Here is one example of my findings, the Doretta L, skippered by my great uncle, Jim Fraser.

The book mentions the Lake Erie fishing industry briefly in the introduction and, with a family connection or two in this area, I decided to pick up the phone and see if I could easily rustle up a picture of a real Lake Erie fish tug. A couple weeks later, Jim sent along this picture of his beloved Doretta, which he unapologetically refers to as "one of the best on the Great Lakes."

And he would know. Uncle Jim has been involved in the Lake Erie fishing scene since before I was in diapers. A few years ago he decided to tie up to the dock for the last time, but, like many before him, he continued to hear the siren call of the lake and was shortly back out on the water. Last time he spoke to me of his work, in late December, he was still heading out there, every day, in the wee hours of the morning. By early January he was looking forward to getting this year's quotas from the government, and I have no reason to doubt that he is still at it, eagerly attempting to fill them, until (and if) freeze-up comes.

The Doretta was one of the easier visuals to get a hold of, actually. At this point, I've got 37 images in my file from over a dozen different sources. It's a big task logistically, but it's nearly done. And it's gratifying to see the inside of the book starting to come together.

In the meantime, I've got a lot of captions to write. More on the progress of Lake Erie Stories soon.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Be the keeper

The January 4 Flint Journal brings word that the folks who run the Grand Traverse lighthouse in Northport, Michigan, are looking for a few stouthearted souls to tend the light for a number of one to two-week stints this summer.

If you're a member of the Grand Traverse Lighthouse Museum, the privilege of keeping the 150-plus year-old lightstation for a week will only set you back US$190 ($220 for non-members). For that, you get to stay in the former assistant keeper's quarters, which appear to have been renovated into a very cozy little space. But this is far from a lazy holiday: keepers are expected to work between eight and ten hours a day when the museum is open and have a wide range of duties, from painting and maintaining the light to regaling tourists with stories from the area's colourful past (those not in the know will will get a full history lesson when they're hired).

So you certainly won't be as lonely as the lightkeepers of old. And you won't get to sit up until the wee hours guiding the big lakers into port, either (modern technology now handles that). But if you've got the time, it sounds like an unforgettable way to immerse yourself in some Great Lakes maritime history.

And I bet the view's not too bad, either.

For the full Flint Journal story, click here.

For the Grand Traverse lighthouse home page, click here.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The "God shot"

Over the holidays, I learned that God resides in Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia. Here he is, in fact, reaching down with one of His sunlit arms to retrieve one of the many lost souls that have been claimed by the frigid North Atlantic. I'm told He does it daily, in fact, at 2 p.m. sharp. It's good for the tourism.

We were in Nova Scotia over the days following Christmas to visit my friend Hadley, who actually lives here in Toronto but was in Halifax to visit her family over the holidays.

During our maritime sojourn, we had a chance to take a ride out to picturesque Peggy's Cove, which, aside from being a tourism hotspot, is actually a functioning fishing village. When jokers like me can take shots like the one above, it's not hard to see what all the fuss is about. But don't take it too lightly, for there are many stern warnings for those who dare to step too close to the raging sea, like this one, posted on the side of Peggy's Cove iconic lighthouse:

Fortunately for us it was a calm day, though Old Man Winter did unleash his wrath on the province for much of our time there. Here are Amy and Hadley doing their patented "Big dog-little dog" routine, which provided a pleasant distraction from our concerns about the weather and the ocean. These were not at all helped by Hadley's intermittent, piercing cries of "the sea will take you!"

Of course, it's not a visit to Nova Scotia without a hearty meal of lobster, plucked fresh from the sea by a small outfit outside Peggy's Cove and generously served up by Hadley's folks.

If you get the chance, you really must eat lobster with native Nova Scotians. They seem to know instinctively where the best parts of the crustaceans, like those little fins on the back of the tail and various unmentionable organs inside the torso, can be found. Not the most popular bits among the Red Lobster crowd, for sure, but succulent nonetheless.

Just before we arrived, Hadley's superb first novel, Johnny Kellock Died Today (which is set in Halifax in 1959), was released in mass market paperback. To check it out, click here.