I’ve just been invited to make a presentation on Weather Bomb 1913: Life and Death on the Great Lakes at the 2018 Canadian Nautical Research Society’s conference which will be held June 21-23 at York University in Toronto. The presentations will be live streamed for interested parties who cannot attend in person. More details will be available in the next few weeks, but please plan on joining us either in person or online.

Review From Salty Dips

From time to time, book reports will appear in The Binnacle drawing attention to new works or older books that should not be forgotten, particularly Canadian publications. The Binnacle is the newsletter of the Naval Association of Canada-Toronto Branch) 

Weather Bomb 1913 – Life and Death on the Great Lakes

by Bruce Kemp

Waypoint Press, 2017

Almost everyone has heard of the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald, a Great Lakes “Laker”, either because we read of its sinking in 1975 or heard the Gordon Lightfoot song:

                            “… Superior they say never gives up its dead

                                When the gales of November come early.”

In an age of radar, electronic communications and constant marine forecasts with updates, she sank, with no SOS, leaving hardly a trace. After the enquiry by the U.S. Coast Guard and National Transportation Safety Board, it appeared that the sinking was probably caused by cargo hatches that gave way, which led to the holds flooding.

Much less is known by Canadians of the huge disaster on the Great Lakes in November 1913 when over 290 sailors lost their lives. Thanks to the extraordinary research of respected author Bruce Kemp, we now have a picture of what may be the greatest storm known on the Lakes. The opening chapters are presented in a “you-are there” style that brings to life the characters on the Lakes, their courage and faults. This is followed by analysis of the weather, the ship sinkings, the lack of sufficient navigation aids to assist safe seamanship and the quality of design and construction in that era, for example, poorly secured wooden hatches that blew away in the unprecedented storm.

Kemp also pays respect to the unknown – the force of the storm on each ship, lack of or ignoring warnings and the consequent inability to make alternative plans. The author sums it up well: “Weather reporting (and the disregard of weather reports) was the biggest single man-made factor that cost so many lives.”

This is a good read, and while lacking some charts or photos from Canadian and U.S. sources that would have helped the narrative, the book is a valuable history of the dangers of a perfect storm in 1913, one which may recur as strange global weather patterns become the norm.

As we sit at home in Ontario’s rather dismal November/December weather, this valuable, well researched, descriptive book allows us to conclude, in 2017, that we are really quite snug (smug?) and comfortable.

Available at:
The Nautical Mind,
249 Queen’s Quay West.
Toronto, Ontario

The Book Keeper
500 Exmouth St., Sarnia, Ontario

Fincher’s Books
16 Courthouse Square,
Goderich, Ontario,

The Merrickville Book Emporium
105 Wellington St., E.
Merrickville, Ontario

Mac’s Fireweed Books
203 Main St.,
Whitehorse, Yukon Territory
Novel Idea
156 Princess St.,
Kingston, Ontario