Gordon Lightfoot says he is ready to change some of the lyrics to The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald after seeing a documentary that disputes official findings on why the ship sank.
His ballad about the sinking of the iron ore freighter that led to loss of 29 lives is one of his most famous songs. The Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior on Nov. 10, 1975, in what is considered the worst disaster in Great Lakes maritime history. An official inquiry into the sinking attributed it to human error, saying the rear hatches had not been properly closed.
However, the documentary Dive Detectives, part of a new series created for History Television, disputes that theory. Lightfoot saw the documentary after agreeing to the use of his 1976 song as part of the soundtrack. Father and son dive team Mike and Warren Fletcher say the most likely cause of the wreck was a rogue wave, a giant wall of water that could have toppled the ship. The captain of the Edmund Fitzgerald had radioed that he was experiencing near-hurricane-force winds. The Fletchers spoke to experts, meteorologists and maritime historians to make their TV documentary.
Capt. Chris Hearn, director of Memorial University's Centre for Marine Simulation, confirmed that such a wave could have sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald. "Technically speaking, a rogue wave is a wave whose height is more than two times significant wave height," he told CBC News. "The main issue about a rogue wave is it's abnormally high for the existing sea state. A wave that's that much larger exerts tremendous forces when it falls upon an object." The Great Lakes are large enough for such a wave to form, he said.
"In terms of the Great Lakes if you look at the depth of the water, the fact that it's fresh water and therefore moving with the wind state or the sea state, a huge wave or a huge series of waves catching the Edmund Fitzgerald either in the trough or on the cliff certainly was a factor in the loss of the vessel," Hearn said.
"When you experience a sea state of that kind, really the only thing the captain can do is to try and take the waves across his bow or keep his head into the wind," he added.Lightfoot's song describes the high seas and has lyrics about a main hatchway caving in, but makes no reference to a rogue wave. He's not planning to record the song again, but says future concert performances will include new lyrics that reflect the show's findings.
The Dive Detectives episode related to the Edmund Fitzgerald will air March 31 on History Television at 6 p.m. ET and PT and again at 11 p.m. ET and PT.from CBC.ca