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Wreck of the Carl D.: A True Story of Loss,…

Wreck of the Carl D.: A True Story of Loss, Survival, and Rescue at Sea

by Michael Schumacher

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Another gales of November come early story; in this case, November 18, 1958. The Carl D. Bradley was 623-foot self-unloading bulk carrier, based out of Rogers City, Michigan, and returning to port in ballast after delivering a load of crushed limestone to Gary, Indiana. Launched in 1927, she was part of the Bradley Transportation Company’s fleet of lake vessels; Bradley Transportation was owned by the Michigan Limestone and Chemical Company, which in turn was a subsidiary of U.S. Steel. All the Bradley boats were based out of Rogers City, a small town remarkable only because it hosted one of the largest limestone quarries in the United States. It was very much a company town; you either worked in the quarry or on the boats; out of the 35 crewmen on the Carl D. Bradley, 31 were from Rogers City or nearby towns. The names sound like one of those WWII movies that deliberately emphasize the “melting pot”: Bartell, Bauers, Budnick, Felax, Fogelsonger, Kowalski, MacDougall, Pilarski, Schefke, Vallee and Zoho, and so forth.

Although the Carl D. Bradley was heading into a pretty severe lake storm, she was running smoothly; the sumps didn’t develop an unusual amount of water and the boat didn’t work or twist. Therefore, nobody expected her to break in half – but she did, about 12 miles southwest of Gull Island, Michigan, at 17:30. The watch on a nearby German freighter, the Christian Sartori, was immensely surprised to see her lights go out, and turned to attempt rescue.

The bow floated just long enough for four men to reach a life raft; the engine room crew was not so lucky. Two of the men of the raft didn’t make it; one washed off and another went delirious from hypothermia and tried to swim to shore (he was found floating and alive by rescuers but died before he reached medical treatment). The remaining two men had the frustration of seeing the Christian Sartori pass within a hundred yards without seeing them, and missed running ashore on Gull Island by about 60 yards. They were eventually picked up by the Coast Guard buoy tender Sundew, which had something of an adventure off her own contending with 65 knot winds.

Author Michael Schumacher goes for the human interest angle – and, of course, there’s plenty of it; the Carl D. Bradley left 20 widows in Rogers City. There is the usual journalistic speculation as to who to blame; in a stunning display of restraint, it’s neither global warming or the Bush administration. There are plenty of not terribly well informed speculations – was Captain Bryan running too fast; should he have pulled into port somewhere along the Wisconsin coast and anchored, had the Carl D. Bradley been overloaded in the past; was she improperly ballasted; and so on – although Schumacher voices all these idea, the USCG hearing decided it was just bad luck. The wreck’s location was known from fathometer traces, no one dived on her until 1995. In 2007 her bell was removed and replaced with one engraved with the names of the crew.

There’s a map, which is not very detailed; we get the idea Lake Michigan is somewhere east of Wisconsin and south of Canada. Although there are some historic photographs, there’s no plan of the Carl D. Bradley; this is a handicap when trying to figure out exactly what was going on inside the ship and how the cargo handling equipment worked. Schmacher’s most annoying habit is putting everything in the present tense; this makes for some immediacy when discussing 1958 but gets a little confusing in the later parts of the story, which happen years later when divers explore the wreck. I can’t really put my finger on it, but Schmacher never seems quite comfortable describing life on the lakes; although he wrote a book about the Edmund Fitzgerald, he’s mostly a biographer, with works on Allen Ginsberg, Eric Clapton, Phil Ochs, and Francis Ford Coppola listed. Still, this is a pleasant enough read – finished in about three hours. ( )
  setnahkt | Jan 2, 2018 |
The Carl D. Bradley was a 638-foot limestone carrier ship based in the small town of Rogers City, Michigan. On November 18, 1958, the Carl D. was returning from Gary, Indiana through Lake Michigan when a large storm with gale-force winds hit. The Carl D. was supposed to be heading to Manitowoc for much needed repairs, but was instead heading back for another load of stone. By late afternoon on November 18, the storm overwhelmed the Carl D. and she broke in two and sank.
Schumacher deftly weaves the story of the sailors on the doomed ship, the families left behind, and the history of Bradley Transportation and Michigan Limestone companies into a captivating narrative that leaves you hoping for more than two survivors ( )
  pandalibrarian | Aug 4, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 159691484X, Hardcover)

By the author of Mighty Fitz, the dramatic account of the sinking of the Carl D. Bradley on Lake Michigan, published on the fiftieth anniversary of the wreck.

At approximately 5:30 P.M. on November 18, 1958, the Carl D. Bradley, a 623-foot limestone carrier caught in one of the most violent storms in Lake Michigan history, snapped in two and sank within minutes. Four of the thirty-five man crew escaped to a small raft, where they hung on in total darkness, braving massive waves and frigid temperatures. As the storm raged on, a search-and-rescue mission hunted for survivors, while the frantic citizens of nearby Rogers City, the tiny Michigan hometown to twenty-six members of the Bradley crew, anxiously awaited word of their loved ones’ fates.

In Wreck of the Carl D., Michael Schumacher reconstructs, in dramatic detail, the tragic accident, the perilous search-and-rescue mission, and the chilling aftermath for the small town so intimately affected by the tragedy. A fitting tribute to a powerful ship, the men who died aboard it, and the town that still mourns its loss, Schumacher's compelling follow up to Mighty Fitz is a wonderful addition to the literature of the Great Lakes and maritime history.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:20:30 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A dramatic fiftieth-anniversary account of the sinking of the Carl D. Bradley on Lake Michigan documents the violent storm that caused the disaster, the survival of four crewmen, and the desperate search-and-rescue mission on the part of frantic loved ones.… (more)

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