Friday, September 19, 2014

The Wreck of the Mataafa

For those in peril on the sea…

Most Holy Spirit! Who didst brood
Upon the chaos dark and rude,
And bid its angry tumult cease,
And give, for wild confusion peace;
Oh, hear us when we cry to Thee,
For these in peril on the sea!

         William Whitney, Eternal Father, Strong to Save, 1860

Lake Superior is the largest freshwater lake in the world.

This lake is used to transport goods, and fishermen harvest its bounty. Sportsman scuba dive and leisure boats enjoy its clear surface on sunny days.

But seasoned sailors know that Lake Superior has a treacherous side. Its rocky shores, hidden reefs, and violent storms have claimed hundreds of boats and ships and thousands of lives.

Some believe that not all these unfortunate souls rest in peace.

An Accident

Howard as a young child had a near-death experience where he almost drowned.

He was attending summer camp in Minnesota when he sank beneath the surface of a small lake--at first unnoticed by the lifeguard.

He panicked as he first hit the cold water, but within moments he slipped into a warm, dreamlike state. He then saw his grandparents beckoning to him. They wanted him to join them.

He then felt strong, reassuring arms bring him to the surface. Cold and blue, he was unceremoniously dragged to shore.

Howard never told anyone except close family members about what he saw beneath the water that day. His family insisted after this that he become a strong swimmer.

As it turned out, this was not the last time he would see spirits beneath the water.

When Howard grew up, he became convinced that his near-drowning had made him more sensitive to the presence of spirits.

Unforgiving Storms

In November, hurricanes hit Lake Superior.

This is when the lake produces its most powerful icy winds and freezing waves, which rarely have pity or mercy for man. In 1905, the lake took more than 60 men--the highest recorded.

One of the ships that lake Superior claimed that year was the Mataafa.

 A Fatal Decision

The Mataafa weighted 4,800 tons and was 430 feet long--it was an iron ore freighter.

On November 28th the captain, despite the fact a storm was gathering, decided to depart Duluth harbor. He was towing the consort barge James NasmythHis ship had barely made it to open water when he decided he had made a big mistake. The James Nasmyth was left at anchor. *

As the rain blinded his view, the captain attempted to maneuver his ship around. As he did, enormous waves slammed into her side.

The currents at the entrance to the harbor pushed the Mataafa off course.

Her hull hit bottom, and then she smashed into a pier. This force flooded the engines’ boilers with water. As these fires went out, it left the ship powerless and drifting.

Four of the 24-member crew lashed themselves to the ship afraid they would be swept overboard.

An estimated 10,000 horrified people in Duluth witnessed this wreck. They watched helplessly as the stranded vessel was just out of reach and hope.

By the dawn of the 29th, nine of the crew had either drowned or were frozen and battered to death. The rest were rescued.

The aftermath of the wreck.
The storm that hit that November day is known as the Mataafa Blow.

* The James Nasmyth survived the storm intact.

A Scuba Dive

The wreck of the Mataafa is in shallow water close to the Duluth shore in three pieces.

Howard and a group of friends decided to dive and explore this wreck. He came to regret this decision. Underneath the water near the wreak, he experienced what he described “as the fright of his life.”

Afterward, he vowed he would never dive in open water again.

For what he had seen was four sailors tied securely to the ship as it sank into the lake. A century after these four men died an agonizing death, Howard saw them straining against their bonds. They were screaming in terror as the ship carried them beneath the icy waves.

His friends that dove with him that day saw nothing.

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