Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Wreck of the Fedora

by Dan Jones



My family and I recently returned from a week-long vacation in the Bayfield, Wisconsin area.

Lake Superior is a beautiful and stirring masterpiece of God’s grandeur and glory and the Apostle Islands area is yet another example of His stunning creation.

One of the many activities we enjoyed was a glass-bottom boat tour which not only gave us a good look at the beautiful scenery and some light houses, but also took us to some shipwrecks.  Our Captain served as tour guide, narrating the story of each shipwreck.

The story of the Fedora particularly caught my attention.

The Fedora was built in 1889 and was no small boat for her time. She was nearly as long as a football field at 282.2 feet, and she was 41.5 feet wide and 20.1 feet deep. She listed a gross tonnage of 1848.1 and was powered by a 900 horsepower steam engine.  

She was considered by the marine insurance companies of the day to be one of the safest vessels on the water.

On the night of September 20, 1901, with respected Captain Frank A. Frick at the helm, she was headed from Duluth on her way to Ashland, Wisconsin. Although she had hauled many loads of grain along this same route, she was empty on this trip as she was scheduled to pick up a load of iron ore in Ashland and take it down to the lower lakes.

The Fedora had left Duluth on the afternoon of that day and had rounded the northern tip of Wisconsin, making her way through the Apostle Islands in the West Channel. It was a windy and cold Friday night and her crew of 17 was looking forward to a short shore leave in Ashland if time allowed.

As she passed between Basswood Island and Red Cliff Bay, a kerosene lamp in the engine room exploded. (This was considered a freak accident as kerosene lamps don’t normally explode.)

The fire quickly spread to oil cans stored in the engine room and, fanned by a strong southeast wind, the entire engine room was quickly engulfed in flame.

The engine room was quickly evacuated, but Captain Frick now had a very serious problem.  The Fedora was equipped with pumps and hoses for fighting fires on board, but they were located in the engine room—where no one could get to them because of the fire.

In addition, the throttle control for that 900 horsepower steam engine was located, not in the helm in the bow of the boat with Captain Frick, but in the engine room back in the stern.

And while almost all of the Fedora’s structure that came in contact with the water was made of iron, almost all of her structure above the water line was solid oak.

At that point, the Fedora was an enormous flaming torch running full steam ahead without a single option that would not end in certain disaster.

To his credit, Captain Frick kept his wits about him and ran the Fedora aground less than a hundred yards from shore.  He would later recount that the enormous flames from the burning ship “illuminated the lake for a great distance” and helped him see “a place of vantage to beach our sinking ship.”

All seventeen aboard were able to board the life boats and make it safely to shore where all they could do was sit and helplessly watch the vessel burn to the waterline.

And I can’t help but wonder if our beloved nation is a Fedora.  

Recent events certainly make it seem that there is a fire in the engine room which we are powerless to extinguish while we continue to plow through dangerous waters at full steam ahead with our inevitable and ignoble destination brightly illuminated by the fires of our own burning.

We have trusted in the strength and might of our iron hull for many years, but our decks have always been made of wood.

I fear that if we don’t or won’t or can’t trust the very ones who are here to serve and protect, even if some should make it to the life boats, will we have no other option available but to sit and watch her burn?

Matthew 24:12 says that because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold. Respect for and even appreciation of the law is the decking on which we walk every day.

We are blessed that the laws of man in this country were founded on the laws of God. When we reject those laws and the people who uphold them, we embrace lawlessness-- which will inevitably lead us to a place in which all of our available options lead to certain disaster.

It does not have to be this way. We have the benefit of history to tell us not to design ships where the fire-fighting equipment is housed in the same room as the flammable liquids. We know better than to put the throttle and the steering wheel at opposite ends of the ship.

In the same way, we know the precepts and the laws God gave us are good and are good for us. The “modern” rejections of God’s laws are not modern at all. People have strayed from these laws many times throughout history and we keep coming back to them precisely because they are good for us individually and for society as a whole.

There is always time to repent.

There is always time to call upon the One who can calm the storm.

Today’s Praise
And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Mark 4:39 ESV


(Many of the details about the wreck of the Fedora are from James M. Keller’s book, The “Unholy” Apostles.)


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