Wes Oleszewski,
Ghost Ships, Gales & Forgotten Tales
(Avery, 1995)

When people tell stories of ships and the men who sail them, it's tales of the deep oceans that excite the most interest. But, as author Wes Oleszewski ably demonstrates in Ghost Ships, Gales & Forgotten Tales, the Great Lakes have plenty of stories to share.

Far more than the Edmund Fitzgerald, made famous in song, there are countless wrecks dotting the bottom of those treacherous lakes. Shipping was a vital industry in the region, particularly in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and an odd assortment of old wooden schooners, tugs and steel freighters plied the waterways, many long after they were no longer seaworthy.

At a time when shipping regulations were looser, weather forecasting was a fledgling science and many shipping companies tried to squeeze extra years of hard labor out of ancient vessels, there were a great many tragedies and near misses that have been forgotten. Oleszewski makes sure they're remembered, and for anyone who enjoys tales of storms and bold seamanship, this is exciting reading. Storms raged, ships collided or ran aground, boilers ruptured and steam erupted into the inky sky as sailors worked desperately to save their ships and lives or rescue others in peril in the rough waters.

Oleszewski's narrative is both factual, filled with meticulous details of the ships, crews, cargoes and courses that any nautical buff will enjoy knowing, and thrilling, descriptive enough to make readers feel the weather battering above them.

Some of the ships described here still rest on the sandy bottom of the lakes. Others have been pounded into unrecognizable debris, while many disappeared and have never been found. It's gratifying to see these stories resurrected and shared by so talented a researcher and writer.

review by
Tom Knapp

14 February 2009

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