On this Day in History: The Sinking of the Cedarville

May 7, 1965 found the Straits of Mackinac wreathed in heavy fog, limiting visibility to only a few hundred feet. The 604’ long freighter Cedarville steamed into the fog at full speed, her holds full of limestone bound for the U.S. Steel company mills in Gary, Indiana. Despite the thickening fog, and the presence of several other vessels in the narrow confines of the straits, Cedarville’s captain refused to reduce speed and ordered his helmsman to stray out of the official shipping lanes in an effort to reach Gary more quickly. Meanwhile, the Norwegian freighter Topdalsfjord approached the Mackinac Bridge from the west. As Cedarville and Topdalsfjord approached one another east of the bridge, they failed to make radio contact, and Cedarville’s captain finally ordered a slight reduction in speed and turned his ship to starboard, hoping to give Topdalsfjord a wide berth. Instead, Cedarville swung directly into the path of the oncoming Norwegian freighter, and the two ships collided at 9:45 AM, just under three miles east of the Mackinac Bridge. Topdalsfjord’s bow punched a large hole in Cedarville’s port side, and the freighter immediately began taking on water. After calling U.S. Steel headquarters, her captain attempted to beach Cedarville in shallow water six miles away. The ship had traveled only two miles before she suddenly rolled over and sank at 10:25 AM. Ten crewmembers died when Cedarville sank, their deaths caused by their captain’s poor choice of beaching location as well as his refusal to follow basic safety procedures while sailing in fog.

The steamer Cedarville sails under the newly-completed Mackinac Bridge in the autumn of 1958. Construction of the bridge began on May 7, 1954, eleven years to the day before Cedarville sank just east of the bridge’s south tower.  Photo courtesy of Presque Isle County Historical Society.

The steamer Cedarville sails under the newly-completed Mackinac Bridge in the autumn of 1958. Construction of the bridge began on May 7, 1954, eleven years to the day before Cedarville sank just east of the bridge’s south tower. Photo courtesy of Presque Isle County Historical Society.

Today, the wreck of Cedarville rests on its starboard side in just over 100 feet of water. Her story, as well as that of several other local wrecks, will be told in the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum currently under construction at the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse in Mackinaw City. Set to open later this summer, this new exhibit features artifacts recovered from soon after she sank, as well as numerous other objects from other Straits of Mackinac shipwrecks.

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