Friday, October 28, 2022

The William A Irvin; Guest Blog by A Stewart

I'm elsewhere today, more of that next week. Here's a guest blogger to fill the spot!

As part of the Bouchercon trip we stayed a few days in Duluth up to the north of Minneapolis by Lake Superior. Lake Superior is the largest of the great lakes, and from our hotel we could sit and watch the ships coming into Duluth harbour under the famous lift bridge.

I visited one of the old iron carrying ships the William A Irvin which is a permanent feature of the harbour. The ship was built in 1937 and was used by US Steel to carry iron ore between various destinations on the lakes. 


Its now classified as a museum and you can go on a guided tour throughout the vessel. My visit started at the engine room at the rear of the ship.


                                                                        Engine Room

It was one of the first ships to have electric steering. The crew apparently were not initially particularly keen on this particular innovation, they never quite trusted it.


                                                                         Electric steering

From there up into the crew’s quarters and kitchen.


                                                                            Crew's kitchen


                                                                            Crew's Quarters

The ship carried the ore in large silos carrying up to 13,600 tones of the ore in total at a stretch.


                                                                            Iron Ore Storage Compartment

As you move to the front of the ship there is an unusual three tiered bow cabin structure where guests could travel with the ship to the various destinations. The guests did not pay but rather were either US Steel dignatories and their families or, prospective clients that were treated to these cruises. The lived and dined in comfort with the cabins sporting oak paneling and walnut veneer with brass handrailings.

                                                                            Guest kitchen


                                                                               Guest stateroom

Moving on to the top of the show you can see the wheelhouse and the duty officers cabin that sits just behind it.


                                                                    The Wheelhouse


                                                                        Duty officer's cabin

These ships were not without their dangers. The last major loss was the Edumund Fitzgerald lost at sea with all souls in 1975. It's not entirely clear what happened to the ship. There are various theories around water coming in with ineffective internal doors to stop it. Whatever happened, happened quickly, as there were no survivors.

As a consequence of this safety legislation was brought in that stipulated that crew members should have access to survival suits and that water tight doors being mandatory. In the early days of these ships it was said that a hole the size of one’s fist could sink even a large ship as there was no way of effectively stopping the water coming in. Today ships can sail half way around the globe with holes the size of cars as incoming water is contained in water tight compartments. 

The other distinguishing feature of the Irvin was that it was possible to walk the whole length of the ship without ever being subject to the weather. This small passage ran the whole length of the ship which was considered an innovation of the time.


You can see now that one of the silos has been converted into a gift shop and the passage that tranversed the ship is now a storage area. As a 'tight' Scotsman I however managed to resist the urge to actually purchase anything.


All in all it was an interesting morning's excursion - thoroughly recommended.