Between the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan, there is a stretch of water known as the Straits of Mackinac. (Pronounced mack-in-awe) This narrow channel connects Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. Nearby is a museum which tells the story of shipwrecks in the Straits. One of those was the wreck of the SS Cedarville in the early morning of May 7, 1965.
The Cedarville was carrying a heavy load of limestone and traveling through the straits in dense fog. In spite of low visibility Captain Martin Joppich kept the ship moving at top speed. He even ordered the wheelsman to cut corners off the official shipping channel to save time. Radar detected two oncoming vessels. One of them was identified as the Norwegian freighter Topdalsfjord. Captain Joppich ordered the crew to reduce speed and steer starboard to pass the Topdalsfjord on the port side. In doing that, the Cedarville steered directly into the path of the Topdalsfjord. The Norwegian ship sliced a large hole into the side of the Cedarville.
Captain Joppich ordered the crew to stop the engines and drop anchor. The crew prepared the lifeboats, but no order was given to abandon ship. The ship was starting to list to port, so the crew began to fill the starboard ballast tanks. The captain then ordered the crew to raise anchor and steer the ship to shallow water six miles (10 km) away. By the time they had gone just over two miles (3.3 km), the ship rolled over and sank.
Of the 35 crew members, ten of them died in the wreck of the SS Cedarville. What mistakes did the captain make? The Cedarville was going too fast for foggy conditions. The ship steered the wrong way into the path of another vessel. The crew was not given orders to abandon ship. There was another area of shallow water only two miles (3.2 km) away that they might have reached before sinking. All of these things were caused by the captain making bad decisions.
A plaque at the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum says, “To some degree, all wrecks in the Straits of Mackinac were avoidable. Someone exercised bad judgment or performed their duties incorrectly. In many instances, several people made many small errors, each individually, but momentous when combined with others. As a result, ships went down while passengers and crewmembers died.” The wreck of the SS Cedarville is only one example.
The plaque says the real cause of wrecks is people. How often do people cause wrecks and destruction to their own lives or the lives of others and then blame God for the pain? Does God allow us to make bad choices? Yes, but when we make those bad choices, we should put the blame where it belongs, and not on God.
–Roland Earnst © 2018