Armistice Day Storm, Nov. 11th & 12th, 1940


This was one of the greatest storms ever to hit the Great Lakes. Hurricane winds blew out of the west for over two days. On Lake Huron alone, twelve ships foundered on reefs and rocks. Two ore-carriers sank, and one went bottom-up ending up near Port Huron. The wind blew ALL the water out of the Saginaw River and for miles out into the bay. People walked on the dry river and bay bottom picking up tubs full of stranded fish. The events following were passed on to me by my father, Captain Herbert Friedrich in 1971, and also by Wilbert Wirgau in January, 2000. He was a crewman in 1940 aboard the Calcite.

  Late in the evening of the 10th of November, 1940, the Calcite with Captain Donald Haunts (name should probably be Nauts per letter below from Dr. R, H Plumb Jr.), was in the Detroit River near Port Huron. The Coast Guard warned Captain Hauts about the coming storm. The Captain thought that if he hugged the Michigan shoreline he could beat the storm and get across Saginaw Bay. He proceeded to enter Lake Huron passing many anchored ships on his way. ALL was well until the ship received the full force of the wind and high seas in Saginaw Bay. When he tried to navigate north or south the ship would nearly rollover. The men said the ship had such a list that you could actually walk on the walls or bulkheads. Captain Hauts then realized that getting to Calcite was of little importance - at this point ,just to survive was paramount. They turned into the wind and high seas and tried to head into the Saginaw Bay. They could not gain headway and were driven by the wind and seas into Georgian Bay, Canada.

  For many hours they battled the wind and seas. They could see that they were being driven toward some of the many islands in Georgian Bay. The Captain dropped both anchors and ordered full-ahead, but those efforts were futile. They were going to founder on a large island. All the men prayed, even those who had never prayed before. They could see and hear the breakers upon the shoreline. Just when they thought all hope was lost, the wind changed direction and the seas let up somewhat. They were able to gain headway with the anchor winches and the engine. They pulled up the anchors and somehow made it behind the island where they anchored for two days to access the damage. Two hold-down cables on the boom were broken off, many tarps shredded, wooden hatch covers were washed away and all the windows in the galley were stove-in. They took on a huge amount of water ...if the ship had been carrying a full load they would have sunk. They then pumped out the water, plugged up the windows, waited for the storm to abate and headed for Calcite for repairs.

  The Calcite has long ago been scrapped, but a person can still see the Calcite’s Pilot house which sits at the 40 Mile Point Lighthouse Museum just north of Rogers City. Just envision standing in that pilot house reflecting on those frightful days of November 11th and 12th, 1940.


Dear Mr. Capogrossa,

I enjoy reading your paper. Some stories I liked were about poaching and other outdoor adventurers also about the stories about sailors of the Great Lakes.

My father was a sailor who sailed for about forty years. His last ship was the Roger City of the Bradley Fleet. He was Captain.

I have a brother James who was also a Captain. His last ship was the Buffalo of the American Steamship Co. He retired about 8 years ago.

My son sails, he is on the Anderson of Great Lakes Fleet.  I said in the 1940's at age 16, I started sailing on the old Calcite in 1944, during summer vacation from school. The last ship I sailed on was the Carl D. Bradley in 1947. Some of my best friends went down on the Bradley Nov. 18th, 1958. I remember how it used to bend. The hinge point was just aft of boom. It bent more when it was light.

I think because of the heavy after end, you could sit on a forward hatch, and see the after end actually disappear only to rise up again.

My father, who died in 1972, told me about the Great Storm of 1940. He was on the Calcite.

I made a painting of the Calcite about to founder on an island in Georgian Bay.

While looking through my father’s things a few years ago I came across this Great Lakes Register dated 1898. I almost threw it away because I thought it only contained advertisements. It has a list of all of the ships that sailed that year ; schooners, propellors, side wheel, etc. It also tells about the northern ports on the Great Lakes ; Grand Marais, Alpena, some no longer exist such as Crawford Quarry, Alpena had 15,000 people in 1898, today 10,000.
                Kenneth Friedrich

To the Editor,
I just finished reading the article regarding the adventures of the Calcite during the Armistice Day storm of 1940. The Captain is variously listed as Captain Haunts and Captain Hauts. Just for the record, the Captain on the Calcite in 1940 was Donald E. Nauts. He retired in 1959 after sailing the lakes for more than 40 years.
During one year, he was Captain of the Carl D. Bradley (1951) and he later received an official US Coast Guard Commendation for assisting in the recovery of Cedarville survivors (1958).
Regards, Dr. R. H. Plumb Jr.