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2003 Gales of November

Posted by Karen A. Brown

In November of 2003, the Lake Superior Marine Museum Association in conjunction with Lake Superior Magazine held its 16th annual Gales of November. This year's Gales offered over a day of events that started on Friday, November 8th and continued on through Saturday, November 9th. The events included a variety of conferences on lighthouses, history, shipwrecks and diving, a box lunch forum, an evening dinner speaker, boat tours and a silent auction, which raised a considerable sum for the museum.

The Gales of November began as an opportunity for local divers to get together and discuss their diving adventures and was hosted by diver Elmer Engman. It has since become a full conference complete with sponsor booths, dinner events, box lunch forums and silent auction with people coming from all over to attend as well as to speak.

Troy and I chose to skip the Friday evening dinner and introduction to speakers, presenters and booth holders and instead drove to Duluth from the Minneapolis area on Saturday morning. We arrived with plenty of time to check in, get our informational packets and acquaint ourselves with the offerings at the silent auction. We kicked off the day with some additions to our Lake Superior library and planned out our day.

We kicked off the day by attending the opening speech, followed it with the "Wreck of the Vernon" by Kimm Stabelfeldt from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Foundation. Next we attended Hugh Bishop's Ghosts of the Great Lakes followed by a break from speeches and then the lunchtime roundtable discussion, "Life on the Lakes". We kicked the afternoon off with the "Two Harbors Lighthouse", followed by the "Steamer America" and finally, "Shipbuilding in Duluth Superior". We stayed for the social events including the social hour, drawings, auction results and wrapped up the day with the dinner program featuring Captain Cynthia Robson.

As this was our first Gales of November, we didn't really know what to expect. We knew the Gales had been around for 16 years and had evolved from a gathering of like minded divers to a much more diverse event, but not knowing when that evolution occurred left us prepared for any type of event. What was somewhat surprising was the lack of polish that seemed to pervade the event. The check in was done well, the exhibitor booths were nicely put together and the DECC offered plenty of room to check your coat and make yourself comfortable, which set our expectation that this event would be professionally done.

The welcoming speech, offered by Bruce VonRiedel, Thom Holden and Elmer Engman did not welcome those who came to attend the conference, peruse the silent auction offerings or visit the exhibitor booths. It was, instead, taken as an opportunity to thank all who sponsored the Gales and request that people shop at their establishments and mention the Gales. There was a considerable amount of mumbling, a lack of respect shown to the speakers (by the other speakers who carried on conversations while they were talking) and no information for first time Gales attendees. I had hoped to hear about the history of the Gales event, information on the items being offered in the silent auction such as their history and how they arrived at this event, even a preview of the speakers we were about to hear to tantalize us would have been preferable to the amount of time spent thanking sponsors. In this age where the political pundits are removing sponsorships of museums and art, I understand the need to appreciate the sponsors of events, but that shouldn't negatively impact a conference goers experience as this did.

After that somewhat lukewarm welcome, we moved on to the speech we selected as our first. We had the option of attending the speech by Kimm Stabelfeldt's discussion on the "Wreck of the Vernon" or Thomas Johnson's "Basic Research on Lake Superior and other Large Lakes of the World; Who Needs it?". We chose to hear about the Wreck of the Vernon as shipwrecks of the lakes are of particular interest to us. A diver, Kimm presented fascinating imagery on the shipwreck as well as information on the wreck itself including how it may have occurred and the actions taken by the Captains of ships that passed by that may have resulted in a higher death toll. Though much of the information presented was fascinating, the presenter was somewhat inarticulate, he often mumbled and ran through his speech quickly making it difficult to hear and follow him.

The next presentation we chose was the "Haunted Lake Superior" presentation by Hugh Bishop. It was an obvious promotion of his new book, but it was presented in such a way that it was like Hugh was sitting around telling us stories. It was less of a presentation and more like storytelling hour. We had already purchased the book for our Lake Superior library and really enjoyed hearing the stories from the teller himself. After the talk (it really wasn't a speech), Hugh autographed his books and spent time with his fans. It was great!

We skipped the 11:30 presenters in favor of touring the boats that were offered and shopping in the DECC gift shop. The boats available for tour were the R/V Blue Heron, the Kiyi and USCG 47'. Naturally, Troy enjoyed touring the boats more then I did as he is fascinated with boats of all types, but I too, enjoyed looking around the boats and seeing how others lived on the water.

During the lunch hour we attended the box lunch presentation "Life on the Lakes" which was a roundtable presentation with three retired gents who spent their lives on the big water. It was a fascinating discussion watching these guys talk about their history on the water. They laughed, they talked, they told stories. You could tell that these guys really enjoyed each others' company and they told a wonderful story.

Our first speech following lunch was the "Two Harbors Lighthouse" by Dennis O'Hara of Northern Images Photography. The images shown in this presentation were wonderful and Mr. O'Hara is definitely an accomplished photographer, however, not an accomplished speaker. It was somewhat difficult to tell the purpose of his presentation except as a showcase for his photography. When asked questions about the lighthouse and its history, Mr. O'Hara was unable to answer the questions. His presentation ended well before the allotted time, probably because it wasn't practiced or timed. He could become a good speaker, but a little more homework would need to be done.

As we were done early, we once again hit the DECC gift shop, this time with the express intention of purchasing a warming jacket for me to wear during dinner. We discovered during lunch that the room they held lunch, and that would be holding dinner, in was not well heated and I didn't wish to be as uncomfortably cold as I was during lunch.

The next speech was on the "Steamer America" offered by Steve Daniel of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society. It was a well put together presentation going over the wreck, how it occurred, and what changes they'd seen on the wreck since it people began diving it. They used those changes to segue into their philosophy on shipwreck preservation and some of the projects the society had undertaken to preserve wrecks. I found myself questioning some of the "good works" they were performing. Their method of preserving the wrecks is to recreate portions of the wreck after nature had destroyed them. In some instances the work they had done to "preserve" the wreck had been destroyed by the time they returned to the site. After listening to Mr. Daniel describe the efforts that they had gone through and the work to restore those wrecks I started to wonder what they were trying to preserve? The images and experiences of their youth or the site itself. If they were trying to preserve the site as a living history of the Great Lakes, falsely returning portions of the wreck to its original state distorts that reality. What lessons can be learned by divers looking to study the differences in wrecks over periods of time if someone is changing the face of the wreck and returning it to its original wrecked state? What can be learned of the differences between wrecks in the icy depths of Lake Superior when compared to wrecks in the depths of other great lakes if we alter them to match our remembrances of the wreck? At some point we all have to let go and let things age as they were intended, don't we? Earlier in the day, Troy and I had visited the booth for the Great Lakes Preservation Society and signed up for a year-long membership to their group. We did it with the belief that our sponsorship would be helping to preserve the wrecks in their existing states as historic landmarks. As I sat and listened to the alterations this group had undertaken on the one ship, I questioned whether we should have donated to their society at all.

The final speech of the day that we attended was one given by a friend of mine at work, Pat Lapinski. Pat is a photographer and an area historian. Pat spoke on Shipbuilding in Duluth Superior. He had an amazing number of images, statistics and information on the history of shipbuilding and builders in the area. He showed such a passion for the area. He had a lot of information to go through and went through it quickly, concisely and was extremely articulate. He had a full room of interested people, and though I am somewhat biased since I know Pat personally, I would say he was the best presenter of information at the conference. Hugh Bishop also did an excellent job in presenting himself and his book, it was a format that couldn't be compared to Pat's.

The last speech we heard of the day was that of Captain Cynthia Robson on a "View from the Bridge: Piracy on the High Seas". Captain Robson survived a number of attacks by pirates on the high seas during her Captaincy. Her speech, though interesting, seemed oddly out of place for the area. All of her information and background was focusing on the piracy on the high seas; on the oceans and seas around other countries mostly. There didn't seem to be much of a connection between the presentations that we saw earlier that day and the piracy presentation. It seemed an odd way to end the day because it was so out of place. I don't want to discount the speaker because she was clear, concise, and informative, was able to provide statistical information relevant to her topic and could answer a variety of questions on the same, it just didn't seem to be relevant to the event.

So, with the day over, I found myself asking "Would I attend the Gales in 2004?" Was I sufficiently impressed or unimpressed by the presenters, the LSMMA or the topics to either bring me back or keep me away? I didn't know. I don't think that I could answer that question yet. While at the conference, we signed up as supporters of the Lake Superior Marine Museum Association, consequently, we are invited to other events supported by the LSMMA including the upcoming commissioning of the new Coast Guard Cutter Alder and do intend to attend. We plan to continue our support. I'm hoping that I'll find a way to provide my feedback to LSMMA and offer my support for the Gales of 2004 and perhaps make it a better experience for the next newcomer to the Gales.

Was it worth attending? Yes. Definitely.

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