David M. Erickson
The collision of the S. S. Cedarville and Norwegian M. V. Topdalsfjord on May 7, 1965 and
the sinking of the Cedarville by David M. Erickson. On the morning of May 7th 1965, I returned to the S. S. Cedarville, about one hour before
it left the port of Rogers City, MI loaded with limestone and headed for the port of Gary,
Indiana. It was about 5 a. m. when we left port. I had to start work in the galley at 7 a.m., so I
layed down on my bunk for awhile before going to work. At breakfast and the changing of the watch everyone was in a good mood, after having an
all night break in our home port. It was very foggy, and our fog horn was blowing as we traveled up Lake Huron, towards
the Straits of Mackinac. My job was to take care of the Captains and Chief Engineer’s rooms, the officers’
dining room, and help with the meals. After breakfast that morning, I walked up forward to check out the captain’s quarters. It
was so foggy that I couldn’t see the full length of the Cedarville. It was cold walking down the deck; the air temperature was 41 degrees F and the water
br>returned to the galley to start getting ready for noon meal. As the Cedarville entered the straits area, I could hear the fog horns of different ships
blowing. The Cedarville had a vegetable bin outside of the galley on the port side of the main deck. I had stepped out of the galley to get some potatoes, from the vegetable bin. Just as I
stepped out of the door, Jerome Kierzek, who worked in the galley as porter was standing
by the railing. Jerome said to me, “Hey Dave, look at this” and he was pointing towards the front of the
Cedarville. As I turned to look forward, the Cedarville blew a long signal, and I could
see another boat coming out of the fog, headed for our port side. Jerome and I watched
as the boat struck us. The collision didn’t make much noise, and the Cedarville shuttered
like she had been hit by a big wave. The Cedarville was moving forward, and the freighter was struck in her port side. I said to Jerome, come on lets go get our life jackets. Jerome and I roomed together, and
our room was on the upper stern deck, last room on the port side. As we entered our room, I could hear some alarms ringing. I put on my coat and then my
life jacket. I quickly read the life boat instructions posted by my bunk. I was assigned to
life boat #1 the starboard life boat. I then went to the room next to ours to see if anyone was sleeping. As I left that room
and started down the stairs to the main deck the ship that had hit us had broken free of the
Cedarville, and the bow was scraping down the side of the Cedarville. It was so close I ,
could have reached out and touched it. I watched it disappear in the fog. As I reached the main deck, I went to the Steward’s room to check on my boss. He was
sitting on his bunk reading a magazine. He asked me what had happened. I told him that we had been hit by another ship and would probably be going to a ship
yard for repairs. I left the Steward’s room and headed towards the damaged port side of the Cedarville.
As I neared the area of impact, I could see some deck railing down, and some buckled
deck plates. The damage was on the side and below the water line. The deck crew was preparing to
lower the emergency collision tarpaulin, down over the damaged area to try and slow
down the flow of water into the Cedarville. You could hear water running into the cargo
area. As the deck crew lowered the crash tarp down over the side of the Cedarville, it became
clear that the Cedarville had a large hole in her side as the crash tarp was sucked into the
hole, like a Kleenex. The Cedarville had a slight port list at this time, and the engine room was told to pump
ballast water into the starboard ballast tanks to level her up. We all knew that the
Cedarville couldn’t stay afloat long, taking on water like she was. The order was given to get the life boats ready and lower them into to the main deck. We
were told that the Captain was going to try and run the Cedarville on the beach to keep
her from sinking. None of the crew thought that the Cedarville would sink before reaching the shore.
I went up to the #1 lifeboat on the starboard side and helped uncover it and get it lowered
to the main deck. I was standing on the main deck next to the stern of the life boat. I was
looking towards the bow of the Cedarville. I could just make out the back side of the
forward cabins in the fog. The Cedarville’s bow was so low in the water, that
the forward decks were awash. The Cedarville was starting to list to starboard and some of the
starboard ballast tank vents were venting water. The Cedarville was pushing her bow
under water and rolling to the starboard. Some crew members were already in the life
boat. I jumped into the rear of the life boat. As soon as I got the lifeboat someone yelled
release the life boat, and then someone said, it won’t release. I then jumped out of
the life boat, just as the Cedarville rolled over on top of it, taking the life boat full of
crewmen down with her. I felt the water shudder as the Cedarville bow hit bottom, and
heard a muffled roar from her limestone cargo spilling. As I came to the surface, it was hard to catch my breath because of the cold water. I
looked for the Cedarville, she was about 200 ft from me completely upside down and all
of her under water except for about 150 feet of her stern. The port side life boat had been
flipped over when the Cedarville rolled over and was floating next to the Cedarville, still
help by its cables. There was one crewman in it, banging on the release with an oar. The
life boat floated free just seconds before the Cedarville settled under the surface, her
propeller still turning very slow. As the Cedarville disappeared under the water the reality of what had happened hit me. I
was cold and numb. I could hear fog horns blowing and I could hear other crewmen
yelling for help. I finally spotted a life raft, with several crewmen on it, and started swimming towards it.
When I reached the raft, the men on the raft had to help me get on, my hands and legs
were so num, I couldn’t pull myself up. Everyone on the raft was too numb to row
the raft. We threw rope lines into the water, to help several of the crew. One of the mates on the Cedarville was a very large heavy man, 350/400 lbs. He came
along side the raft, and we couldn’t get him on the raft and he was crying asking us to
please help him. We all got on one side of the raft, and sank that side, and rolled the
mate on the raft. After floating around on the raft for a while, we heard a ship’s fog horn
and men yelling. We all yelled back. Soon a freighter appeared in the fog near the raft.
It was the German Freighter M. V. Weissenburg. The Weissenburg was in the straits area
when the Cedarville was hit. The Captain of the Weissenburg saw the Cedarville
disappear from her radar and stopped and lowered the life boats to search for survivors.
As the Weissenburg came close to our raft, we could see that they had hung cargo nets
over the side for anyone in the water to grab hold of. The Weissenburg was drifting very
slow as it came next to the raft. We reached out and hung onto the nets on the port side. They had their boarding ladder
lowered down to the water. Several of the Weissenburg’s crew secured the raft to the
ladder. We were then helped aboard the Weissenburg, given warm clothes and blankets,
hot coffee and tea. After I was warmed up a bit, I started checking to see if my boss had been picked up. I
saw several German sailors doing C. P. R. on crewmen from the Cedarville. In one room
they had 2 bodies of drowned crewmen covered with sheets. In another room they had
the wheelsman,who was at the wheel when the Cedarville sank. He had been pulled
down quite deep, and was in severe shock and his body temperature was very low. A
couple German sailors held him in a hot shower and massaged him to warm him up.
We were on the Weissenburg several hours, while her crew was searching for survivors.
I kept checking for my boss, but his body wasn’t recovered until 2 days later.
At about 1 p.m. the Coast Guard Cutter Mackinaw tied up along side the Weissenburg
and the survivors and dead crewmen from the Cedarville were transferred aboard. The
Mackinaw tookus to Mackinaw City, from there we were taken to the Cheboygan
hospital, given a check up, and those who didn’t have injuries were taken to their homes.
One of the injured crewmen was the 2nd assistant engineer, he had a broken leg. I talked
to him before I left the hospital and he told me he was down in the engine room when the
Cedarville rolled over. He had to climb an upside down stairway, to the main deck.
When he reached the main deck he was washed into the officer’s dining room which was
filling with water. He couldn’t get back out the door, so he kicked the screen out of one
of the port holes and swam out. He figured he broke his leg kicking out the screen.
He was the only survivor from the engine room crew that was on watch when the
Cedarville sank. At about 5 p.m., I was picked up at the hospital and driven home to Rogers City where
my wife and 2 children, and my parents were waiting for me. Years later I found out the reason that the starboard life boat wouldn’t release. A pin
holding the cable block in the bottom of the lifeboat was stuck and wouldn’t come out.
Art Martin, who was a cook on the Cedarville and survived the sinking told me that he
was the one who tried to release the life boat and about the stuck pin. He said when the
pin wouldn’t come out, he yelled that the lifeboat wouldn’t release. When I heard him say that the lifeboat wouldn’t release, that’s when I jumped out into
the water, just as the Cedarville rolled over on top of the lifeboat full of crewmembers. Also the reason the Cedarville rolled over so fast, was that the starboard ballast tanks
were pumped full of water to compensate for the port list from the collision damage.