Saturday, February 11, 2012

Michigan Mysteries-Bridgebuilder X

Kathy Firestone was a young girl when her father, Sterling Nickerson Jr., disappeared in Lake Michigan along with his boat, the BRIDGEBUILDER X. The following is an excerpt from Kathy Firestone’s book “The Fox Islands, North and South”:

“When the Mackinac Bridge was completed, Sterling Nickerson, Jr., went to St. Ignace to inspect one of the tugs that had been used for bridge construction. In 1958 the steel-hulled, 65-foot Bridgebuilder X was bought by the Nickerson Company. It was reconstructed at Burke’s coal dock in Suttons Bay and at the Sears dock in Greilickville and put into operation, making it possible to haul a day’s sawmill output in one load.

About once a week Sterling, Jr., hauled a gross of 53 tons of hardwood to the J.W. Wells Company and the M and M Box Company in Wisconsin.

The lumber business was going well for the Nickersons, but on December 15, 1959, a shadow fell on their good fortune. About ten in the morning, Sterling Nickerson, Jr., and a relative, Glen Roop, left Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, aboard the Bridgebuilder X.; and when they didn’t show up at South Fox Island, a search was begun by the Coast Guard and pilots in private planes. Though the search was continued for several days and was joined by people walking the mainland shores, no trace of the boat was ever found. A day after the disappearance, an oil slick was sighted about 15 miles southwest of South Fox Island but was quickly dispersed by the waves, preventing further investigation. Roop’s body washed ashore in Wisconsin the following summer.

There had been 11-foot waves several hours after the Bridgebuilder had pulled out into the Big Lake, but Nickerson had battled worse than that before. Earlier in the season, during heavy fog, the Bridgebuilder had scraped bottom. She was repaired at the Roen Shipyard in Sturgeon Bay and was sailing back into operation from there the day the vessel repairmen had questioned Nickerson about whether the boat had enough ballast. He replied that he had plenty of heavy chain back in Northport and could place that inside the explanation for the boat’s disappearance seemed to be that the ballast was needed sooner, when the sudden, heavy seas hit.

In “A Child of the Sea”, Elizabeth Whitney Williams tells of the loss of her husband and others, expressing the grief which she felt – a grief with which the Nickersons and others who had lost loved ones on the seas could identify. “the bodies were never recovered, and only those who have passed through the same know what a sorrow it is to lose your loved one by drowning and not be able to recover the remains. It is a sorrow that never ends through life.” The loss of Nickerson and Roop on the Bridgebuilder X left two widows and nine fatherless children.

Ironically, while the search was going on got the missing Bridgebuilder, government documents where in the mail on their way to the lumber company, certifying that the name of the vessel was officially changed from Bridgebuilder X to Nickerson.”

Kathy Firestone is passionate about finding her father, Sterling Nickerson Jr., and bringing him home for burial with his family. Please keep her, and the Nickerson family, in your thoughts and prayers concerning this. While the odds of locating a missing vessel as small as the Bridgebuilder X in Lake Michigan are very slim, improving technology will eventually make finding the boat and her captain more likely.

Thanks to Ross Richardson and Michigan Mysteries

Kathy Dowsett

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