Ghost Ships Part 1

As cheesey as this sounds, this post is written for one of my friends here at WH: Jadewik. I don’t know if she’d ever take the time to type it up, but I am. This will be a two part post with more to come later.

Ghost ships have been a part of the lore of just about any major country with a port. More myth than fact, they still stir the imagination of even the most hearty sailors so I thought I’d delve into this world and see what I could find to share.

First on the list is the Mary Celeste. This ship was in fact a real ship which sailed the seas in the latter part of the 19th century. Owned by James H Winchester, Sylvester Goodwin and Benjamin Spooner Briggs, the Mary Celeste was a 100 foot brigantine. On the morning of December 13, 1872, the ship sailed into the Bay of Gibraltar devoid of any life on her decks.

The ‘Mary Celeste’ had sailed from New York on November 7th bound for Genoa with a cargo of 1701 barrels of American Alcohol, shipped by Meissner Ackermann & Co., value approximatly $35,000 the purpose of which was to fortify wine. The value of the freight on the alcohol was $3,400 and the ship herself $14,000. The Vessels cargo was insured in Europe, and the hull insurance was carried by American companies.

The Freight was insured by the Atlantic Mutual Insurance Company of New York, today the only survivor of the American insurers.

She was followed on 15th November by the ‘Dei Gratia’ which followed a roughly parallel course across the Atlantic carrying a cargo 1735 barrels of petroleum.

On the Afternoon of December 5th 1872 half way between the Azores and the Portuguese coast the ‘Dei Gratia’ came up with a Brigantine which Captain Morehouse recognised as the ‘Mary Celeste’. He knew Captain Briggs and had dined with him before he sailed. He was puzzled to see the ship yawing, coming into the wind and then falling off, she was out of control. He knew Captain Briggs to be a good seaman.

There were no distress signals, and after watching for two hours and hailing her and getting no reply they set off in a small boat and duly boarded her.

The vessel was found to be in good seaworthy condition and the general impression was that the crew had left in a great hurry. They had left behind their oil skin boots and pipes. Captain Morehouse’s explanation was that they had left in panic thinking the vessel to be sinking. The chronometer and sextant were not found on board. The last entry on the ships slate showed she had made the island of St Mary in the Azores on November 25th.

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The second in our list of stories isn’t a ship, a yacht that was discovered off the coast of Australia, adrift with no one aboard on April 18, 2007. It has since become a solved mystery, but before all the facts had been examined, it’s story was often compared to that of the Mary Celeste.

Though the bodies were never recovered, the coroner of Queensland determined that their disappearance was an accident. The conclusion was that one of the men on board fell into the water while trying to free a fishing line from the rudder and his brother fell in while trying to save him. The third man on board apparently got knocked into the water by the yacht’s boom while trying to turn the boat around to rescue his friends.

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The third story we will explore is that of the infamous Flying Dutchman. Although just as well known as the Mary Celeste – if not more so – unlike the Mary Celeste, the Flying Dutchman never existed. The legend began circulating in the 17th century after a Dutch ship sank while trying to navigate around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern most tip of Africa.

Captain van der Decken was pleased. The trip to the Far East had been highly successful and at last, they were on their way home to Holland. As the ship approached the tip of Africa, the captain thought that he should make a suggestion to the Dutch East India Company (his employers) to start a settlement at the Cape on the tip of Africa, thereby providing a welcome respite to ships at sea.

He was so deep in thought that he failed to notice the dark clouds looming and only when he heard the lookout scream out in terror, did he realise that they had sailed straight into a fierce storm. The captain and his crew battled for hours to get out of the storm and at one stage it looked like they would make it. Then they heard a sickening crunch – the ship had hit treacherous rocks and began to sink. As the ship plunged downwards, Captain VandeDecken knew that death was approaching. He was not ready to die and screamed out a curse: “I WILL round this Cape even if I have to keep sailing until doomsday!”

So, even today whenever a storm brews off the Cape of Good Hope, if you look into the eye of the storm, you will be able to see the ship and its captain – The Flying Dutchman. Don’t look too carefully, for the old folk claim that whoever sights the ship will die a terrible death.

Many people have claimed to have seen The Flying Dutchman, including the crew of a German submarine boat during World War II and holidaymakers.

On 11 July 1881, the Royal Navy ship, the Bacchante was rounding the tip of Africa, when they were confronted with the sight of The Flying Dutchman. The midshipman, a prince who later became King George V, recorded that the lookout man and the officer of the watch had seen the Flying Dutchman and he used these words to describe the ship:

“A strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light the mast, spars and sails of a brig 200 yards distant stood out in strong relief.”

It’s pity that the lookout saw the Flying Dutchman, for soon after on the same trip, he accidentally fell from a mast and died. Fortunately for the English royal family, the young midshipman survived the curse.

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