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Ghost Ships


Flying Dutchman

For centuries, sailors around the world have told the legend of a cursed ghost ship, named The Flying Dutchman. The ship is cursed, and as such can never return to port. Since it has place to go, The Flying Dutchman sails around the ocean aimlessly, haunting the minds of sailors and toying with the imaginations of sea farers globally. There have been tales for ages, of late-night spotters in the crow’s nest of a ship seeing a ghost ship passing their bow. Men swear on their lives that the cursed ship, The Flying Dutchman was seen sailing past them.

Where did this legend come from, and who started telling the story of this cursed ship? The first references to The Flying Dutchman comes from the writings of George Barrington in the late 1700’s who wrote about the ship that appeared and then disappeared in a dark cloud – like an apparition. Several other writers and authors have written stories and poems including mentions of The Flying Dutchman. In all of the references, they talk about the ship being a terrible omen to sailors… They never want to see this ship. Seeing The Flying Dutchman is tantamount to a visit from God telling them that their voyage has been cursed.

Was The Flying Dutchman an actual ship, or was it created as folklore? The jury is still out on this question, but many who have speculated about the legend agree that The Flying Dutchman was a ship that became doomed for one reason or another. Some say that The Flying Dutchman was used for piracy and was loaded with gold and other loot. While travelling with a load of treasure, unspeakable crimes were committed on board the ship, thus making it cursed forever.

Other variations of the legend say that the Captain of The Flying Dutchman refused to go to port in the face of a horrible storm and as a result the entire ship perished. Others claim that the ship was not called The Flying Dutchman – that instead it was the name of the captain of the ship. Eventually, as people passed the legend down through the generations, the story of The Flying Dutchman referred to the ship.

Throughout the years, many sailors have claimed to see a ship sailing past them, and then disappearing. One of the most famous men who swore to have seen The Flying Dutchman is Prince George of Wales, along with his brother Prince Albert Victor. In his writings, he stated that no less than thirteen men saw The Flying Dutchman sail by their ship in the middle of the night, and a few hours later disappeared from all site into thin air.

With all of these sightings, this leaves sailors and observers to wonder… Is there any merit to this legend? As has been well-documented, The Bermuda Triangle has taken the lives of many sailors and pilots throughout history. It is difficult to argue against eyewitness accounts – but can there be a logical explanation to these sightings? Some scientists have stated that the moon light reflecting on the ocean in a distance can create an illusion of sorts, almost like a mirage creates images in a sandy desert.

Does The Flying Dutchman exist today, or is it simply a legend from long ago? Regardless of what one may believe, mariners today do not gamble with fate. This story may be a legend to those who casually read about stories on the ocean’s open waters, but one thing is for certain: A sailor does not dare to call the bluff of the mighty ocean for they do not want to fall victim to the same fate as The Flying Dutchman.


Mary Celeste

Few ships have surrounded themselves over the years in quite so much mystery as the Mary Celeste. In many ways, Mary Celeste is synonymous with Ghost Ship. By why?

The Mary Celeste was built on Spencer’s Island, Nova Scotia, in 1861 and originally called Amazon. She was a brigantine, or two-masted ship with square rigging on the forward mast. Although the ship’s later fate has undoubtedly colored interpretations of her early years, the Amazon had a few mishaps during the time she sailed out of Nova Scotia.

Her first captain, Robert McLellan, died of pneumonia early in her maiden voyage. During her first translatlantic crossing, she collided with another ship in the English Channel. At one point, she suffered fire damage while moored in a shipyard. In 1867, the Amazon ran aground off Glace Bay in Nova Scotia during a storm. She had to be salvaged and was sold to New Yorker Richard Haines for $1,750. He spent five times that amount making her seaworthy again.

Once the Amazon was repaired, Haines sold her to on to four men who owned the ship in partnership: James Winchester, Benjamin Spooner Briggs, Sylvester Goodwin, and Daniel Sampson. The group registered her in New York under a new name: Mary Celeste. Spooner Briggs was her captain.

After several uneventful years, Briggs set sail from New York with his wife Sarah, their two-year-old daughter Sophie, seven crew members, and 1,701 barrels of commercial alcohol destined for Genoa, Italy. Briggs’ seven-year-old son Arthur was being cared for by family in Plymouth.

Shortly before leaving New York, Briggs and his wife had dinner with David Morehouse and his wife. Morehouse was captain of the newly built Canadian brigantine, Dei Gratia, and would be following a similar course to the Mary Celeste – although his hold would be filled with petroleum.

The Mary Celeste set sail on November 7, 1872, and the Dei Gratia followed eight days later. The Dei Gratia’s trip across the Atlantic was uneventful until December 5th, when Morehouse and his crew came upon the Mary Celeste midway between the Azores and the coast of Portugal. The shift was slightly tilted and Morehouse could see tears in the sails.

Although no distress signal was flying, the ship appeared to be drifting, and Morehouse sent his chief mate, Oliver Deveau, aboard to investigate. Deveau found plenty of signs of trouble. Two of the Mary Celeste’s three pumps had been disassembled, and there was about three and a half feet of water in the hold. The ship was deserted, and its only lifeboat was gone. While the captain’s logbook was present, other papers were missing, as were certain navigational tools, like the sextant and marine chronometer. The ship’s compass and clock were damaged. The last entry in the captain’s log was for November 25.

Just as the person to discover the body is often the chief suspect in a murder, Morehouse and his crew found themselves under suspicion when they brought the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar and claimed her as salvage. They were eventually cleared of suspicion although the lengthy inquiry ate up most of the salvage profits.

So what happened? Piracy is unlikely. The ship was found with a six months supply of food and fresh water, and the personal possessions of the crew and Briggs family did not seem to have been tampered with. Nine barrels of oil were later found to be empty in the hold, but this would have been a poor haul for pirates. Mutiny also seems unlikely. The crew were all experienced, and, more importantly, volunteers. Briggs was an experienced captain with no particular history that might suggest ill will among his crew.

The most likely theory is that the Mary Celeste encountered some sort of weather condition that caused all on board to abandon ship. By what was the weather and where did the lifeboat go?

One theory suggests that a number of factors came together to force Briggs to abandon ship. The ship may have begun to take on water, and the pumps soon failed. Briggs, being a teetotaler, may have been nervous about carrying flammable alcohol and felt it was better to abandon ship, even though the Mary Celeste was still seaworthy. Some have suggested that a minor explosion may have occurred, forcing passengers and crew into the lifeboat. Their original intent was to remain tethered to the Mary Celeste, but the rope frayed and they were cast adrift.

Another darker theory held that Briggs conspired with Morehouse to kill his crew and abandon ship, then split the proceeds of the salvage later. However, if Briggs planned to disappear, one might have expected him to bring his son Arthur on the trip so that the family could go into hiding together.

A relatively recent theory suggests that the Mary Celeste fell victim to a seaquake, basically an earthquake under water, which causes rapid waves of alternating pressure that would have acted on the Mary Celeste like pistons. This may have caused the nine barrels to leak into the hold, sending strong alcohol fumes up through the rest of the ship. These fumes may have been what caused an otherwise experienced crew to abandon ship in a panic. Then, the lifeboat may have been torn apart by the seaquake waves.

But possibly the oddest claim (well, second oddest – some have argued that the crew were eaten by a giant squid) was that Captain Briggs doomed the Mary Celeste by bringing his wife and daughter aboard. Some sailors at the time believed that the sea was a jealous mistress, and women on ship were bad luck. By this legend, the ocean itself took revenge on Captain Briggs for his arrogance in bringing not one but two ladies aboard.

You might think that being found mysteriously adrift with a missing crew would have signaled the end of the Mary Celeste. I mean, who wants to set sail on a creepy boat that makes people disappear, right? However, the Mary Celeste sailed on for 13 more years, changing hands 17 times. Physical damage and a reputation for being cursed made it harder and harder to earn a profit from the ship. Go figure.

Her final captain CG Parker loaded the Mary Celeste up with over-insured scrap and deliberately ran her aground on the Rochelais reef off the coast of Haiti. When the ship failed to sink, he set fire to it. Parker was tried for intentional destruction of a vessel. However, the penalty for that crime was death, and juries nearly always balked at conviction under these terms. Parker’s jury was no different. He was acquitted but died anyway three months later. The remains of the Mary Celeste were left on the reef until they sank on their own. In 2001, novelist Clive Cussler’s National Underwater Marine Agency (NUMA) claimed to have located the remains of the Mary Celeste. However others have disputed the identity of the wreck.

As for the bodies of Captain Briggs and his family and crew, whether or not they were found remains in dispute. In 1873, two vessels – either lifeboats or rafts – were found on Spanish shores with an American flag and five decomposed bodies. While some believe they were part of the Mary Celeste crew, the bodies were too decomposed to be identified.

Finally, for those of you who are primed to send me a comment telling me I’ve misspelled the name of the ship, hang on. In 1883, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle anonymously published a short story called “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement” in Cornhill Magazine. The story drew heavily on the mystery of the Mary Celeste, changing the ship’s name to the Marie Celeste. Published so close in time to the original investigation, the story was taken as a true account by several newspapers, and the fictional Marie Celeste has woven itself into the history of its inspiration.

by cnkguy
Ghost Ships

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