A ghost ship is a vessel that has mysteriously expelled its passengers and crew, refusing to indicate their whereabouts. Though theories such as piracy and mutiny are often used to calm those wary of paranormal explanations, it is hard not to conjure the supernatural or extraterrestrial when contemplating these maritime mysteries – and none more so than the Mary Celeste.
Image: Parks Canada
1. Mary Celeste
Last Sighting: November 5, 1872
For one month the Mary Celeste was missing – merchants in Italy awaited their shipment of commercial alcohol, and the friends and family of the men, women and children aboard wondered what could have happened to their kin. On December 5, 1872 the ship was found in near-perfect condition, drifting on the waves of the Strait of Gibraltar. All contents of the ship were on board, including the cargo and the personal belongings of the passengers. Everything remained intact, except, very strangely, no passenger – dead or alive – could be found.
An investigation into the Mary Celeste’s one-month disappearance uncovered interesting secrets about its origin. Researchers found that the ship had been renamed in order to dispel superstitions that the ship, formerly named the Amazon, was haunted.
Three captains of the Amazon died on board, and two other captains made grievous and unexplainable errors, crashing into other ships. One day, in the shipyard, the center of the Amazon’s interior spontaneously caught fire. Several other near-disasters surrounded the Amazon, prompting her to be sold and renamed.
After the famed crash, the Mary Celeste continued to cause hardships for her owners and captains. Eventually, her 1885 owner, G. C. Parker, attempted to intentionally destroy the ship in order to win the insurance money. The ever-stubborn and potentially haunted Mary Celeste refused to sink, despite violent steering and deadly flames.
2. Carroll A. Deering
Last Sighting: January 28, 1921
On his return voyage from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Norfolk, Virginia, Captain William H. Merritt of the Carroll A Deering fell ill and needed to disembark with his son, who doubled as the first mate. They hired a replacement captain and mate, and sent their crew on its way under new direction. However, new captain, Wormell, and new first mate, McLellan, had a serious rift which led to the arrest of the latter. The former accrued the wrath of the crew members when bad-mouthing them while drunk. The crew threatened to be mutinous under such anarchy.
Image: US Navy
The Deering never reached Norfolk. Instead it was found off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina completely abandoned – no crew, no crew personal effects, no lifeboats. Some suggest possible causes such as mutiny, piracy, hurricanes, or rum runners. However, the United States government felt uncomfortable that several ships, from many nations, had disappeared or were found wrecked in this area – the Bermuda Triangle. These occurrences were too suspicious and frequent to be explained away by traditional causes. The government thus launched five separate investigations under different departments, but whatever they found that may have illuminated some paranormal activity was hidden from the public.
3. S.S. Valencia
Last Sighting: January 21, 1906
The S.S. Valencia was traveling an atypical route on a cloudy dark night. Because no stars were shining, the sailors could not employ celestial navigation, and therefore had to rely on dead reckoning. In their attempt to enter the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the sailors overshot the opening. The Valencia crashed on the southwest coast of Vancouver Island, otherwise known as the Graveyard of the Pacific owing to its numerous shipwrecks. The Graveyard of the Pacific’s rugged coastline and unpredictable weather (and possible supernatural players) have caused the destruction of over 2,000 vessels and claimed nearly a thousand lives.
As the crew members of the Valencia struggled to escape the sinking ship, they hastily deployed six lifeboats. In the chaos, they frantically lowered three full of men, but on the way down, each tipped, causing all the men to plunge into the water. Three of the lifeboats were successfully set onto the water, but two subsequently capsized, and one was never seen again.
Two rescue ships set out to find the remaining sailors on the sinking Valencia. When they came into view, the sailors jumped onto the only remaining life rafts, thinking they could reach the ships. However, the rescue ships turned around when they realized it would not be safe to approach the Valencia. Their last drops of hope extinguished, the sailors died at sea.
Image: via Fiji Times
4. MV Joyita
Last Sighting: October 3, 1955
The MV Joyita had a long life as a private yacht and then as a World War II ship, without ever experiencing problems. In the mid 1950s it was employed as a cargo ship for copra, or dried coconut, in the South Pacific, and was set to sail a route from Samoa to the Tokelau Islands. However, the ship never reached its destination and was instead found five weeks later, 600 miles away from anywhere it was supposed to be.
When the ship was discovered, searchers found the hull was completely sound and the ship was designed to be unsinkable – lined with cork and containing buoyant empty fuel drums. The only sign of destruction was a break in a cable, which was suspiciously concealed with paint. On the upper deck of the Joyita, a bag of medical equipment, including several bloody rags, was found. None of the lifeboats remained on board, suggesting the crew had left.
The crew’s disappearance leads to much speculation. Even the most inexperienced crew members and ordinary passengers would know there is more risk to leave an afloat, though thwarted, ship than to remain on board. Theories of mutiny and piracy abound, but these do not explain why the bodies were never found.
Image: Aldus Books London
Last Sighting: 1969
Few ghost ships provide as many warnings of their curse as the Baychimo, a Swedish cargo steamer which was abandoned due to un-sea-worthiness, and re-boarded several times due to the ship’s resilience. Each time the ship was thought to be unsafe, it soon healed itself and tricked passengers to come aboard, only for them to have to flee the ship again.
The Baychimo was initially abandoned in October of 1931 when it became stuck in ice. The crew left the ship but reboarded it when the ship became mobile. A few days later the ship again became stuck in ice and about half the crew were airlifted to safety. Some time after, the Baychimo was spotted with it cargo intact, yet the other half of the crew had mysteriously disappeared.
After this incident, the Baychimo was seen countless time at sea and was frequently boarded by sailors thinking they could tame her. Always, however, they were driven away by bad weather or erratically malfunctioning equipment. The Baychimo was left empty at sea where it floated around for 38 years before being seen in 1969. The ship is likely still drifting on the waves, and is waiting to be discovered again.
While many point to hurricanes, glaciers, and the Bermuda Triangle as the primary culprits for disasters on sea voyages, ghost ships suggest that the voyage itself can cause death and loss to its passengers. Ships then become alive in a new sense – not drifting passively on waves, but controlling the waters; not subserviently carrying cargo to a destination, but jealously guarding their goods.
S.S. Valencia memorial stone
The ghost ship may not be subject to supernatural or alien manipulation; instead she may be the autonomous, and sometimes spiteful, spirit of the seas.