Thursday, March 17, 2011

Mary Celeste

Mary Celeste, December 4, 1872.

The brigantine Mary Celeste, often misspelled as Marie Celeste, was discovered without her crew midway between the Azores and Lisbon, Portugal, on December 4, 1872. The crew of the ghost ship was never seen or heard from again. The disappearance is often called the greatest maritime mystery in history.

The Mary Celeste was a 282 gross ton brigantine. She was built by the shipbuilders of Joshua Dewis in 1861 as the ship Amazon at the village of Spencer's Island, Nova Scotia. She was the first of many large ships that were built in that small community.

Her first captain, Robert McLellan, contracted pneumonia nine days after taking command and died at the beginning of her maiden voyage. That made him the first of three captains to die aboard her. The next captain, John Nutting Parker, hit a fishing boat with her and had to return her to the shipyard for repairs, where she suffered a fire. That was followed by a collision in the English Channel on her first Atlantic crossing.

After some uneventful and profitable years, she was blown ashore in a storm from her anchorage off Glace Bay, Nova Scotia, in 1867. She was salvaged, sold to one Richard Haines of New York, repaired, transferred to the American registry, and renamed Mary Celeste. At the time of her ghostly interlude, her ownership was divided into twenty-four shares held by James H. Winchester (twelve), Captain Benjamin Spooner Briggs (eight), Sylvester Goodwin (two), and Daniel T. Sampson (two).

Now, maybe the name change caused her bad luck. Then of course, the bad luck must have traveled back in time. But if you accept that changing a ship's name is bad luck, you can't really object to reverse causality.

A more likely assumption is that her being the first large ship built in that neck of the woods, she may have had some hidden constructional flaw that caused some or all of the accidents. Maybe Captain Briggs secretly knew it or at least sensed it, making him leery of her and abandon her prematurely.

On his fateful voyage, Captain Briggs was accompanied by his wife, Sarah, and their two-year-old daughter, Sophia. Their seven-year-old son Arthur stayed with Briggs' mother in Marion, Massachusetts. A crew of seven — first mate Albert G. Richardson, second mate Andrew Gilling, and cook Edward William Head were Americans and the four seamen Volkert Lorenzen, Arian Martens, Boy Lorenzen, and Gottlieb Goodschaad were Germans — brought the company to an even ten.

Spelling variations of the sailors' names abound. I suspect most writers had a hard time deciphering the handwritten crew list. I can't blame them; I'm unsure myself. What I give here is my best guess given my knowledge of German and of North Frisian culture. Most, if not all, of the Germans apparently hailed from the island of Föhr. (Wilkins, p. 301.)

On the East River, the Mary Celeste took on board a cargo of 1,701 barrels of raw alcohol Meissner Ackerman & Co was shipping to Italy for fortifying wines. The cargo was valued at $35,000, while ship and cargo together were insured for $46,000.

The night before he sailed, Briggs dined with an old friend, Captain David Reed Morehouse, and their wives. Morehouse, from Nova Scotia, was the master of the Canadian merchant ship Dei Gratia, a brigantine like the Mary Celeste.

They discovered that both ships shared a similar course across the Atlantic Ocean, through the Strait of Gibraltar, and into the Mediterranean. Morehouse, however, still had to wait for his cargo, 1,735 barrels and 500 cases of refined petroleum. (Wilkins, p. 288.)

On November 7, 1872, the Mary Celeste set sail for Genoa, Italy. (There is some dispute whether she sailed November 5 or 7. The solution appears to be that the ship left New York Harbor on November 5, but had to anchor off Staten Island until November 7 to wait for heavy seas to slacken.) The Dei Gratia followed suit on November 15. (Kusche, Bermuda Triangle Mystery, p. 32.) The last time anyone heard anything of the crew of the Mary Celeste was when she exchanged signals with another ship two days out of and 300 miles southeast of New York. (Gould, p. 23.)

On December 4, 1872, the Dei Gratia was at 38° 20′ north 17° 15′ west, 590 miles west of Gibraltar, midway between the Azores and Lisbon, Portugal. (Kusche, Bermuda Triangle Mystery, p. 31.) This date corresponds to December 5 sea time, which measures the day from noon to noon instead of midnight to midnight. (Group, p. 24.) At 1:30 PM sea time (Wilkins, p. 278.), her helmsman, John Johnson, spied a ship about five miles off the port bow.

Johnson and second officer John Wright agreed that there was something wrong with that vessel. She was sailing erratically and her sails were somewhat torn, so they notified Captain Morehouse. (Group, pp. 24.)

When they came closer, they identified the mystery ship as the Mary Celeste, which was supposed to have arrived in Italy by then. The Dei Gratia approached to within 400 yards of the Mary Celeste and observed her for two hours.

No one was to bee seen at her helm or on deck. Some sails were set, and she was sailing slowly and erratically. While there was no distress signal, it looked very much like she was derelict and drifting. They hailed her, but got no answer. (Group, pp. 25.)

The first mate of the Dei Gratia, Oliver Deveau, boarded the Mary Celeste with Johnson and Wright (Winer, Devil's Triangle, p. 161.), to find no one on board and that "the whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess." Although there was a great deal of water between decks and three and a half feet of water in the hold, the Mary Celeste was not sinking, but still seaworthy. (Wilkins, p. 278.)

The captain's cabin was very wet, as a skylight was open. The captain's bunk was unmade, and there was the impression of a child's body in it. (Group, p. 25.) The water had ruined the ship's clock. (Snow, Mysteries and Adventures Along the Atlantic Coast, pp. 315.) An upside-down clock face had been inserted that way by a Deveau trying to fix the clock. (Wilkins, pp. 293.)

Only one of her pumps was operational, while the other had been disassembled. (Wilkins, p. 278.) Deveau stated: "I found the sounding rod [dipstick for a pump] on deck alongside the pump." (Wilkins, p. 280.)

The fore and the lazarette hatches were open, but the main hatch was closed. The wheel was not lashed. The binnacle had been knocked over and the compass broken. (Group, p. 25.)

Chronometer, sextant, ship's register, and navigation book had disappeared, but the logbook was still there. (Spencer, pp. 83.) The last entry in the logbook was dated November 24, 100 miles southwest of San Miguel Island in the Azores. The last entry on the log slate was dated 0800, Monday, November 25, 1872, when she had passed six miles north of Saint Mary's Island (now called Santa Maria Island) in the Azores, about 800 miles from Portugal. This does not mean that anything happened to her immediately after the last entry. On such small merchant ships, the log was not kept daily or at all regularly; on the Mary Celeste, there had been seven entries in eighteen days before she reached the Azores. (Gould, p. 24.)

Most of the sails were furled, with the exception of the jib and the foretopmast-staysail (both were set), the lower foretop-staysail (partly set and hanging by its corners, the top of the sail having been ripped from the yard fastenings), the foreupper-topsail and foresail (both blown away), and the two headsails (both trimmed for the starboard tack). The running rigging (which raises, lowers, and directs the sails) was tangled, as if by a storm, and the peak halyard was parted. (Group, pp. 25.)

The peak halyard, the rope used to hoist the main sail, was gone or parted. Maybe it was the rope that was tied to the ship with the other, frayed, end trailing in the water.

The lifeboat, which had sat above the main hatch, had vanished. (Wilkins, p. 279.) A second boat had originally hung astern, but been damaged in New York, and not been on board for this voyage. (Group, p. 25.)

The cargo of alcohol seemed to be intact, but when it was unloaded in Genoa, nine barrels turned out to be empty. It is, however, not clear whether these nine barrels were empty or missing. In the latter case, the discrepancy may simply be due to a miscount. (Group, p. 26.)

The water casks had been moved. (Wilkins, p. 285.) The stove in the galley had been knocked out of place. (Wilkins, p. 286.) Both could have been done by a wave.

There was plenty of food and freshwater. The crew's personal possessions were untouched. Money, clothes, and even the sailors' pipes were still there, as if the ship had been abandoned in a great hurry. (Group, p. 25.) Deveau stated that no sailor would abandon his pipe except in a great haste. (Wilkins, p. 285.)

While it looked like the Mary Celeste had been abandoned in a hurry, there was no trace of violence. Thus, it appeared unlikely that an act of piracy or mutiny had occurred.

Some say: "The main cabin had been boarded up as if someone had wished to create a stronghold to repel attackers." (Berlitz, Bermuda Triangle, p. 71.) Like pirates or a mutinous crew. This, however, is likely a misunderstanding on account of the windows being battened with boards and canvas. This was common practice in winter, just like you'd board up your windows before a hurricane hits. (Group, pp. 25.)

The tale is often padded with claims that a clock was still ticking, breakfast with cups of tea, still warm, was on the table, or a vial of oil or "a bobbin of silk was found standing upon the sewing-machine, though the least roll of the vessel would have precipitated it to the floor," as future mystic Arthur Conan Doyle so irresponsibly fictionalized. Naturally, or rather, supernaturally, the mystics seize onto such trash to deny any explanation involving bad weather or any kind of waves.

Neither of the latter two claims can possibly be true, as the crew of the Dei Gratia had for two hours watched the Mary Celeste sailing erratically while the sea was running high. (Wilkins, p. 278.) Plus, Deveau stated at the inquiry that there was nothing to eat or drink in the cabin. (Wilkins, p. 277.)

These claims originated with fictional accounts of the incident, most notoriously Arthur Conan Doyle's "J. Habakuk Jephson's Statement." This is also where the misspelling Marie Celeste originated.

Deveau and two sailors, Augustus Anderson and Charles Lund, sailed the Mary Celeste to Gibraltar. (Wilkins, p. 280.) The Dei Gratia arrived in the evening of December 12, and the Mary Celeste, the next morning. (Gould, p. 25.) There, the vice admiralty court had to investigate what had happened and to decide on salvage rights.

Frederick Solly Flood, QC, attorney general of Gibraltar, the queen's proctor to the court, ordered an examination of the Mary Celeste by the surveyor of shipping in Gibraltar, John Austin, an inspector, John McCabe, and a local diver, Ricardo Portunato. They found a gash in the railing that might have been caused by an ax, spots that looked like blood, and a sword similarly stained.

The gash in the railing may have been made after she had docked, as it had not been seen before. A missing strip of wood from the railing may have been torn away in a storm. (Group, p. 26.)

The US consul in Gibraltar, Horatio J. Sprague, had the Mary Celeste examined by US Navy Captain R.W. Shufeldt of the USS Plymouth. Shufeldt concluded that that the cuts were scratches that could have been caused by anything, and that the "blood," including that on the sword, was rust. Tests later performed presumed to prove the latter claim, although the methods available to nineteenth-century science were not exactly sophisticated.

Eventually, the crew of the Dei Gratia was awarded one-sixth of the $46,000 insurance money. This relatively small amount might indicate that the court still suspected they were somehow complicit in whatever fate had befallen Briggs and company. Or the judge may still have been angry that Morehouse, who knew little to help the investigation, had remained, while Deveau and his crew had left. The judge had threatened to cut the award for that. (Wilkins, pp. 286.)

The US government issued an APB to its consuls to watch out for the personages and equipment missing from the ship. Be it in the nearby Azores ports or anywhere else around the globe, no one and nothing was ever reported.

James Winchester had finally had more than enough of the now notorious Mary Celeste when she added his father, Henry Winchester-Vinters, who drowned in Boston, to her body count. After Winchester sold her at an enormous loss, she was sold and resold seventeen times in thirteen years.

The last owner and captain of the Mary Celeste, Gilman C. Parker, was unable to turn a profit with the dilapidated ship and deliberately wrecked her, along with an over-insured cargo of scrap, boots, and cat food, on Rochelais Reef west of Port-au-Prince and south of Gonâve Island, Haiti, on January 3, 1885. When she failed to sink, Parker proceeded to burn her, but even then the hull remained intact. He did, however, succeed at destroying the ship's historically significant log containing Captain Briggs' entries.

When Parker filed his fraudulent insurance claim, he was arrested. The partially burnt hulk of the Mary Celeste was considered a total loss, unsalvageable, and left to slip off the reef and sink.

In 2001, Clive Cussler (the founder of the "National Underwater and Marine Agency," better known as the guy who's been writing the same book over and over again for over twenty years, now assisted by his son in writing said book) claimed he found the wreck of the Mary Celeste, identifying her by her position, ballast, fastenings, timbers, and traces of fire. Yet there are many similar wrecks, and an analysis of tree ring data indicated that wood in the wreck is from trees that lived at least another decade after the Mary Celeste went down.

The possible causes for the abandonment of the Mary Celeste come in three flavors: (A) crime, (B) premature abandonment, and (C) "everybody happened to jump or fall overboard for some reason."

(A) Crime:

(A1) Piracy by pirates unknown:

Despite the lack of evidence supporting this theory, piracy cannot be ruled out, either.

It is, however, considered unlikely, as the Royal Navy had supposedly put an end to piracy in those waters, any traces of violence on board were faint at best, and the ship had not been looted. (Group, p. 29.)

Still, in a similar vein, this website purporting to be a transcript from a 1913 copy of the Liverpool Mercury features not only "Abel Fosdyk's Story," given in more detail below, but also the account of one R.C. Greenough, the self-styled second officer of the SS Tortuguero.

This venerable old salt claims he found the proverbial message in a bottle next to a skeleton on one of the islets of St. Paul's Rocks (Saint Peter and Saint Paul Archipelago). When that message in German is finally deciphered, it turns out to be the deathbed confession of the former owner of said skeleton, who claims he was the captain of some shady steamship whose crew came down with something along the lines of food poisoning. The survivors found themselves shorthanded on their steamer, hardly able to keep up enough steam to make headway.

As fate would have it, they fell in with the Mary Celeste. Abandoning the uninsured steamer, whose part owner our shady and anonymous captain was, was out of the question. For reasons of his own, he does not negotiate with Captain Briggs for a salvage crew, but with his few sick and weak men boards the unfortunate brigantine and at gunpoint impresses the whole company as firemen for his steamer.

His chronometer having run down while everybody was down with the ship's cook's revenge, our anonymous Snidely Whiplash appropriates the Mary Celeste's. Unfortunately, they're not sure whether the latter is off by some minutes, so that the steamer goes off course and ends up on the rocks, whereupon the whole lot of them is drowned, except for Whiplash, whom fate grants enough time on the island to write his confession before being removed by dehydration.

While it is of course not impossible that the crew of the Mary Celeste was shanghaied by a shorthanded pirate, this specific tale obviously smacks of a tortured exercise in creative writing. It's just too much poetic justice that the stolen chronometer should doom the thief; besides, it's suspicious that all the verifiable details like names were allegedly obliterated by mildew, while the details matching the particulars of the Mary Celeste, like what became of the missing chronometer, by some crazy chance survived intact. It's nifty to account for the chronometer that way, but it's obviously too good to be true. On the other hand, one researcher, Anne MacGregor, came to the conclusion that Briggs' chronometer was indeed faulty.

It's also interesting that the tale misspells the ship's name as Marie Celeste, just as Doyle did. One wonders whether that misspelling was introduced during translation/transcription or whether it was present in the original manuscript, if it ever existed. Sure, Celeste sounds French, and one may think it is tempting to misspell the name the French way, but it's still highly suspicious and makes it look like this yarn was fashioned from Doyle's tale.

(A2) Piracy by the crew of the Dei Gratia:

The crew of the Dei Gratia murdered that of the Mary Celeste for the salvage rights. (Wilkins, passim.)

Again, any traces of violence on board were faint at best. Plus, Captain Morehouse was an old friend of Captain Briggs, so would he be ready to murder him and his family for comparatively little money? Finally, the Dei Gratia sailed more than one week after the Mary Celeste and would not have been able to catch up with her unless something else had already happened to her.

(A3) Fraud by the crew of the Mary Celeste:

The crew of the Mary Celeste, possibly on behalf of Briggs and his partners, attempted to defraud the insurance companies.

Her crew set the Mary Celeste on a course for some rocks and took to the lifeboat, but a gust of wind blew the ship to safety, while the lifeboat foundered and the crew was drowned or dashed to death on the rocks. (Kusche, Bermuda Triangle Mystery, p. 35.)

(A4) Fraud by both crews:

The crews of the Mary Celeste and the Dei Gratia defrauded the insurance companies together.

Briggs and everybody else on the Mary Celeste would have had to assume new identities. The insurance payout would have gone mostly to Briggs' partners. Also, the ship and cargo would have to be lost for there to be any payout at all, unless one assumes Briggs and company got to share the salvage award. Yet, even if the court had not been suspicious and had paid out a higher award, it would not have been much to go round with both crews sharing, and that award would have come in part out of part owner Briggs' pocket. (Gould, p. 27.)

(A5) Mutiny:

The crew mutinied and killed Captain Briggs and his family before fleeing in the lifeboat.

As any of them would have assumed a new identity, this would account for the fact that no survivor ever showed up, without having to assume that all were killed at sea. However, there is no positive evidence: no traces of a fight and Briggs had a good reputation, like all of the crew. And why would the mutineers abandon the ship? (Gould, p. 27.)

(A6) Drunkenness:

The crew got the alcohol, got roaring drunk, and murdered Captain Briggs and his family before fleeing in the lifeboat.

Again, as any of them would have assumed a new identity, this would account for the fact that no survivor ever showed up, without having to assume that all were killed at sea. However, there is no positive evidence: no traces of a fight and all of the crew had good reputations. Plus, Briggs was a teetotaler and would not have tolerated a crew of drunkards on board.

(B) Premature abandonment:

In all these explanations, the crew took to the lifeboat. The explanations mostly differ in the cause of taking to the lifeboat.

(B1) Storm:

The Mary Celeste was abandoned as sinking in a storm. (Gould, pp. 28.)

When the Mary Celeste was found, there was more water in the bilge than there should have been, though that may have leaked in after she was abandoned. Also, one of her pumps had been disassembled. Though the amount of water in the bilge was not enough to sink the ship, the crewman at the pump may have misread the depth and/or with a pump out of commission Briggs may have made the mistake of deeming the lifeboat safer, only for it to get separated from the ship and swamped or capsized in the storm. Briggs and other experienced crewmembers may even have been swept overboard in the storm, so that there was no one to correct mistakes and prevent a panic.

At the inquiry, Oliver Deveau considered that the likeliest solution. (Gould, p. 28.) Gould gives examples of this actually having happened on other ships.

But some, like our trusty people's encyclopedia, say:

There was some storm activity on the Atlantic during October 1872; but this particular voyage was made entirely during November of that year — a storm-free month for the Mary Celeste.

In short — for this theory, no storms were reported in the area at the time, only mildly choppy weather.

Yet Charles Fay got the following answer from the metrological service in the Azores:

From the records from Angra do Heroismo and Ponta Delgada, the two only stations existing in 1872, it is concluded that stormy conditions prevailed in the Azores on the 24 and 25 November 1872. A COLD FRONT passed Angra do Heroismo between 3 and 9 P.M. on the 25th. the wind shifting then from SW to NW. The minimum of pressure was 752 mm. and the wind velocity attained to 62 km. at Ponta Delgada at 9 P.M. on the 24th. Calm or light wind prevailed on the forenoon of the 25th., but later, the wind became of a gale force. As usually the wind direction before the cold front was WSW to SW; after the cold front NW. 14 mm. of rain were collected at Angra from noon 24 to noon 25, and 29 mm. at Ponta Delgada.

Deveau stated they had stormy weather from November 15 to 24. (Wilkins, p. 281.) The weather had been stormy before they found the Mary Celeste, too. (Wilkins, p. 278.) Another storm hit the Mary Celeste and the Dei Gratia after the ghost ship was discovered, on December 11, off Cape Spartel, Morocco. (Spencer, p. 85.)

(B2) Waterspout:

Just like the storm, just with a waterspout. (Group, pp. 30.)

If the Mary Celeste was his by a waterspout (the maritime version of a tornado), as Gershom Bradford first proposed, that would explain quite a few strange things in connection with the ghost ship. The water all around the ship may have made it look to the crew like she was going down. The sudden drop in air pressure may have directly impaired their judgment, too, along with the shock of being struck by a waterspout.

The waterspout would also have sucked up water in the pump, and a valve would have kept it from flowing back out, so that upon sounding it appeared to the crew that there was much more water in the ship than there really was. If the captain believed the sounding, it would look like an enormous amount of water had rushed into the hull in no time flat, like she was making water fast, like she was going down like a stone.

It would also explain why the ship was soaking wet when boarded. And it would explain the damage on board, like the broken compass and the hatches sucked away.

Dave Williams, advocate of the seaquake theory, argues: "Waterspouts are not common outside the tropics, especially in November," yet:

While many waterspouts form in the tropics, locations at higher latitude within temperate zones also report waterspouts, such as Europe and the Great Lakes. Although rare, waterspouts have been observed in connection with lake-effect snow precipitation bands.



Though the majority occur in the tropics, they can seasonally appear in temperate areas throughout the world, and are common across the western coast of Europe as well as the British Isles and several areas of the Mediterranean and Baltic Sea. They are not restricted to saltwater; many have been reported on lakes and rivers including the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River. Waterspouts are fairly common on the Great Lakes during late summer and early fall, with a record 66+ waterspouts reported over just a seven day period in 2003. They are more frequent within 100 kilometers (60 mi) from the coast than farther out at sea. Waterspouts are common along the southeast US coast, especially off southern Florida and the Keys and can happen over seas, bays, and lakes worldwide. Approximately 160 waterspouts are currently reported per year across Europe, with the Netherlands reporting the most at 60, followed by Spain and Italy at 25, and the United Kingdom at 15. They are most common in late summer. In the Northern Hemisphere, September has been pinpointed as the prime month of formation.



Waterspouts have long been recognized as serious marine hazards. Stronger waterspouts are usually quite dangerous, posing threats to ships, planes, helicopters, and swimmers.

(B3) Seaquake:

Just like the waterspout, just with a seaquake instead of the waterspout.

The Mary Celeste was rocked by a seaquake, which cracked open the nine barrels of alcohol later found empty. The quake also dislodged the galley stove, which sent showers of embers all over the place. Given the shock from the quake and the explosive mixture of alcohol fumes and embers, the crew cannot be faulted for jumping ship PDQ.

To the credit of this theory, the area is very active seismically. Yet there is no evidence that any ship or Azorean islander observed any seaquakes, earthquakes, shocks, or tremors at that time: "No record of any earthquake is kept in the registers, neither in the local newspapers which we have searched."

It might have been a foreshock of an 8.5 magnitude earthquake that hit later that December, a foreshock felt on the islands as one of many such tremors happening too frequently to report or remember. Or it might never have happened. Besides, if there was that explosive mixture of alcohol fumes and embers, it's quite a coincidence that there was no explosion.

(B4) Tsunami:

Just like the earthquake, just with a tsunami instead of the earthquake.

The Mary Celeste was hit by a tsunami caused by an earthquake or a landslide in the Canary Islands or the Azores. The crew was washed overboard or so shocked they abandoned ship. This would explain why the ship was so wet.

But just like there is no report of an earthquake, there is no report of a landslide or a tsunami, either. Everybody would have to be on deck at the same time, or everybody would have to be shocked enough to believe the ship was sinking. Tsunamis only rise above the sea level in shallow water — in deep water they are harmless — so the ship would have had to be near land when it happened.

(B5) Rogue wave:

Just like the tsunami, just with a rogue wave instead of the tsunami.

The Mary Celeste was hit by a rogue wave. The crew was washed overboard or so shocked they abandoned ship. This would explain why the ship was so wet.

Everybody would have to be on deck at the same time, or everybody would have to be shocked enough to believe the ship was sinking.

(B6) Explosion:

Just like the earthquake, just without the earthquake. (Snow, Mysteries and Adventures Along the Atlantic Coast, pp. 326.)

Captain Briggs had never carried a cargo of alcohol before and did not trust it. Nine barrels were later found to be empty. These were of the more porous red oak, instead of white oak like the others. Thus, the alcohol could evaporate and the vapor accumulate in the hold. When the crew discovered the vapor buildup, they feared an explosion and abandoned ship. There may have been a frightful rush of fumes when the hold was opened.

There was no trace of an explosion or a fire. (Gould, p. 25.) Still, some say there may even have been an explosion or a short-lived alcohol fire that was not hot enough to leave burn marks, though Gould discounts that. (Gould, p. 28.) "Lloyd's of London, who paid the insurance, inclines to the theory that a sudden but short fire of the alcohol cargo may have frightened the crew off the ship and then gone out, given the properties of alcohol for sudden flare-up, burning with a blue flame, and then extinguishing itself." (Berlitz, Bermuda Triangle, p. 71.)

However, the boarding party found the main hatch, which would have been blown off by an explosion, sealed. Neither did they smell alcohol vapor in the hold, although there would have been a strong alcohol odor at that time if the theory were correct.

In all the above explanations, the crew launched the lifeboat, got in, and maybe tethered it to the ship with the rope that was later found trailing in the water, so they could get back on board if she survived. When a gust hit the ship, she made a sudden move, and the rope snapped. The ship outsailed the lifeboat, and the crew perished in the small lifeboat, from dehydration, starvation, or getting it swamped and drowning, before they could make landfall or be picked up by anyone.

(B7) Shifting sandbar:

The Mary Celeste ran aground on a "ghost island," a shifting sandbar.

The crew gave up on dislodging their ship and took to the lifeboat. The lifeboat sank, but the sandbar shifted again, setting the Mary Celeste free and adrift. (Kusche, Bermuda Triangle Mystery, p. 35.)

(B8) Miscellaneous premature abandonment:

Just like the other premature abandonment theories, just with another cause.

Captain Briggs may have thought for some reason that the Mary Celeste could not make it to Italy. An examination of the surviving logbook entries seems to indicate that Briggs reached Santa Maria Island three days later than he expected. Thus, his chronometer may have been faulty.

On top of that, he may have been worried about the bilge pumps. The ship had been rebuilt recently and carried coal on the previous voyage, so the pumps may have been clogged by construction debris and coal dust.

Santa Maria was the last land for hundreds of miles. Maybe Briggs, concerned for the safety of his family, would rather abandon the ship than risk crossing the open ocean to Europe. So everybody made for Santa Maria in the lifeboat, but it sank before they got there.

Indeed, one of two pumps had been disassembled. However, according to Deveau, the Mary Celeste did not have any sounding pipes, so the pump may have been disassembled in order to sound the pump well, not because the pump was clogged. Deveau did not report any problems with the one pump he used. (Wilkins, p. 278.) One also wonders why Briggs would not come into port in Vila do Porto or anchor off Santa Maria instead of allowing his ship to drift.

(C) Everybody happened to jump or fall overboard for some reason:

(C1) Ophthalmia:

Everybody jumped overboard due to ophthalmia.

Ophthalmia (also called Ophthalmitis) is inflammation of the eye. It is a medical sign which may be indicative of various conditions, including sympathetic ophthalmia (inflammation of both eyes following trauma to one eye), ophthalmia neonatorum (a form of bacterial conjunctivitis), and actinic conjunctivitis (inflammation resulting from prolonged exposure to ultraviolet rays).

Noted historical sufferers



Ophthalmitis was a common disease of sailors, possibly related to scurvy or poor nutrition. In the book "Negro Builders and Heroes" by Benjamin Brawley in the chapter entitled "The Wake of the Slave-Ship" is described this condition afflicting, on slave ships, sometimes the whole crew and captive slaves. Christopher Columbus suffered ophthalmitis late in his life.

Stories abound where one old-time sailing ship fell in with another one sailing erratically, only to learn upon hailing that on the latter everyone had gone blind and thus helpless with disease. Horrified, fearing infection and a similar fate, the crew of the former would sail away, abandoning their fellow sailors on the latter to a death by disease, dehydration, starvation, storm, or madly jumping overboard to end their horrible suffering. (Berlitz, Bermuda Triangle, pp. 68.)

(C2) Ergotism:

Everybody jumped overboard due to ergotism. (Berlitz, Bermuda Triangle, p. 71.)

Ergotamine in the flour may have given the crew ergotism. Ergotamine is a precursor of LSD and may have similar hallucinogenic effects, so the crewmembers killed each other or jumped overboard.

Yet the flour on the Mary Celeste was likely consumed by the prize crew of the Dei Gratia, who suffered no ill effects. (Wilkins, p. 277.)

(C3) Sea monster:

A giant squid or the like, for reasons of his own, picked off every last man, woman, and child on board without materially damaging the ship in the grope, grasp, and grab process.

(C4) "Abel Fosdyk's Story" AKA the Abel Fosdyk papers AKA shark race with playpen:

Everybody jumped/fell overboard due to rampant stupidity.

In 1913, The Strand Magazine asked for submissions providing solutions to the Mary Celeste mystery. One of the responses came from one A. Howard Linford of Magdalen College, Oxford, headmaster of Peterborough Lodge. He claimed he found the true story of the Mary Celeste among papers received from an old servant on his deathbed, Abel Fosdyk.

Allegedly, Fosdyk got on board unrecorded because he was a friend of Captain Briggs and asked him to get him out of the US. During the voyage, Briggs had the ship's carpenter build some sort of a playpen or observation deck on the bowsprit.

One day, Briggs challenged the mate to a swimming contest in clothes. They jumped overboard and started to swim around the ship.

Others stepped onto the playpen or viewing platform for a better view of the spectacle. One of the swimmers was attacked by a shark.

Now everybody left on board crowded onto the platform to see what was going on. Naturally, the overloaded platform collapsed, precipitating everyone who had been on board the Mary Celeste into the sea.

The sharks, of course, ate everyone — except Fosdyk, who by chance had ended up on the remains of the platform. The Mary Celeste drifted away, but he made it back to terra firma anyway. As he was afraid no one would believe his story and he would be held responsible for the deaths, he never talked about what had happened to the crew of the Mary Celeste.

There is little if any evidence that such a platform was built. For the marks that were found on the ship, there are simpler explanations. The official report to the court of inquiry by John Austin, Gibraltar's surveyor of shipping, indeed mentioned some strange marks on the Mary Celeste:

On approaching the vessel I found on the bow, between two and three feet above the water line on the port side, a long narrow strip at the edge of a plank under the cat-head cut away to the depth of about three eights of an inch and about one and a quarter inches wide for a length of about six to seven feet. This injury had been sustained recently and could not have been effected by weather or collision and was apparently done by a sharp cutting instrument continuously applied through the whole length of the injury. I found on the starboard bow but a little further from the stern of the vessel a precisely similar injury at the edge of a plank but perhaps an eighth or tenth of an inch wider, which in my opinion had been effected simultaneously and by the same means and not otherwise. However; as the Official Surveyor for this Court of Inquiry, I must profess intense bewilderment as to the tool used to cut such marks and why they would have been cut in any vessel at these locations.

Those marks are sometimes cited as evidence that such a platform was anchored there. (Wilkins, p. 307.) Captains Winchester and Shufeldt, however, felt that it was simply splinters that had popped off the planks, which had been steamed and bent to follow the curve of the bow. (Gould, p. 25.) Williams concurs and adds that excessive caulking might have increased the pressure to make the popping off more likely.

Plus, the story does not explain the missing boat, papers, and instruments. The names and nationalities (English) of the crew Fosdyk gives do not match those on record. Finally, he overstates the tonnage of the Mary Celeste as 600 tons.

I think I do not have to elaborate on what I think of this deathbed confession.

Personally, I think the waterspout theory fits the facts best — sucked-off hatches, soaked ship, water being sucked up in the pumps to make it look like the ship was going down fast, etc.

What's more, whatever mystery the Mary Celeste may be, she is not a Bermuda Triangle mystery. She wasn't even close to the Bermuda Triangle — a triangle between Bermuda, Miami, and San Juan. She was on the wrong fucking side of the Atlantic.

But, hey, it's billed the greatest maritime mystery in history, so we've gotta include it. Maybe the Atlanteans took a trip.

We could have the Bermuda Triangle open a branch triangle — let's call it the Bermuda Triangle East. Or we could make the whole damn ocean one big Atlantic Triangle.

No, wait, we could just as well extend the Bermuda Triangle to cover the whole world for total coverage. Might yield another half dozen sensationalist books for the peons to spend the money on the tax gatherer didn't get.

Still, this case is in one way exemplary of tales of mysterious vanishings and accidents in and outside the Bermuda Triangle. In this like most such cases, for example the Marine Sulphur Queen, there is no lack of logical, naturalistic theories — there are too many of them.

So it demonstrates that there is no need for any supernatural explanations, like aliens or Atlantean death rays. The mystics' chief contention is that things go bump in the Bermuda Triangle for which there is no logical, naturalistic explanation.

They like to trot out other arguments, like shoddy statistics meant to show that more accidents happen in the Bermuda Triangle than elsewhere. But those "statistics" are one and all concoctions full of Texas sharpshooter fallacies and outright fabrications.

If you ask professionals, like Lloyd's or the Coast Guard, they will show you that in the Bermuda Triangle there are no more accidents than in any other part of the sea with comparable traffic and weather conditions. Any would-be Texas sharpshooter could draw a triangle across any populated part of the world and come up with, say, the dread Casablanca Triangle or the infamous Oregon Triangle powered by the notorious Oregon Vortex.

So what's left for the mystics is to come up with at least one case that cannot be explained rationally. However, all the case we have looked at so far fall into three categories: Those that have an unambiguous rational solution, those that have more than one possible rational solution, and those for which there is no evidence that they ever happened, i.e., clear fabrications.

There are no cases that cannot be explained rationally. There are only cases where there is not enough hard evidence to prove which one of the several rational explanations suggested by the available evidence is the true one.

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