Sunday, November 18, 2012
Hewitt, January 20, 1921.
The steamer Hewitt sailed from Sabine, Texas, for Boston, Massachusetts, and Portland, Maine, on January 20, 1921. She was carrying sulfur. After passing through the Straits of Florida, she was heard from for one last time from near Jupiter Inlet, Florida. (Group, p. 36.)
According to Spencer, her final reported position was about 250 miles north of Jupiter Inlet. (Spencer, p. 108.) Not exactly near, given the distances involved. Depending on whether they're nautical, 250 miles is somewhere off Jacksonville, at the northern end of Florida.
Berlitz claims the Hewitt was sailing from New York to Europe via the Bermuda Triangle. (Berlitz, Without a Trace, p. 24.) This again reflects more on the quality of Berlitz' "work" than on the course of the Hewitt.
The 5,399 GRT Hewitt was built in 1914 as the Pacific by Fore River for the Emery Steamship Company. She had a sister Atlantic, which was renamed Wilmore, torpedoed, and lost in 1917.
It has been suggested that the Hewitt was the mystery steamer that the crew of the Lookout Shoals Lightship observed on Saturday, January 29, allegedly tailing the schooner Carroll A. Deering just before the crew of the latter vanished. That mystery steamer ignored the lightship's signals and had a tarp draped over her side to obscure her name. The steamer may have picked up the schooner's crew after they abandoned her, or she may have hijacked her outright. (Kusche, Bermuda Triangle Mystery, pp. 68.) But as the Hewitt was northbound while the mystery steamer was southbound, that doesn't seem to make a lot of sense. (Simpson, p. 111.)
The Hewitt was one of a number of ships claimed by the Bermuda Triangle in late 1920 and early 1921. The record number of vanishing ships aroused suspicions that Russian reds were hijacking ships and sailing them to soviet ports. When government investigators realized how severe the storms had been, investigations ceased.
While most or all of those ships were probably really storm victims, it is of course not impossible that some ships were hijacked by communists. A correspondent of The Washington Post saw several ships with their names painted out in Vladivostok. (Group, p. 36.) However, I tend to think those may very well have been Russian ships that had their tsarist names painted out, pending renaming with, uh, "good socialist/communist" names.
The Hewitt may have sunk in one of the two Atlantic storms from February 6 to 9 and from February 15. However, Group points out that then the question remains why nothing was heard from her in the meantime. (Group, p. 36.)
Apparently, Group failed to make the connection with another bit of his own research. On the next page, in the context of the Carroll A. Deering, he mentions a gale that raged at Cape Lookout for two days before it abated on January 29. (Group, p. 37.)
That's a time and place where the Hewitt was expected to be, for she was suspected of being the mystery steamer seen from the Lookout Shoals Lightship on January 29. Thus, it is possible that the Hewitt went down in this earlier storm without one having to assume she spent time in limbo somehow.
Spencer, to his credit, makes that connection, if reluctantly. (Spencer, p. 108.) So does Simpson. (Simpson, pp. 110.) And if she was last seen or heard from off Jacksonville, she was well on her way to Cape Lookout.
Then again, her sulfur cargo may have exploded. On February 1 at 2 AM, Coast Guardsmen at Absecon Light in Atlantic City, New Jersey, noticed "a vivid flash of light at sea, followed by an explosion." Powerboats found no wreckage or distress signals. At dawn, a seaplane joined the search, but didn't find anything, either. (Simpson, p. 17.)
As a postscript, during the Deering investigation, a crewmember of the Hewitt, one B.O. Rainey, cropped up. However, he claimed he left the ship before she sailed from Texas.