Mythical Monday: Ghost Ship, the HMS Eurydice by Mae Clair

October is a time when our thoughts easily turn to restless ghosts and apparitions. But phantoms aren’t restricted to dwellings only on land. Case in point—the tragedy of the HMS Eurydice.

Illustration of the HMS Eurydice caught in the squall that caused the ship to sink

By Illustrated London News [Public domain] courtesy Wikimedia Commons

 A wooden frigate in a time when steam-propelled and iron clad vessels gradually commandeered the waterways, the Eurydice was converted to a training ship in 1876. The British Navy felt there was still benefit for their ratings to learn the old ways of sail.

On March 22, 1878, the Eurydice was returning from the West Indies. She passed the southeastern side of the Isle of Wight in the British Channel and was spied under full sail by coastguards. Forty minutes later, off Sandown Bay, two smaller vessels sighted her as she continued her journey toward Portsmouth harbor.

Within moments an icy squall arose, bringing a frigid blizzard of snow. One of the smaller ships took shelter in a lee, while the other “reefed” his sails, prepared to ride out the storm. The Eurydice, however, continued under full sail, her gunports wide open. It’s believed she intended to fire a salute when she reached Portsmouth, just eight miles away.

Sadly, for the 366 men on the ship, she never arrived at her destination. Survivors say the captain ordered the sails lowered, but the squall engulfed the vessel so quickly, there wasn’t time. Spun about in the storm, the Eurydice tipped onto her port side and the sea rushed through the open gunports. She sank rapidly, most of the crew trapped below deck. Those who were tossed into the ocean froze to death in the icy waters as they struggled to swim to shore. Of the entire crew, only two survived, rescued by the vessel who had reefed her sails.

Since that fateful day in 1878, the Eurydice has been seen multiple times. Several people also reported experiencing premonitions of the ship’s demise at the exact moment the vessel was engulfed. Later, in 1880, local fishermen reported spying a fully-rigged sailing ship off Sandown Bay. The vessel mysteriously vanished when they drew closer. But not everyone believed the tales. Some whispered that the reports of a phantom vessel were nothing more than the result of lingering mist and imaginative thinking.

Then in 1934, the commander of the submarine HMS Proteus reported nearly colliding with a sailing man-of-war in the same area. Captain Lipscombe was on the conning tower of his boat, the sub returning from an exercise in the English Channel, when a phantom ship abruptly appeared from nowhere. He was forced to take evasive action, narrowly avoiding ramming her. Just that quickly, the phantom vessel disappeared. Lipscombe was reported to be a highly reputable witness who had no previous knowledge of the Eurydice’s sinking.

Finally, in 1998, while filming a TV documentary, Prince Edward spotted a three-masted ship off the Isle of Wight. It’s rumored the crew caught the spectral ship on film, and although their tape jammed during playback, they were able to show a portion of the footage on the program “Crown and Country.”

The tragedy of the Eurydice is considered one of Britain’s worse peace-time naval disasters. Perhaps that is why the phantom ship still haunts Sandown Bay, her gunports fully open as she slides in and out of the mist—one moment there, the next gone. Much like her own fate on March 22, 1878.

Do you think the stories could be true?

Mythical Monday: The Mystery of the Mary Celeste by Mae Clair

bigstock-Antique-brass-compass-over-old-14767397Even if you’re not entirely sure of the details, you know the name Mary Celeste. The 100’ brigantine has haunted the annals of sea lore since the late 1800s and is considered the ultimate nautical mystery by most. Found abandoned and adrift in Spanish waters on December 5, 1872, her crew, captain, and passengers missing, the story was first sensationalized by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his short work of fiction, The Marie Celeste.

Throughout the years, countless retellings and distortion of facts, the Mary Celeste has left her mark on documentaries, books, film and TV. Will we ever know what really happened to her? Probably not — and that’s what makes the mystery so intriguing.

Even before she was found adrift, the Mary Celeste had a reputation of bringing calamity. Originally named Amazon, her maiden voyage was blighted by the death of her captain, Robert McLellan. He died of pneumonia nine days after taking command, the first of three captains to die onboard. In subsequent years a fire broke out in the middle of the ship (when she was in for repairs), she collided with a vessel in the English Channel, and once ran aground during a storm near Glace Bay, Nova Scotia.

In 1869 she was renamed the Mary Celeste and captained under Benjamin Spooner Briggs, one of four owners. Captain Briggs took his wife and two year old daughter as passengers on the Mary Celeste’s final, fateful voyage. The crew was small, just seven men, but Briggs was an experienced captain, as was his first mate. Their cargo was 1701 barrels of American alcohol.

Briggs wrote his mother a letter on the eve of the ship’s departure and enjoyed dinner onboard with his friend, Captain Morehouse of the Dei Gratia. All was well with no sign of trouble, and Briggs was confidently optimistic. On November 7, 1872, the Mary Celeste sailed from New York harbor. The Dei Gratia followed a week later.

bigstock-Old-ship-with-sails-in-the-mis-40244836

She’s not the Mary Celeste, but I couldn’t pass up this image. Isn’t it beautiful and eerie?

On December 5th, the Dei Gratia came upon the Mary Celeste adrift in the Atlantic, yawing out of control. Captain Morehouse took a boat to investigate and found the ship deserted. The lower hull was partially filled with water, the ship’s compass was damaged, the sextant and chronometer missing, along with all of the ship’s papers. The crew’s oilskins, however, had been left behind as if the vessel had been abandoned in a hurry. This was further indicated by deep axe marks in the hatch cover where the main lifeboat would have been stored. It appeared the boat had been cut away in a hurry rather than lowered to the water normally. Nothing was missing, and the cargo was fully intact.

So why did Captain Briggs, his wife, daughter and crew abandon the ship?

There have been sensationalized accounts of half-eaten meals found on the table, still warm, and clocks set to run backward. As intriguing as they are, these peculiarities never appeared in the final reports made by an official Board of Inquiry. After interviewing Captain Morehouse, the conclusion of the Board was that Captain Briggs feared his ship was sinking (although she was found to be seaworthy) and abandoned her. The hull of the Mary Celeste was not damaged, so the amount of water found within must have entered through open hatches.

Many counter Captain Briggs was far too experienced and would have never abandoned his vessel. This prompted other theories.

One suggests the crew mutinied, killing Briggs and his family, but there was no visible sign of a struggle and no evidence of blood. In addition, Briggs was known to be a fair captain and his first mate was well-liked.

Other theories include abduction by pirates (although the cargo was left untouched), an encounter with a sea monster or a sudden natural phenomenon such as an underwater eruption, seaquake or seismic tremor. The vessel may have also collided with an uncharted reef. Whatever brought about her abandonment, Captain Briggs, his family and crew were never seen again, the missing instruments never discovered.

The Mary Celeste was returned to America, ushering in tragedy yet again. The father of the ship’s owner drowned in an accident in Boston when she was returned, prompting him to sell the vessel. The ship was sold at a loss and changed hands seventeen times over the next thirteen years. Her final owner/captain deliberately wrecked her in the Caribbean Sea on January 3, 1885, in an attempt to commit insurance fraud.

On August 9, 2001, the Mary Celeste was located during an expedition headed by author Clive Cussler and a Canadian film producer. After one hundred years her remains have been found, but the mystery of what occurred during that fateful 1872 voyage lingers and probably always will.

What’s your take on the Mary Celeste? Were you familiar with all the details? I learned a lot while researching this, surprised about Clive Cussler’s expedition. Any Cussler fans out there?

I love hearing from you, so please drop a line and share your thoughts!

Mythical Monday: The Cavern of the Sea by Mae Clair

bigstock-Vintage-compass-quill-pen-sp-45049453With the release of TWELFTH SUN hovering around the corner, I’m in a nautical frame of mind. Is it any wonder, given my contemporary romance/mystery centers around the treasure hunt for a marine artifact from a doomed 18th century schooner? (Release date: August 5th. How’s that for a blatant plug? 🙂 ).

In my fictional universe, the Twelfth Sun spawns mystery and debate. No one is really certain what caused her to wreck, a fate that has plagued numerous vessels in our own reality. Countless ships have been lost in the Bermuda triangle, but other watery haunts have claimed vessels as well. Here are just a few ships that have vanished without a trace:

The HMS Terror and HMS Erebus vanished in 1847 during an expedition to discover the Northwest Passage

The SS Waratah, which disappeared between Durban and Cape Town in 1909

The USS Grampus was lost near the Solomon Islands, 1943

Baychimo, lost in 1969 in the waters off Alaskan coast

Patanella, last seen somewhere off Sydney Harbour in 1988

The Genesis, a cargo ship, lost April 23, 1999

The Jupiter 6, a tug boat which vanished while towing a bulk carrier off the coast of India, September 30, 2005

What explanation can be given to these strange disappearances and others? How can a full-sized vessel vanish without a trace, never to be seen again?

There is an old legend about a repository deep in the bowels of the ocean that is the final resting place of vessels that mysteriously vanish. A graveyard of ships hidden beneath the waves. Because the Cavern of the Sea is able to shift from ocean to ocean, it has never been found. Some believe waterspouts are an indication it lies somewhere below. These whirling funnels vacuum water into the air in order to create a mammoth hollow cavity beneath the surface.

Shipwreck Beneath the Sea

That cavity — the Cavern of the Sea – connects to a lake carved into a mountaintop in Portugal. When a ship vanishes, there is a short period during which searchers may find the answers to its disappearance.

A few months after it was last seen, the vessel will materialize on the lake, along with its crew. Anyone waiting on the shore may ask questions about its disappearance and the crew must answer truthfully, relaying the details. The ship will not remain long, however, and will return to the Cavern of the Sea, where it will remain until the end of time.

This is one of those weird legends that fascinate me. I’ve incorporated pieces of it into my current WIP, a novella, tentatively titled Solstice Island (poll coming on that shortly!).

So what do you think? Are you captivated by nautical folklore or do you prefer the landlubber variety? Have you ever wanted to go on a search for buried treasure or a missing ship? Is there a particular legend associated with the sea that resonates strongly with you?

I love hearing from you! Tell me what you think!