You’ve read stories about haunted prisons and haunted houses but have you read about ghostly ships that have been seen for centuries? Perhaps you’ve heard tales told around campfires or around a pub table.
The seas and oceans have always been full of mystery, and one of the scarier parts of this lore is the various ghost ships throughout history. Ghostly stories of vessels seen adrift and wandering around without the appearance of any living crew aboard. Here are a few stories that may whet your appetite.
It was late January in 1906, a little before midnight on a particularly stormy night (rendering celestial navigation impossible) when a small American owned passenger steamer called the SS Valencia struck a submerged reef off of an island near Vancouver Island. The result was a large gash in its hull.
They quickly started taking on water. The captain ordered the ship beached but instead it ran into and got wedged in rocks off shore. The ship battered unmercifully by high winds and crashing waves. The crew, in a panic, launched the lifeboats, however three flipped on their descent and three more capsized after they reached the water.
Rescue boats watched in horror as the violent waves tore the ship apart. They listened to screams of women and children as the passengers rushed to the deck, only to be swept overboard by huge waves. Some of the passengers and crew managed to climb high into the ship’s rigging. A few of them were able to hang on for days until the sea also claimed them.
Of the 157 people on board, only 37 managed to survive and none of them were women or children.
Since then there have been so many claims of ships coming across a familiar looking steamer, the SS Valencia. It is seen in the form of a ghost ship with waves washing over its boughs with human forms clinging desperately to the rigging.
There have also been reports of seeing life boats filled with skeletons from the Valencia.
Remains of the wreck have been left relatively untouched about five miles southeast of Pachena Beach. You can still see pieces of the ship dug into the coastline.
Unlike the SS Valencia, The Caleuche actually never existed as a real ship. The ship lore began with a group of people at the southernmost tip of South Africa known as the Mapuche. They were able to keep the Spanish Conquistadors from invading by creating The Caleuche.
The Caleuche is a ghost ship that appears nightly near the Island of Chiloe (an island off of the coast of Chile). The ship will appear as a beautiful and bright white sailing ship with three masts of five sails each. The ship is always full of lights and sounds of partying with people on board laughing and carrying on. After the ship is spotted it is then said to disappear or submerge below the water. Yes, that’s what I said, it is known to navigate below the water.
The down side of this ship is that it is reported to carry the spirits of all those who have drowned at sea. The ships main occupants are said to be mermaids.
For you see according to legend, the spirits of the drowned are summoned to the ship by Sirena Chilota, her sister Pincoya and their brother Picov. Sirena reportedly has the upper body and face of a teenager, one with long blond hair and golden scales. Pincoya is also said to have long blond hair and be even more beautiful, cheerful and sensual. She rises from the depths of the sea with her totally human looking body. Picoy has the body of a sea lion with golden fur and the face of a very handsome man with long blond hair.
The passengers appear to be of two types. The spirits of those who drowned at sea are said to be able to continue their sort of existence and to even visit home once a year to give aid to their families. The second type are kidnapped fishermen who are forced to perform duties as crew.
A schooner with triple masts named the Lady Lovibond was being prepared for sail the day before St. Valentine’s Day, 1748. Captain Simon Reed planned a voyage along the River Thames towards the open sea and circumnavigate the Kent coast before heading towards Portugal. The captain organized this trip as a honeymoon for his new wife, Annetta.
Celebrations were taking place across all decks, with the exception of the first mate, John Rivers. Rivers had served as the captain’s best man at the wedding ceremony. The problem was that Rivers was very smitten with the beautiful Annetta. His infatuation resulted in a plan to get some measured revenge.
In an area known as the Goodwin Sands, which is an anomaly approximately 10 miles long and lies between 8-15 meters below the surface of the English Channel that has the reputation of wrecking something along the lines of 2000 vessels throughout the years. It is still known as one of the most dangerous passages of the English Channel.
One of the unfortunate victims was the Lady Lovibond. As the schooner approached the area, Rivers, fueled by a lot of alcohol, made his move. He snuck up behind the acting petty officer and delivered a hard blow to the back of his head. With the ship at his mercy, Rivers apparently deliberately ran the Lady Lovibond aground at Goodwin.
He destroyed the ship and killed everyone on board.
Exactly 50 years later, to the day after the Lady Lovibond was destroyed, the captain of the ship Edenbridge recorded in his log that he had almost collided with a schooner with three masts. He reported sounds of celebration coming from the ship as it broke up. A rescue team was dispatched but could find no sign of the ship or of its passengers.
Another 50 years passed and again the same was seen by locals on February 13th. They watched in horror as a three masted schooner headed towards the Sands. Again no sign or evidence of wreckage was found.
Supposedly the last report was filed in 1948 by Captain Bull Preswick. He was convinced he saw the actual Lady Lovibond but it was surrounded by a green glow as it entered the Sands.
December 4, 1872, a ship in full sail and in sound and seaworthy condition with ample provisions was found adrift in the choppy seas of the Atlantic. The ship was the Mary Celeste. When it was boarded it was found to be completely empty, as in the crew had vanished without a trace.
The Mary Celeste was a merchant brigantine launched by the British in 1861 as Amazon. Seven years later she was transferred to American ownership and re-christened as the Mary Celeste. The ship sailed uneventfully until her 1872 voyage from New York to Genoa.
Long story short, the ship’s cargo was 1701 barrels of poisonous denatured alcohol. The ship left the New York Harbor on November 7th, 1872, and sailed into the Atlantic. On December 4th, 1872, the British brigantine Dei Gratia discovered the Mary Celeste sailing aimlessly between the Azores & Portugal.
Upon closer inspection, it was discovered that there was no one on board the Mary Celeste and the last entry in the ship’s daily log had been written on November 24th. The ship was still in seaworthy condition, cargo still mostly intact and the food and water supply sufficient for six months.
The ship’s single lifeboat, as well as the chronometer and sextant were missing.
In January 1885, a ship slammed into Rochelois Reef. It wrecked off the island of Haiti. The captain, Gilman Parker, sold the salvage rights to the American consul for $500.00 then made an insurance claim for the alleged value of the ship’s cargo. This was the end of one of the most infamous ships to have sailed, the Mary Celeste.
The Flying Dutchman
The Flying Dutchman seems to be the most famous among the nautical myths and legends. Many have claimed to see the ghostly vessel with Captain Hendrick van der Decken (the Dutchman), that sank in 1641.
As the story goes the ship rounded the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa when suddenly a terrible gale sprung up, threatening to capsize the ship. The sailors tried to get the captain to turn around but the Dutchman refused and ordered his crew to continue on.
Some say he was mad, others say he was drunk but he refused their pleas and ordered the crew to press on. Some claims are he lit his pipe, smoking as huge waves crashed against the ship while others say he went below to drink more ale. The crew decided to mutiny.
The captain killed the leader and threw his body into the sea. A voice was heard telling him as a result of his actions, he was condemned to sail the oceans for eternity with a ghostly crew of dead men. They would bring death to all who sight the spectral ship.
This naturally brought about the legend that if you catch sight of the Dutchman, you will die a gruesome death.
It was October of 1775 when a ship was found frozen in the treacherous Northwest Passage by another ship called Herald. It was apparent that it had been trapped in sea ice north of Alaska. The hull was miserably weather beaten and covered in a great deal of snow. The crew was hailed several times but no return answer came.
The five man boarding party located the entire crew of 28 below deck, all dead and frozen (being almost perfectly preserved). The captain’s body was still at the table in his cabin, pen in hand with the captain’s log in front of him. He recorded the last position of the ship (while crew was still alive) was around 250 miles north of Barrow, Alaska.
The date of the log was November 11, 1762. The ship had been lost in the Artic for 13 years prior to discovery. It is said that the Octavious had left England for the Orient in 1761, successfully arriving a year later. The captain had gambled on a return home through the little known Northwest Passage.
The following is from an article written by David Meyer on the Octavious:
“Published on December 13, 1828 in a Philadelphia-based newspaper named The Ariel: A Literary and Critical Gazette. The article is entitled The Dangers of Sailing in High Latitudes. Here’s a taste:
Captain Warrens’ curiosity was so much excited, that he immediately leaped into the boat with several seamen, and rowed towards her. On approaching, he observed that her hull was miserably weatherbeaten, and not a soul appeared upon the deck, which was covered with snow to a considerable depth. He hailed her crew several times, but no answer was returned. Previous to stepping on board, an open port hole near the main chains caught his eye, and on looking into it, he perceived a man reclining back in a chair, with writing materials on a small table before him, but the feebleness of the light made every thing very indistinct. The party, therefore, went upon deck, and having removed the hatchway, which they found closed, they descended to the cabin. They first came to the apartment which Captain Warrens had viewed through the port hole. A tremour seized him as he entered it. Its inmate retained his former position, and seemed to be insensible of strangers. He was found to be a corpse, and a green damp mould had covered his cheeks and forehead, and veiled his eye balls. He held a pen in his hand, and a log book before him, the last sentence in whose unfinished page thus, “11th Nov. 1762; We have been enclosed in the ice seventy days. The fire went out yesterday, and our master has been trying ever since to kindle it again but without success. His wife died this morning. There is no relief -“”
One of the most bizarre ghost ship stories on record is possibly that of the SS Bachimo. It has went from a mere ghost ship to possibly one of the greatest modern day maritime mysteries.
The SS Baychimo was a steel hulled, 1322 ton, steam-powered vessel that was built in Sweden in 1914.
On October 1, 1931 the ship was on a routine run to Vancouver with a cargo of furs. The crew had not accounted for the fact that winter that year had come earlier than usual. The ship and crew were battered by icy blasts of wind, freezing temperatures, yet they continued on their journey to deliver their cargo.
Suddenly a blizzard descended upon the ship. Huge chunks of ice began to pack around the Baychimo, eventually closing around it and encaging it in ice. Unable to continue their voyage, facing possibly sinking, the captain ordered the crew to abandon the ship and make their way to the town of Barrow, Alaska, on foot.
The crew was finally able to make it to their destination and took shelter in the town for several days before returning to check on their abandoned ship. Upon arrival they found out the vessel had broken free and was aimlessly drifting about the area.
The crew deciding to wait until they could retrieve their ship, built a camp on the ice nearby where they could keep an eye on the ship. Unfortunately the bad weather did not let up and on October 8th the ship was once again stuck in an ice cage.
October 15th the blizzard continued pounding their camp. The Hudson Bay Company sent a rescue party to evacuate the crew. 22 sailors were rescued, however the captain & 14 other crew members refused to abandon the ship and cargo. The company had no other choice but to leave them, however they did leave provisions with them.
November 24th arrived with a worse blizzard in the area. Visibility became nonexistent. The crew that remained behind lost sight of their ship. When the storm finally lifted, the SS Baychimo, was nowhere to be seen. The vessel seemed to have simply disappeared.
The captain & crew feared the ship had broken apart and sunk. They dejectedly packed up and left camp. About a week later a native to the area told them that he had seen their vessel floating around about 45 miles from where it was last seen. The crew packed up their gear and headed out to retrieve their vessel.
They found the vessel and boarded it. Upon examination however it was determined to be too badly damaged and would unlikely remain seaworthy. Fearing it would break apart and sink, the crew desperately salvaged the more valuable of the furs and had them airlifted by The Hudson Bay Company.
The ship was left to its fate. The vessel was tougher than it had been given credit for as it not only survived that winter but it began cruising the cold North Atlantic waters, seeming intact and unmanned. People began reporting seeing near Nome, Alaska. At times it was reported to be near shore and other times it was seen far out at sea.
The Baychimo seemed to evade those who would pursue it uncannily well for an unmanned vessel. Reports of it vanishing before it could be reached. Few times ships were able to catch up with it but would have no success in boarding her as for some reason or another something would stop them from gaining success. They would be forced to let the vessel go for one reason or another.
Pursuers were either not equipped to handle the salvage task due to the vessel being massive or their failures would come from more mysterious circumstances. Reportedly it was common for sudden & violent storms to move in without warning upon any move to try to board the vessel. A few people even lost their lives trying.
In 1933 a group of Inuit boarded the ghost ship for shelter as it was caught in ice. They ended up being trapped on it for 10 days as a sudden and fierce storm raged outside. If anyone else would manage to get on board, supposedly ice floes would appear out of the surrounding waters.
Towlines connected to the vessel would often snap either due to rough seas, ice or other mysterious circumstances. Therefore the ship gained the reputation as being cursed. By 1939 ships would flee from it rather than approach it. It was also in 1939 when the Baychimo disappeared for 23 years. It was believed that the ship had finally sunk.
In March of 1962, a group of Inuit’s saw the vessel drifting along a coastline near the Beaufort Sea. The shop was then seen several more times up to 1969 when it was observed stuck in an ice pack. That was the last time anyone would see the ship. Before a salvage crew could arrive, the ship vanished. No one has seen it since.
No trace of wreckage was ever found. It is as though the ship simply vanished.
There are so many stories “floating” around about ghostly vessels being seen or of legends that I could add so many more stories about them on this article but I will end it here. I hope you enjoyed the information I’ve shared with you.