Bay Lights Blog

The Stuff of Legends: Ghost Ships

by Rich Goldman

The sea has long been the subject of folklore, often based on superstitions that have been passed down throughout the years. For many, these stories are dismissed as the wild imaginations of sailors as the result of long hours spent on the water. One of the most legendary topics of seafaring folklore centers around ghost ships. Though eerie in name as well as nature, ghost ships are phantom vessels that are found with no surviving crew or passengers aboard. While there are those that are questionable as factual history, there are also some legendary ghost ships that have been found throughout the years.

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The Flying Dutchman

While possibly more lore than factual, the Flying Dutchman has made its mark as one of the most infamous of all ghost ships. Dating back to the late 18th century, the story of the Flying Dutchman has been widely theorized in popular culture from authors such as Washington Irving and in the blockbuster movie series, Pirates of the Caribbean. The tale begins with the Dutch ship losing its bearings as it tried to navigate around the Cape of Good Hope during a storm and, due to the captain's recklessness, the ship was damned for eternity. Since that time, there are said to have been sightings of the ship wandering aimlessly off the coast of South Africa and as far away as Australia.

The Mary Celeste

Discovered on December 5, 1872, the Mary Celeste is one of the more well-known ghost ships in history. Found in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of the Azores Islands, this American merchant ship was first seen by the Dei Gratia, a British brigantine. In route from New York City to Genoa, Italy, the Mary Celeste was found still afloat and under partial sail with the one lifeboat aboard missing. A logbook discovered on the ship showed the last entry from ten days prior with no alerts of note. Questions of pirating were cast aside as the belongings of the crew, as well as a six-month supply of provisions and alcohol, were still on board. All ten members of the crew that began its fateful voyage were never found or heard from again.

The Octavius

One of the most legendary ghost ships to ever be discovered was the 18th-century schooner, the Octavius. Discovered just off the coast of Greenland by a whaling ship in 1775, the Octavius is a story shrouded in mystery. Though still seafaring, the ship was found severely weather-beaten with the crew frozen to death in their bunks. The captain of the ship was found deceased in his cabin seated at his desk while writing in the vessel's logbook from the year 1762, thirteen years prior to it being found. This led to much speculation as to how long the ship had actually been drifting through the waters with no known answers to this day.

The MV Joyita

Dating back to 1955, the MV Joyita was a merchant vessel that mysteriously vanished on a voyage from Samoa to the Tokelau Islands. With 25 passengers and crew members aboard, the MV Joyita began its journey and, when never reaching its destination, was alerted as missing. A search and rescue mission began and covered almost 100,000 square miles with no success. Over a month later, another merchant ship discovered this missing vessel over 600 miles off course near Vanua Levu. Listing and starting to submerge, the MV Joyita was found with no passengers left on board, yet with the ship's logbook and navigational equipment nowhere to be found.

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