The disappearance of two English exploratory ships in the polar regions of northern Canada in 1848 was always a puzzle. Some called it a mystery while others simply dubbed it a “horrible tragedy.” Under the command of Sir John Franklin, the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror—converted from warships to polar research vessels—were assigned to try and complete a northwest passage to Asia, record magnetic fields, and collect plant and animal life.
When vessels go down without a trace—no how, what, when or where recorded—they become “mystery ships.” Such was the case of the SS Yongala, a stately passenger and cargo steamship that disappeared March 24, 1911, off the coast of Queensland, Australia.
Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong” is an old adage aptly applied to the sinking of the passenger liner SS Vestris, November 12, 1928. There was a late SOS; bungled lifeboat launchings; a negligent crew; an over-loaded cargo hold and nearby vessels without radios. In addition, poor judgment and neglect became major culprits in Murphy’s mandate.
When a sailor has to jump overboard clad only in his skivvies, you know his ship is in dire straits…and so is he! That’s what happened to Arthur Middleboro, the ship’s purser. It was after midnight when he swam to a raft drifting in a raging storm and joined five other survivors in a 60 hour life threatening ordeal.
On a map, it’s marked Point Pedernales or Honda Point, but to mariners who know the hazards, it has always been and will forever remain the “Devil’s Jaw.” Here, on a shallow reef peppered with menacing volcanic pinnacles, seven destroyers were lost on September 8, 1923, in one of the U. S. Navy’s worst peacetime disasters.
“Cap’n Don” they called him, the brash, bombastic and beguiling Bonaire legend who passed over the bar May 28, 2014. Captain Donald Stewart, the remarkable leader on the island and throughout the diving world, was 88 years old.
When author/adventurer Clive Cussler found the remains of the Mary Celeste, he closed a chapter in the mystery of a “ghost ship” left floundering aimlessly in the mid-Atlantic more than a century ago. The second chapter, revealing what happened to the captain, his family and crew, has yet to be written. Cussler found the wreckage, but the unsolved mystery of the 282-ton seaworthy brigantine still whets the appetites of maritime sleuths throughout the world.
History unveils a plethora of government boondoggles in decision making and expenditures. In most instances, the facts remain in place and the evidence fades away. Such is not the case in Mallows Bay, Charles County, Maryland, where a decision made during WWI leaves to this day a vast graveyard of decomposing vessels that never saw a bit of service. Hailed as the “largest maritime graveyard in the Western Hemisphere,” it goes down in history as one of the government’s biggest blunders.
She was projected to become a floating restaurant, hotel and nightclub on a sunny Caribbean island, but Hurricane Hilda sank all the plans…including the ship. The City of Richmond, a beauty in her day, sailed the Baltimore, Maryland, to Norfolk and York River, Virginia, route for 49 years.
Ship historian and author John Maxtone-Graham wrote in his book, The Only Way to Cross: “Disaster at sea is never predictable and seldom consistent.” Such was the case in the demise of the Italia Line’s SS Andrea Doria when it was struck by the Swedish-American Line’s MS Stockholm, July 25, 1956. Radar was in vogue and used successfully for years. Both captains were experienced mariners with excellent records and past voyages of both ships were accident free. So what went wrong?