Haunted Ships and Ghostly Vessels

When, steadily steering landward,
A ship was seen below,
And they knew it was Lamberton, Master,
Who sailed so long ago.

On she came, with a cloud of canvas,
Right against the wind that blew.
Until the eye could distinguish
The faces of the crew.

Then fell her straining topmasts,
Hanging tangled in the shrouds,
And her sails were loosened and lifted,
And blown away like clouds.

And the masts, with all their rigging,
Fell slowly, one by one,
And the hulk dilated and vanished,
As a sea-mist in the sun!

-- from THE PHANTOM SHIP by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Some of the most amazing paranormal events occur at sea. A ghost ship falls into one of three categories. One is the sighting of a phantom vessel that is known to have sunk. Two, a ship can be haunted whether it’s still in use or decommissioned, whether it’s been turned into a museum or is destined for the scrapyard. Three, a “ghost ship” can be a vessel that mysteriously turns up without a living soul on board.

The Mary Celeste

Originally named The Amazon, this 100-foot brigantine was built in Nova Scotia, Canada in 1861. Her ill luck appears to have started early, with the death of her captain on her maiden voyage. Two other captains died aboard the Amazon. A collision with a fishing boat sent her back to the shipyard for repairs, where a fire broke out on board! Later, on her first trans-Atlantic crossing, she collided with another ship in the English Channel and her captain was dismissed. In 1867 the ship ran aground in Nova Scotia and was sold as salvage.

Repaired and renamed the Mary Celeste, the ship left New York in 1872. It was loaded with 1700 barrels of raw alcohol and bound for Italy, where the alcohol would be used for fortifying wines. Captain Benjamin Briggs and the seven members of his crew had reputations as experienced and able seamen. Expecting no difficulty, the captain brought his wife and daughter along for the voyage.

A month later another merchant ship, the Dei Gratia, spotted the Mary Celeste off the coast of Portugal. The ship was under sail but its sails were tattered and it was behaving strangely. It was soon discovered that there was no one on board. Only nine barrels were missing from the cargo and a six-month supply of food and water was still on board. All personal possessions were undisturbed and there were no signs of a struggle. The lifeboat was missing and a long 3-inch-wide rope was discovered attached to the ship with the opposite end frayed and trailing in the water.

The fate of the captain, crew and passengers of the Mary Celeste remains unknown to this day. But misfortune continued to stalk the vessel. When it was returned to New York, an accident on board caused the drowning of Harry Winchester, father of one of the four owners. Reputed to be cursed, the Mary Celeste went through the hands of 17 owners over the next 13 years! The last owner deliberately wrecked the ship on a reef in the Caribbean.

Alabama’s Phantom Steamboat

The Eliza Battle was a luxurious side-wheeled paddle steamer that had hosted presidents and many other prestigious passengers as it traveled the Tombigbee River in Alabama. In addition to some wealthy clientele, the Eliza Battle was also carrying a thousand bales of cotton on her main deck on the night of March 1, 1858, when a fire broke out. Strong winds quickly whipped the flames out of control. Most of the passengers and crew leapt from the ship, but many succumbed to the frigid water before they could be rescued. The steamboat finally came to rest outside Pennington at Kemp’s Landing, and the burnt-out hull still remains on the river bottom there.

To this day, sightings of a flaming ship are reported in the area on cold and windy nights. It has been said that music can be heard playing within the ship while fire engulfs the deck! The appearance of the ghostly Eliza Battle is considered an ill omen by fishermen and ship captains alike, a warning of disaster.

The U-Haul company added the image of Nova Scotia's
mysterious burning ship to its gallery of paintings used
to decorate the sides of its moving vans!
The Flaming Ship of Nova Scotia

Numerous sightings of a three-masted sailing ship have persisted for nearly three centuries in Canada. Most recently, the burning vessel was been seen by several drivers at once on a coastal road, and the apparition remained visible for an astonishing two hours! The nameless ship is described as completely engulfed in flames, or sometimes outlined in a fiery glow. The ghostly vessel has usually been seen sailing the Northumberland Strait between Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia. There have been a number of attempts over the years to reach the flaming ship by boat, but it vanishes each time.

The Lone Lifeboat

In 1906, the SS Valencia, an iron-hulled passenger liner, was making its way from San Francisco to Seattle. A severe storm caused it to miss its destination and run aground on a reef off the southwest coast of Vancouver Island. The situation was horrific, with the Valencia trapped between the pounding waves and sheer cliffs. Rescuers could not get to the stricken vessel by sea or by land, and could only watch helplessly from a distance as the sea tore the ship to pieces and 136 people perished. Thirty-seven survivors were eventually rescued from the forbidding coastline.

In 1910, Seattle area newspapers reported the sighting of a phantom ship resembling the Valencia on the rocks where she perished. Native fishermen claimed to have seen a lifeboat filled with skeletons.

A single lifeboat from the Valencia was found floating in the area -- 27 years after the sinking! It was in remarkably good condition despite being exposed to the elements for so long. Part of this lifeboat, still bearing the name Valencia, can be seen at the Maritime Museum in Victoria, British Columbia.

Ghost Ship of the Arctic

The Baychimo, locked in ice in 1931
The Baychimo was a steel cargo steamer used by the Hudson Bay Company for transporting furs along the Arctic coastline and carrying supplies to Inuit communities. In October 1931, the Baychimo was near Barrow, Alaska when it became blocked by sea ice. The crew left the ship to seek shelter on land, but returned when the ship broke free a week later. It was only a few days, however, before the ship was again trapped. The crew returned to land, knowing they would have to wait until spring before the ship would be free again. A month later the ship vanished during a blizzard!

The crew thought at first that the Baychimo had broken up and sunk, but a seal hunter told them that he’d seen it 45 miles away. When they tracked the ship down, the captain decided that it couldn’t possibly survive the winter. The crew removed the most valuable furs and abandoned the vessel to its fate.

The Baychimo did more than survive until spring, however. For the next thirty-eight years, the Baychimo was sighted again and again along the northern coast of Canada. There were many attempts to board the ship, and a few were successful. Each time, however, the salvagers were thwarted by terrible weather and the ship disappeared once again. The last confirmed sighting was in 1969 when the Baychimo was frozen in sea ice off the coast of Alaska. No one knows whether the ship sank or sailed free to roam the frigid Arctic waters once more.

The Haunted Hornet

The USS Hornet joined the war in the Pacific in 1943, and quickly became one of its most decorated ships. The Hornet, nicknamed the Grey Ghost, was at the forefront of the action, supporting troop landings, shooting down enemy planes, sinking Japanese battleships and earning no less than nine battle stars for its service. Later in its career, the Hornet recovered the astronauts from the first moon landing mission, Apollo 11, and also those from Apollo 12.

In its retirement years, the Hornet was designated as a National Historic Landmark and opened its doors to the public as a museum in Alameda, California. And that’s when it came to light that the Hornet has one more distinction – it’s arguably the most haunted ship in America.

Workmen, museum staffers and tourists have reported heavy doors opening and closing by themselves, things falling off shelves or large items sliding across the floor, the sudden smell of pipe smoke and the sensation of being grabbed or pushed. Sailors and officers in WWII uniforms have been sighted, moving with purpose as if carrying out their duties as usual. Footfalls are heard where there is no one present, plus voices talking, shouting laughing, even calling for help. Some individuals have heard entire conversations, as if aircraft crews were talking shop.

If there are ghosts aboard the Hornet, no one is surprised. Over 300 men died on the ship, some in combat but many through horrific accidents – an aircraft carrier is a dangerous place. And like all warships, the Hornet had its suicides. Despite this, most of the people who have had paranormal experiences on the old ship say that the spirits tend to be friendly, even playful. And not above playing pranks – one volunteer was alone in a restroom when the urinal beside him flushed by itself.

In recent years the USS Hornet has attracted the attention of many psychics and mediums, and even a number of TV shows such as Ghost Hunters and Ghost Adventures. Fortunately, the average person doesn't need special permission to ghost hunt since the Hornet is open to the public during museum hours. And if the stories are true, then ghost hunting really isn't necessary -- they'll find YOU!

Dani Harper

YOUR TURN -- Not only are ghostly ships the stuff of legends, but they fuel the imagination and inspire great fiction such as Duma Key by Stephen King. Have you read a story or a novel, or watched a movie about a haunted vessel?