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Skeleton Crews, Ghost Ships, and Vanishings: Unusual Stories from the Sea…


If there’s one thing a sailor likes as much (or more?) than rum, it’s a good yarn. The sea produces stories and regaling ocean-borne adventures over a stiff rum drink is the sailor’s rite of passage.

The following  stories are unlike your typical tales at sea …so unusual, so bizarre, they have become legend. These unsolved sea mysteries will have you holding court at the Willy T…

I bring you, the five most unusual stories from the sea…


  1. Ghost Ship (The Marlborough Glasgow)

    In 1913, while sailing off the coast of Chili, the British sailing ship, Johnson, spied another vessel sailing off in the distance. When the signals made by the British ship went unanswered, a crew from the Johnson was sent to investigate.

    As they neared the mystery ship, the crew noted that the entire boat had a green tint and was completely covered in moss from the canvas to waterline. Upon boarding, they noted the entire hull was so badly decayed, it gave underfoot. Further investigation uncovered a literal skeleton crew; one under the ship’s wheel, three more on deck, six on the bridge, and ten down below.

    The name “Marlborough,” a ship that sailed from New Zealand in 1890 and went missing shortly thereafter, could still be discerned on the bow. She had been drifting, undiscovered, in the remote and chilly waters of the Chilean coast, for 30 years.


    Source: Wikimedia c/o State Library of Victoria, Malcolm Brodie shipping collection.

  2. Frozen Solid (Schooner Jenny)

    “May 4, 1823. No food for 71 days. I am the only one left alive.” This was the final message in the logbook of the British Schooner Jenny, written by the Captain whose body was discovered perfectly preserved by the arctic cold a full seventeen years after his death. He was still at his desk with pen in hand when he was found, a tableau frozen against the ice.

    The bodies of six of his ship mates, also frozen solid in the positions of their last breaths, were rediscovered by whalers in 1840. Legend has it that the Schooner Jenny was becalmed and subsequently imprisoned in a sea of ice in the Drake Channel some time in 1823. After they were found, they – along with the ship’s dog – were given burials at sea.


    Schooner Jenny. Source: History Cooperative.

  3. Disappearing Act (The Mary Celeste)

    On December 4,1872 The Mary Celeste – a 100 foot American merchant brigantine – was sighted off the Azores Islands under partial sail by the Canadian ship, Dei Grata. Her erratic movements as well as the strange set of her sails signaled to the captain that something was amiss, so they approached.

    The Mary Celeste was slightly disheveled but still seaworthy, yet not a soul was aboard. Her lifeboat was missing, yet the cargo and everyone’s personal belongings remained undisturbed. The last log in the captain’s journal was penned ten days earlier and made no mention of distress. The theories run the gamut…

    There is speculation that noxious fumes from the alcohol and the fear of explosion caused the Captain to call the “abandon ship” order in a hurry, explaining why the ship was left undisturbed with her sails up and the crews personal belongings on board. Other hypotheses range from piracy, to mutiny to the paranormal. One thing is certain, the fate of the Captain, his wife, young daughter, and seven crew mates remain unknown.


    Engraving of the Mary Celeste. Source: Wikimedia. Originally Scanned from”300 Years of British Gibraltar”

  4. Man Overboard (s/v Kaz II)


    In 2007, the Kaz II departed Airlie beach on it’s first leg of what was supposed to be a trip around Australia. On board were owner Derek Batten and his neighbors, brothers Peter and James Tunstead.

    The catamaran was found three days later drifting without her crew near the Great Barrier Reef. When, on April 20th, the maritime authorities caught up and subsequently boarded the boat, they described the circumstances of the missing men as “strange.” Everything was as it should be, save the missing crew. The engine was running, a laptop computer was set up and still on and the men’s three lifejackets hung neatly on their hooks. There was no sign of any struggle, and aside from a shredded sail, the ship’s gear and systems were in good working order.

    The investigators found video footage that appeared to be taken just before the crew’s disappearance which revealed clues into the men’s last day, but uncovered nothing out of the ordinary. Their vanishing and the circumstances surrounding it remain a mystery.


    Kaz II with no crew on board. Source: Queensland Police

  5. Unsinkable (m/v Joyita)

    In 1955, the Joyita, a dilapidated but incredibly buoyant merchant vessel working in the South Pacific, was discovered, abandoned, 600 miles from her scheduled route five weeks after her disappearance. Her entire crew of 25 had vanished, and four tons of cargo was missing. While the derelict boat was found in terrible shape; heavily listing to one side with a significant amount of water in her hold, she was still afloat (her design deemed her ‘unsinkable’).

    The mystery lies in why her crew would abandon the foundering ship when it was by far the best option they had, forlorn as it might have been. To add to the enigma, a doctor bag was found on deck, as were several lengths of bloody bandages. The radio was tuned to the international distress channel and the ships clocks had stopped at 10:25, indicating a nighttime incident. The missing cargo of timber, medical supplies and oil drums led some people to believe piracy was the culprit. Others hypothesized that the crew and cargo were taken by the Japanese, others hypothesized mutiny and insurance fraud.

    The other, more plausible theory, was that the captain was seriously injured (hence the bandages) and when the ship began to take on water, the panicked crew abandoned her, not knowing she would remain afloat. While theories are many, the fate of the crew of the m/v Joyita will probably never be known.


    Source: Wikimedia c/o savalinews.com


As long as we take to the sea, great stories will continue. The ocean takes some as her own, hiding the truth deep within her belly, and leaving us only questions.

These stories grow and change with the ebb and flow of history and while time might have tarnished the evidence, their allure is strong as ever. These are the stuff that legends are made of. Some sea stories, however, will make their way to the bar by the very folks who lived them. These will be told with grit, grizzle and flair.

So next time you belly up next to an old salt at your favorite island watering hole, ask him to tell you a story. You won’t be disappointed.

Brittany Meyers
Brittany and her husband live aboard their sailboat with their three young girls. She writes about their (mis) adventures afloat at www.windtraveler.net.
Brittany Meyers
Brittany Meyers

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