Adrift With the Mary Celeste

On December 4, 1872, the ship Mary Celeste was found floating, unmanned, and abandoned, in the Atlantic Ocean between the Azores and the coast of Portugal. She was an American brigantine merchant ship, and she’d been at sea for about a month. When she was found, she was fully stocked with six months’ worth of food and supplies, she was completely seaworthy, and the weather was calm. She was flying no distress signal, and there were no signs of violence or mutiny, but all of her passengers and crew had vanished without a trace.

It is a sea mystery. It is one that I heard as a boy and it fascinated me. I still find tales of things lost fascinating. Lost cities led me to lost worlds. I was even interested in lost weekends, some lost words, and lost skills.

On one extreme, I even worked at getting lost myself, and at the other extreme on finding myself either literally using some kind of navigation or spiritually.

Concerning the Mary Celeste, what we know is that it was a brigantine merchant ship that had been at sea for about a month leaving New York City for Genoa. When found, her passengers and crew were gone, but the ship’s lifeboat was gone which leads to the conclusion that they had abandoned the ship. The ship’s papers, navigation equipment, and two pumps were also missing. But their personal possessions and valuables were left, so they must have left in a hurry.

The ship’s logbook remained. The day before they reached the Azores, they changed course and headed north of Santa Maria Island. The night before the last entry in the ship’s log, they faced rough seas and winds of more than 35 knots. Were they seeking temporary safety? In a small lifeboat?

From 1872 through now, theories, myths, and false histories have been put forward. Sea monsters, alien abduction, storm, waterspout, tsunami, piracy, mutiny?

Sherlock Holmes’ creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, wrote a story called “J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement,” based on the mystery. He spelled the ship’s name as Marie Celeste mistakenly but the mistake got traction and is sometimes attached to some of the stories about the ship.

We still don’t have a definitive answer to this mystery of a “ghost ship,” which makes it more interesting.

Mary Celeste as Amazon in 1861 (cropped).jpg
An 1861 painting of Mary Celeste (named Amazon at the time) Link