Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mysterious Ships, 1921

 In the August issue of the Ocracoke Observer there is a reprint of a short article published in the Greenville News, August 3, 1921. It was about a "mysterious steamer...with no name visible" that was seen "loitering" off Ocracoke "a day or two ago." The master "appeared to be intent upon keeping the craft's identity secret" and the incident "recalled to Ocracokers the recent fury over the disappearance of a score of ships...." in the vicinity.

Six months earlier, on January 31, 1921 the Carroll A. Deering, a five-masted schooner, mysteriously wrecked on Diamond Shoals with all sails set and no one on board. The Deering has come to be known as the "Ghost Ship of the Outer Banks." Portions of the wreck washed up on Ocracoke's beach, and were visible on the north end of the island for decades.

The Deering (US Coast Guard Photo)

Ghost Ship Wreck, Courtesy M. R. Dickson

The editors of the Ocracoke Observer asked readers with knowledge of other "mysterious ships" near Ocracoke around that time to contact them. I have alerted the editors to the following report published in the Morning Oregonian, Portland, Oregon, July 12, 1921:

Mystery Steamer Reported Prowling

Freighter Reports it was Circled at Night

Craft, Bearing Only One Light and Ignoring All Signals, Then Speeds Away.

NEW YORK, July 11. (Special.) Two more reports of strange happenings out on the Atlantic were brought here today by steamships. The little Norwegian freighter Fort Morgan came into port raked and torn from a collision south of Diamond shoals with an unidentified schooner that was sailing without lights, officers of the Fort Morgan said.

Then the British freighter Croxteth Hall reported that a mysterious steamer, running without lights, circled around her 750 miles southeast of Halifax and vanished in the night without giving her identity.

It takes quite a ship, to sail around the Croxteth Hall, which was formerly one of the German freighters and steams along at ten knots and better. She came from Antwerp.

Her master. Captain Spence. said the stranger, which appeared to be a small freighter, was first sighted ahead, showing a stern light. The Croxteth Hall caught up with her and the latter suddenly veered off and dropped astern. Then the stranger, with a burst of speed, came right at the Britisher and passed up around her.

The steamer's lights were out. The red and green running lights of the strangely-acting vessel were not burning and when the Croxteth Hall first overhauled her the stern light disappeared.

Repeated efforts were made by Captain Spence to signal the other vessel by flashlight code and wireless, but she did not answer the inquiries as to her identity. She ran with the Croxteth Hall for a time and then moved off out of sight.

Captain Spence first thought the other ship might be one of the Ice patrol boats. After he made his report to Sanderson & Sons, agents here for his ship, officials of the company said they did not connect the occurrence with the many suspicions of a mystery ship with piratical intent operating out at sea.

 The Fort Morgan came into port just after the Croxteth Hall, with her funnel torn down and wreckage strewn about her deck from her collision. She is a 1120-ton freighter operated by the Federal Steamship company and brought a cargo of bananas from Jamaica.

When she came steaming up the coast without a funnel the men on the pilot boat could hardly believe their eyes. John L. Hall, a pilot, boarded her and did not know what she was. When she was 60 miles south by east of Cape Hatteras at 8:30 P. M. Saturday a sailing vessel without lights was passed. Half an hour later Early Hangsrud, the lookout on the forecastle head, sang out "Ship off port bow, sir." Captain Erling Hervig was in his bunk and Chief Officer Barstad was on the bridge. The Fort Morgan was slipping through the water easily and the night was dark.

It was seen the sailing vessel was without lights. Quartermaster Olaf Christianson, who was maintaining the watch on the Fort Morgan, thought he saw a man on the sailing craft rushing forward, carrying a port light.

The Fort Morgan's helm was put over hard and she tried to get away. but the sailer came on. Her high Jibboom struck the port end of the steamer's bridge, tearing that side of the bridge away. It raked aft, ripping out part of the officers' quarters. Fortunately no one was asleep there. The jibboom next caught the steamer's funnel and mowed it down, together with the mainmast.

Fortunately the sailer's fiddle bow sheered the little freighter off before her stem could crush the steamer's plates. The Fort Morgan careened and her electric lights went out.

The 27 men in her crew stumbled about in the dark. Captain Hervig tumbled out of his bunk and tried to megaphone the other craft, but she disappeared in the darkness. He said he could not see whether she was badly damaged or not, but he was certain her head gear must have been carried away. He and the others on the Fort Morgan said they thought the other vessel was a schooner of about 1300 tons with four or five masts.

The Fort Morgan's steam steering gear was disabled by the collision and the rest of the way here she was steered by hand. Captain Hervig said it was almost a miracle that the vessel was not sunk.

Our latest Ocracoke Newsletter is an article about the Ocracoke Crab Festival which was held each May from 1984 to 1989. You can read it here:  

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous8:34 AM

    Goodness ,it is as if I were reading a foreign language, all these nautical terms . Is it possible for a ship to be adrift at sea without a crew to collide with another ship??. Not being a sailor on the high seas I always thought there was some code of ethics that honored being a sailor and one's conduct was beyond reproach , silly me. Today, if one would collect the stories of the past few decades of refugees being placed in harms way by smugglers sending their customers adrift on overloaded leaky boats off shore to gain "asylum", or captains of cruise ships that run aground that are the first to abandon ship etc. etc. one might come to the conclusion that the Business of getting on a boat and going one's merry way is UNregulated. One is certainly on one's own --- accountability , is there such a thing.