Monday, August 18, 2008

Mary Celeste - I Blame the Booze

The Mary Celeste was a 103-foot (31 m), 282-ton brigantine built in 1861, but with an expiration date of December 4, 1872.

It was on this date of 1872 when the Mary Celeste was spotted drifting at sea with no signs of distress.

Upon arrival, crewmembers of the Dei Graita were astonished to find the Mary Celeste in good condition, however, there was a catch. The entire crew of the Mary Celeste was missing.

Oliver Deveau, the chief mate of the Dei Gratia, led a party in a small boat to board the Mary Celeste. He found the ship in generally good condition, though he reported that "the whole ship was a thoroughly wet mess". There was only one operational pump, with a lot of water between decks and three and a half feet (1.1 m) of water in the hold. The forehatch and the lazarette were both open, the clock was not functioning and the compass was destroyed. The sextant and marine chronometer were missing, and the only lifeboat appeared to have been intentionally launched rather than torn away, suggesting the ship had been deliberately abandoned.

So what happened?

Over the years, many theories have been suggested, as well as the elaborate exaggerations of the story.

According to an original 1873 news article from the Boston Post, pirates seized the Mary Celeste. Although a reasonable explanation, the pirate theory has been contested. Many theories suggest there may have been a more sinister cause to this ghost ship tale…. Booze.

Yep, you heard right. The entire crew of the Mary Celeste may have fell victim to the majestic powers of alcohol…. But not in the way you’re thinking.

Of the theories consistent with the account given by the crew of the Dei Gratia, the most plausible are based on the barrels of alcohol. Briggs had never hauled such a dangerous cargo before and did not trust it. Nine leaking barrels would have caused a buildup of vapor in the hold. Historian Conrad Byers believed that Captain Briggs ordered the hold to be opened, resulting in a violent rush of fumes and then steam. Believing the ship was about to explode, Briggs ordered everyone into the lifeboat, failing, in his haste, to properly secure it to the ship with a strong towline. The wind picked up and blew the ship away from them. The occupants of the lifeboat either drowned or drifted out to sea to die of hunger, thirst and exposure.

I couldn’t imagine the desperate feeling those crew members felt while watching their ship drift away, never to be seen again.

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