Saturday, March 19, 2005

Rhode Island's Lost Crewmen

Of all nautical mysteries, the most haunting are those involving shipshape vessels found adrift with no one aboard. The Mary Celeste (1872) is the most famous “wanderer.” Others are lesser known but no less mysterious.

Case in point: the Seabird. It ran ashore at Easton’s Beach in Rhode Island in 1850, nearing its base at Newport after a cargo voyage up the coast from Honduras. The sails were fully set, but the only sign of life aboard was a small dog. As in many such accounts, this one includes details of a coffee pot still hot on the stove; there even was said to be an aroma of recent pipe smoke. Local fishermen reported they had seen the vessel offshore not many hours before its grounding and had been hailed by the Seabird’s captain, John Durham -- a veteran New England salt.

Obviously, something had compelled the crew to abandon ship excruciatingly close to its home port. No solution to the riddle could be determined, and a few weeks later a storm took the Seabird back into the Atlantic, never to be seen again.


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