Saturday, April 02, 2005

Twice Vanished

In the annals of nautical drifters (seaworthy vessels found adrift, abandoned for no apparent reason) the experiences of the sailors aboard the British ship Ellen Austin in 1881 deserve special attention. They came upon a drifter. A prize crew claimed it for salvage . . . and themselves joined the lost realm of maritime drifters.

The Austin's crew found the aimlessly wandering schooner in the mid-Atlantic. It was seaworthy, and a precursory inspection revealed nothing out of the ordinary aboard -- no clue of possible violence. With a prize crew assigned, the derelict turned its bow and joined the Austin on a course toward Newfoundland.

A classic North Atlantic fog parted the vessels. A few days later, the men of the Austin saw the salvaged schooner heave into sight -- drifting oddly, as before. A boarding crew found the vessel seaworthy, yet abandoned . . . again.

Not a crewman remaining aboard the Austin could be persuaded to attempt sailing the derelict to port. Distraught over the loss of such a prize, but helpless to claim it, the captain of the Ellen Austin ordered it left to its own devices. It was not reported again.


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