The 13 Days of Halloween: Hauntings on the High Seas

The sea has always held a mystical quality for so many.  Being so vast and, at times, unforgiving as the Earth’s waters can be has ingrained a deep respect within the hearts and minds of sailors the world over.  An almost endless amount of beliefs and rituals associated with the sea and ocean-going voyages have developed over the centuries to assist men with handling the extreme risk and unknown qualities of the task they chose to undertake. 

Be it any of various gods, or other mystical nautical beings presumed to be in charge, or in the name of the sea herself, as if from a single being, what happens while aboard ship has always been attributed, at least in part, to a fate or a will outside that of normal human powers.  Sometimes, men and women are trapped in the force of that will; other times, entire ships and their crews get caught up.  Whatever the reason, the sea frequently raises more questions than it answers, especially for those who sail on it.  

To most anyone, The Flying Dutchman is the most famous ghost ship of all time.  The legend is a simple one:  The captain of a vessel of the Dutch East India Company in the 17th century defied logic and the gods when he steered his vessel into a storm near the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa.  Predictably, the ship crashed on the rocks, killing all aboard her.  But that wasn’t all.  This captain’s transgressions were so great that death wasn’t his only punishment.  He and his crew were also doomed to sail the waters near the Cape of Good Hope for all time, and any man who laid eyes on the phantom vessel would die soon thereafter.

There have been numerous sightings over the centuries in the waters near South Africa of a ghostly vessel sailing within a storm of its own, appearing and disappearing into thin air.  It is said that those who see the Dutchman will die of drowning soon thereafter.  It was also thought that the vessel had the ability to lure other ships to their demise, smashing them into the same rocks that claimed her all those years ago.  The Flying Dutchman has become almost a generic term for any phantom vessel sighting and has moved beyond a tale told amongst sea-farers to an iconic legend.  When it comes to ghost ships, The Flying Dutchman is the only place to start.

The S.S. Queen Mary is likely the most famous of the modern era ships to carry with it an air of the unknown.  The Queen Mary, nicknamed the Gray Ghost for the color of her hull while ferrying troops across the Atlantic during World War II, has a reputation for being inhabited by several ghostly passengers including, reportedly, Winston Churchill. 

There’s a young sailor who died aboard during a fire-fighting exercise, who is said to keep banging on the door that killed him.  There are ghostly footprints that appear of a small child near the long-since-drained swimming pool, and various other spectres ranging from female passengers appearing out of nowhere then vanishing just as suddenly, or ghostly engineers showing up to work in the engine room.  The ship’s long history has led to many events, some of them unfortunate, happening within her hull, and amongst modern day vessels, she’s said to be one of the most haunted.

The S.S. St. Paul is another large cruise liner that reportedly was done in by ghosts from its past.  The ship, which carried troops all around the world, including Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, was involved in a serious collision with a British liner, the Gladiator in 1908.  The two ships collided, the Gladiator getting the worst of the affair, killing 27 members of her crew. 

A decade later, while in port in New York being refitted for military service, the St. Paul suffered an inexplicable accident, causing the ship to sink and killing four sailors in the process.  Interestingly enough, the ship sank precisely ten years to the very minute that she collided with the Gladiator.  Some have said that it was the ghosts of those doomed sailors that took their revenge on the St. Mary.  After the accident, the ship was salvaged for a short time, but eventually scrapped five years later. 

The Tricolor was a Norwegian merchant vessel that caught fire and had a load of chemicals in her hull explode on January 5, 1931 near Sri Lanka.  The vessel encountered a severe tropical storm during her fateful journey, and it is thought that a lightning strike started the fire.  The destruction of the ship was witnessed by a French liner, the S.S. Porthos, which responded to the distress call. 

Five years to the day after the Tricolor’s demise, a British freighter, the S.S. Khosuru, sailing in the same waters came across a derelict ship that seemed to be devoid of all crew.  The ship passed close enough to the Khosuru for crew members to read the name of the vessel from her hull.  It was the Tricolor.  Before the crew of the Khosuru could overtake the vessel, a torrential rain blocked out all visibility.  Five minutes later, the rain let up, but the derelict was nowhere in sight.  It was only later that the captain of the Khosuru discovered that the position he had seen the strange ship was the exact place where the Tricolor had met her demise five years earlier.

Ghostly presence aboard ship aren’t always harbingers of doom, however.  In 1895, Captain Joshua Slocum started out on a voyage that would make him the world’s first solo circumnavigator of the globe.  He refitted a worn-out old oyster boat for the trip, but near the beginning of the three-year voyage, he encountered a bit of trouble.  Heading toward Gibraltar, Slocum ran into a gale so severe that it stripped the fittings from the deck of his vessel.  In addition, he was suffering from food poisoning at the time. 

During the howling storm, Slocum told of a phantom sailor claiming to be a member of Columbus’ crew who would steer him to safety.  Slocum claims to have passed out, and that the ghostly helmsman led the trip on the proper course through the storm some 90 miles while he slept.  In a book published after the completion of his historic voyage, Slocum gives credit to this apparition, claiming that he surely would have died if not for the otherworldly helping hand.

But if it’s unexplained ship disappearances you’re looking for, there is no better place to seek them out than the infamous Bermuda Triangle.  There are so many accounts of vessels of all kinds simply vanishing in the small region in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Florida that it’s difficult to keep up with them all.  This region isn’t known simply for vessels disappearing inexplicably, however.  Sometimes, they come back. 

There are numerous incidents of vessels having been reported missing that have later turned up, abandoned and drifting freely about the ocean.  In one of the most disturbing aspects of this region, never in the entire history of the Coast Guard seeking vessels reported missing in this area, has a body turned up, even in the numerous cases where the boat was actually found still afloat.  More still, never once has a signal from an emergency beacon, many of which are designed to signal automatically when separated from a vessel, ever been picked up from a missing vessel within the triangle. 

On average, there are about 20 yachts each year that sail into the Triangle never to be seen or heard from again.  The Bermuda Triangle is one of the most inexplicable, and potentially hazardous areas for boat travel on the globe.  And, as yet, we still don’t know why.

For more scares and your otherwise generally creepy reading pleasure, check out my new short story collection Devil’s Dozen.  And if that’s not enough for you, try my earlier collection, Bad Timing.

Click below for more fright-filled stuff.  And come back tomorrow for even more of my favorite time of year as The 13 Days of Halloween continues…

The 13 Days of Halloween

Day 1: Scary Movies to Spend a Cold, Dark Night With

Day 2: The Ghosts of St. Mary’s County

Day 3: Vincent Price–The Last of the Great Horror Icons

Day 3: A Few of My Favorite Vincent Price Films

Day 4: Some Fiction For The Season–One Step Ahead

Day 5: Horror Literature–A Truly Unappreciated Art Form

Day 7: A Few of My Favorite Horror Books

Day 8: More Fiction For the Season–The Trail

Day 9: Edgar Allan Poe–The Greatest American Writer

Day 10: Horror Anthologies on Film and Television

Day 11: Halloween Rituals and How They Originated

Day 12: Alfred Hitchcock Presents Horror

Day 13: Psycho Killers

Day 13: My Favorite Works of Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Halloween: Even More Fiction for the Season–This Old House

Workin’ Man: Check out my article in the latest edition of Spin Sheet

This morning, I got out of bed and strolled into town to Dunkin’ Donuts to get a hot cup of blueberry coffee. Right next door, at Scottie’s Shoe Store, there was a rack of magazines with the December edition of Spin Sheet, the free sailing magazine based in Annapolis. Open to page 36 and 37, and lo and behold, there I am. A very cool layout of a piece I wrote about winterizing tall ships after hanging out in Chestertown here during the Schooner Sultana’s Downrigging Weekend last month. Here is the article itself, courtesy of Spin Sheet’s website. Visit there, and you can read the whole issue in PDF format, or pick up a printed copy (my personal favorite, and still the best way to read) from any of their distribution points. Visit here to find one. Happy reading, digital or otherwise.

Published in: on November 29, 2010 at 1:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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Sea Change: Things Keep Flowing In The Boating Market

A few months ago, I got a phone call from my friend Carolyn Crouch. She told me about a new boating magazine that was coming into being, and asked me if I’d like to write an article for the debut issue about my former boss, Ira Black. It would be the cover story, I was told, and the magazine would be unveiled during the U.S. Powerboat Show in Annapolis in October. I readily agreed, wrote the piece and recently received my copies of the first issue in the mail. As soon as I saw the cover, I had flashbacks. The list of names there was a veritable who’s who of people I’d worked with earlier with The Mariner, Nor’easter Magazine or both. There was the cover photo of Ira as he looks today (like he just stepped out of a ZZ Top video), Gary Diamond, Dick Greenwood, Whitey Schmidt, Bob and Pam Appleton, Paul Esterle and Carolyn herself. It was odd, to be honest, but somewhat gratifying to see that some of the things I helped set in motion a decade or so ago were still chugging along, albeit in a different way and under a new banner.

Mid-Atlantic Boating is the name of this new entrant into the boating market. As most people know at this point, the free-distribution portion of the boating publication market has fallen on hard times of late. Page counts, and the ad dollars that go along with it, have plummeted. Some publications, notably Nor’easter itself, have fallen to the wayside, finding Davey Jones’ locker earlier this season. For a new magazine to start up in this environment could be called crazy (honestly, that was my first thought). Or it could be perfect timing. Only time will tell on that score.

The new publication is a tab size, something in the neighborhood of 10 ” x 12″, and it sports a nice glossy cover. The interior is newsprint, but a little heavier and brighter than the standard variety, giving the publication a nice look, and a not-too-flimsy feel. The debut issue came out to 36 pages, with a reasonable array of advertisers. Not bad at all given that this is the first effort of a brand new magazine, opening at the end of a season in an historically down market. It will be available through bulk deliveries, as all publications in this region of that type are. My understanding is that, provided things go well, Mid Atlantic Boating will be a monthly magazine beginning in 2011. There is a reference to the January issue in the masthead of issue number one, so I take that as a good sign of continued publication.

Which brings me to a point about the wisdom of taking a chance in this market at this particular time. There are generally two ways to look at it. The first is that, because of the current fiscal problems, and significantly slower economic recovery than many people need or expect, it could be better to sit back and let things improve before taking the risk of jumping in. There may be merit to that point. Playing it safe in this day and age has become the mantra of many companies, understandably so. However, as Ira himself used to say, a down market is the perfect time to advertise and build your business because everyone else is sitting on their hands waiting for things to get better. I can attest to the “hurry up and wait” mentality in some of my recent experiences. And being that I’ve never really been one to sit by and not take a chance when the opportunity presents, it is pretty frustrating.

The second way to look at this is just that; this market, depressed as it currently is at this time, provides the perfect opportunity to make a splash and grow from the ground up as things improve, positioning yourself in a stronger place than the Johnny-come-lately guys who are afraid to take the risks today but try to snatch up the rewards when things are a bit safer. So let’s take a quick look at how things stack up competitively.

As I’ve mentioned before, Nor’easter Magazine is no more, ceasing publication in early July of this year. The Mariner is still in the field (I think–more on that later) but it’s in a severely weakened condition. And Prop Talk, the power boating sister publication to the long running sailing journal Spin Sheet, seems to be doing just fine. That leaves a potential opening for someone to step in, given an actual recovery in the boating market sooner than later. As for The Mariner, their case is a perplexing one. (Full disclosure: I was let go as the Editor of The Mariner in march of this year.) Since my involvement with them ended after the March issue, their publication schedule has been a bit erratic. The October issue, which is the final one of 2010, came out to 32 pages. Not exactly gang busters, but that’s not the really confusing part. For some reason, the U.S. Powerboat Show wasn’t exploited.

To me, having been through about a dozen seasons in the boating market market through the years, the October issue has generally been the most important issue of the year, not to mention traditionally the largest page count wise, and the biggest money maker, all because of its association with the Annapolis powerboat show. In fact, the decision to even print an October issue without using the show as a platform, both for coverage and ad sales, is a bit lost on me. The coverage of the show in the October Mariner amounted to a vague mention on the cover, one paragraph at the end of the editor’s column and a short listing in the upcoming events section. That’s it. In contrast, Prop Talk gets it, sporting their corresponding issue as the U.S. Powerboat Show Issue, and cranking out a nice 108-page effort. Mid Atlantic Boating gets it, as well, using the show as the springboard for launching their entire enterprise. And according to various reports, The Mariner didn’t even have a presence at the show. How does that bode for the future of the publication? I’m not sure.

To be fair, there is a starburst on the cover that touts the next issue being January 6. But not taking advantage of the most obvious sales tactic of the season, and not going to the show at all, makes me wonder. There are currently no salespeople listed in the Mariner staff, and a good friend of mine who was handling all of the ad design for the publication was given the, “we don’t need you anymore,” speech immediately following the October issue’s completion, much as I was given after wrapping up the March issue. There may, in fact, be a January Mariner, but if I’m looking at this from a competitive standpoint, I’m encouraged. With Nor’easter already gone, The Mariner possibly following suit, or at least needing a significant  change in effort to become a player again, someone like Mid Atlantic Boating could sneak in and give Prop Talk a run for its money. After all, they’ve only produced one issue and they are already in a better position than The Mariner heading into 2011.  Maybe the idea isn’t so crazy, after all.

As it stands now, no one really knows what kind of market the boating industry will see next year.  There are a lot of hopes, and the only thing that is certain is that all of those won’t be fulfilled.  But it is nice to see someone taking a chance on something for a change.  If nothing else, that alone may be a harbinger of positive things to come for all of us.  If one company is willing to take a risk and put its money where its mouth is, can others possibly be far behind?  That’s how recoveries get started.

A Eulogy For Ira Black’s Nor’easter Magazine

So I stopped on my way home from work the other day to pick up a copy of Nor’easter. I was looking forward to a couple of things. First, I was hoping to see an interesting remembrance of Bob Liddell, my friend who helped found Nor’easter with me and a group of others and just passed away recently. I also wanted to see if they chose to honor him by placing his name in the masthead next to our other forming founding member who had passed away, Donna Kaehn. In addition, I wanted to read Ira Black’s farewell article, as he is leaving the boating biz for greener pastures, most notably the new Cecil County newspaper, The Cecil Guardian. Well, I was more than a little disappointed. Not only was there no remembrance to Bob in the masthead, Donna’s name had been removed for the first time in Nor’easter’s history, encompassing nine years and some 222 issues, counting the one year we did a special New Jersey edition. There was a nicely presented obituary to Bob, but it was little more than a rehash of obits I had seen previously in other publications. I was expecting more out of a magazine he was instrumental in founding than only a brief mention of his time there in what was otherwise a pretty standard obit. Ira’s column was good, though.

It’s interesting to me that these three elements corresponded in one issue, coincidentally, the final issue of 2009. In my mind, it serves as a final farewell to Ira Black’s Nor’easter Magazine (which was the original name of the publication). Those in charge are clearly trying to find an new identity away from what was originally established. I can’t fault them for that; times change and those who don’t change with them are often left behind. But still, the masthead thing bugged me. I just thought it would have been nice to remember those who came before in a more permanent way. Oh well.

But sitting down to read the now- smaller publication (in size, page count and name–the word “Magazine” has apparently been dropped, as well) seeing clearly the lack of Donna’s presence for the first time, the obit to Bob, and Ira’s good-bye feels a lot like closure. There were many ideals we worked under when we founded the magazine, and they have been getting less and less evident over the years as new minds and new ideals took their place. Now, they are hardly recognizable. New people, new ideas, new priorities have taken over. I’m not saying if that’s a good thing or a bad one, just different. The market will ultimately bear out how well the new direction plays. There will still be a Nor’easter, it just bears little resmblence to the one we founded, for better or for worse.

Ira’s final “In The Wind” column was a fitting eulogy, to me. A great thank you to everyone who supported us, and everyone who helped us along the way. A very nice way to say good bye. I no longer feel any real connection to Nor’easter, despite my efforts in its origins and formative years. It must be a little like a parent letting their children out into the world to make their own way. We don’t always agree with their choices, and it can be too easy to rebuke their missteps from the sideline, but ultimately, it’s their life and their decisions to make. This will be my final words on the subject. It was a helluva lot of fun while it lasted. Ira Black’s Nor’easter Magazine, Rest In Peace.

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