THE MARY CELESTE
With a history of minor accidents, crew illnesses, and embarrassing mishaps, the brigantine Mary Celeste was considered by superstitious sailors to be an unlucky ship.
Said sailors were apparently proven correct when the ship was found adrift and unmanned in the middle of the Atlantic some six hundred miles from the nearest port.
Investigators found nothing awry (and contrary to popular belief, the boarding party didn’t discover untouched and still-warm meals when they entered the galley) except for slight damage to the sails and pumps and the loss or destruction of much of the ship’s navigational equipment and documentation.
The ship’s only lifeboat was gone, but nobody could think of a scenario where the crew would willingly leave the ship weeks away from any friendly port. Allegations of piracy were made by the American government against the British crew who had recovered the ship, but the Mary Celeste was still carrying every barrel of its lucrative cargo of alcohol when it was steered into Gibraltar… except nine barrels were mysteriously empty.
Modern explanations have fixed on these nine barrels, suggesting that the porous wood allowed the alcohol inside to evaporate and fill the hold with noxious and explosive vapors.
Were the crew overwhelmed by the fumes, or did they evacuate in a panic fearing explosion and fire? Whatever happened apparently didn’t leave enough time for the captain to mention it in his still-intact (but frustratingly unilluminating) log book.