Ship historian and author John Maxtone-Graham wrote in his book, The Only Way to Cross: “Disaster at sea is never predictable and seldom consistent.” Such was the case in the demise of the Italia Line’s SS Andrea Doria when it was struck by the Swedish-American Line’s MS Stockholm, July 25, 1956. Radar was in vogue and used successfully for years. Both captains were experienced mariners with excellent records and past voyages of both ships were accident free. So what went wrong?
A golden Buddha, fine bone china, jade figurines, gems and other Oriental treasures were rumored to be hidden aboard the SV Sindia, a majestic windjammer that ran aground off Ocean City, New Jersey, in 1901. Still another conjecture had the lower cargo hold of the three-deck, four-masts bark filled with treasure looted from Buddha temples during China’s 1900 Boxer Rebellion. (An uprising by militia known as the “Boxers,” practitioners of Chinese martial arts.).
The recent discovery of the long lost U.S. Navy tugboat USS Conestoga (see Numa.net, Jan., 2018) fueled the hopes of Marvin Barrash, Kent Island, Maryland. The tugboat had been lost without a trace for over 100 years—just like Marvin’s mystery ship USS Cyclops.
Shipwrecks usually bring misfortune and despair, but in the annals of the clipper ship Frolic, good fortune blossomed from a frivolous mishap. Edward Faucon, an experienced captain who piloted his ship on the Canton, China, to Bombay, India, route for years, simply misjudged the distance between his vessel and shore.
The “Pitcher Wreck!” What a fitting description of diver Don Shomette’s 1975 discovery of the steamship SS New Jersey sunk in the Upper Chesapeake Bay, Talbot County, Maryland. That’s how Don christened the site after discovering crates of milk-glass molasses and hobnail syrup pitchers in the cargo hold.
“It took 95 years for the “mystery ship” USS Conestoga to be discovered and descendants of the 56 sailors aboard to find closure. In the summer of 1921, the 170-foot tugboat disappeared while sailing from San Francisco to Hawaii.
Ancient mariners harbored many superstitions, including one that said bad luck would follow any ship whose name began with an “A.” Unfortunately, the two-masted schooner Augusta fell into this category when it rammed into the Lady Elgin during a Lake Michigan gale, September 8, 1860.
“Being in the wrong place at the wrong time” could have been Capt. Robert F. Wooley’s mantra on October 29, 1867, when he lost his ship—the RMS Rhone—his life and the lives of 122 passengers and crew. Twenty-two survivors lived to tell the tale of one of the worst hurricanes to strike the British Virgin Islands.
Chances are most people know something about the RMS Titanic tragedy. They may not remember details, but they recall that a vast number of lives were lost. On the other hand, if you run the RMS Empress of Ireland by them, you might get a blank stare.
Like the old Chinese proverb, “A bee stinging a weeping face,” the troopship SS President Coolidge experienced one mishap after another before it became a victim of friendly fire in WWII. When it struck the first mine, Capt. Henry Nelson figured he might save his 654-foot vessel, but the second hit convinced him it was pointless and he had to save the 5,340 U.S. Army and naval personnel aboard.