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.
When the paddle wheel steamer SS Winfield Scott sank in 1853, its namesake wooden figurehead was on the prow, a symbol of one man’s spirit and courage. The ship’s captain and crew were inspired, but they were no match in a battle against thick fog, heavy surf and jagged rocks off Anacapa Island, near Ventura, California.
It’s the kingdom of power and awe where the winds wail, the gulls cry and the sea surges. Only the bold will brave it. Gales may blast it, rains may flood it and tides may churn it, but it is and always will be…the South China Sea.
The demise of the German submarine U-352 on May 9, 1942, played out like a scene from Hollywood’s hilarious Keystone Kops with Kapitanleutnant Helmut Rathke playing the leading role. Thinking he had spotted a helpless enemy merchant vessel off the shores of North Carolina, the eager commander fired two torpedoes that missed their mark. His surprise attack was totally exposed when both of them exploded on the ocean floor.