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September/October Issue 243: Ghost ship of the Outer Banks

Aug 28, 2017
Carroll A. Deering sliding down the ways at the schooner’s launching in Bath, Maine.

Carroll A. Deering sliding down the ways at the schooner’s launching in Bath, Maine.

The term “Bermuda Triangle” gets thrust into common usage from a series of disappearances of crews and ships beginning in the 1920s. One of these disappearances of crew is still unsolved to this day, nearly a century after its occurrence.

Carroll A. Deering was a five-masted schooner built in Bath, Maine, in 1919 by the G.G. Deering Company as a cargo carrier for hauling freight between the East Coast and Brazil and other South American ports of call. In August of 1920, Deering sailed from Norfolk, Va., bound to Brazil, hauling coal. The vessel was skippered by William Merritt with his boy Sewall as first mate and a crew of 10.

The passage began inauspiciously as the skipper took ill and departed the vessel with his son in Delaware. The company signed on retired captain W.B. Wormel and Charles McLellan as first mate. The vessel made passage, arriving without incident in Rio where it delivered its cargo. Apparently the captain was dissatisfied with the crew and shared these feelings with friends of his. The vessel departed Rio in December of 1920 and stopped for supplies in Barbados. It was in Barbados that the first mate began complaining that he had to do all the navigation work as the captain’s eyesight was poor. He also grumbled that he couldn’t discipline the crew properly because the captain kept second guessing him. None of this was particularly unusual, just sailors and captains griping. The mate was overheard, however, threatening the captain and was arrested in Barbados. The skipper cut him some slack and bailed him out, and the vessel set sail for Hampton Roads.

Deering was next sighted by the Cape Lookout Lightship in North Carolina on Jan. 28, 1921. Deering spoke to the Lightship, reporting that they had lost their anchors in a storm off Cape Fear. A few days later, Deering was aground on Diamond Shoals off of Cape Hatteras. Rescue of the crew was held up by bad weather and it wasn’t until Feb. 4 that Deering was boarded. No one was found. The vessel was abandoned.

The ship’s logs and sextant were gone, as were the lifeboats and the crew’s personal effects — but there was food in the galley being prepared for the next day’s meal. Nevertheless, Deering was hard aground, could not be refloated and was dynamited on March 4.

There were a slew of government investigations as to the fate of the vessel’s crew. Long after the fact, Deering was mentioned as one of those “ghost ships” that helped propel the myth of the Bermuda Triangle. Piracy was thought to be a reason, this was, after all, the era of rumrunners. A more likely theory is that the crew mutinied, took off in the life boats and got caught in heavy seas. All investigations concerning the matter were completed by 1922 without any official conclusions as to the captain and crew’s fate.

Let’s join the vessel while underway heading north from Barbados. It is Jan 2. The height of eye is 20 feet. The skipper is doing a LAN observation at a DR of 23° 34’ N by 69° 22’ W. We are using the 2017 Nautical Almanac. The Hs of a lower limb observation of the sun is 43° 23’.

A. What is the time of LAN? 
B. What is the HO? 
C. What is the latitude?

Answers:
A. Time of LAN at DR in GMT is 16:41:28
B. Ho for sight is 43° 33.9’
C. Noon latitude is 23° 35.1’

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