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SHIPS WITHOUT SAILORS

  Ric Hernandez   Saturday, April 28th 2007     It is easy enough to fathom how mystery and myth can blossom out of a situation in which there is a ship drifting at sea with not a living soul on aboard!   The Kaz II, a 40-foot Australian catamaran, managed that feat a few days ago, joining the Mary Celeste, long regarded as perhaps the premier ghost ship in the business.   The Mary Celeste naturally came to mind when a BBC bulletin announced the troubles of the Kaz II, helping me reprise a tale I had come upon in my boyhood.   So when the Kaz II came into the picture, I naturally sought the advice of Google, to find out more about the old mystery, and try to put the old and the new into a perspective of my own.   The Kaz II was found drifting off the North Queensland coast, according to the BBC, its engine running, a table laid for dinner, but with no one on board.   Its three-man crew had vanished.   Something of the kind happened to the Mary Celeste, which had been found drifting off Portugal with no sight of the seven-man crew, the captain, his wife and two-year-old daughter.   “Fact not Fiction” is the headline of the Mary Celeste site. And fact and fiction have conspired to give us a distorted picture, starting with the ship´s name.   The original name of the ship was Amazon, changed to Mary Celeste, corrupted to Marie Celeste, the name by which the doomed ship has been most commonly known.   And that was largely the doing of Arthur Conan Doyle, before he became famous as the Sherlock Holmes creator.   Doyle, according to Wikipedia, published a story in 1884 called “J Habakuk Jephson´s Statement”.   Drawing on the original incident Doyle called the ship in his story Marie Celeste, embroidering his story, and it so happened that the fictive version caught on and was further built upon.   Doyle had made it seem that “tea was still warm and breakfast was cooking when the ship was discovered.” Fiction, apparently.   But there was, and still remains, mystery about whatever happened to the 10 souls on board.     The story began on November 7, 1872, when the Mary Celeste left New York bound for Genoa in Italy, with a cargo of industrial alcohol. On December 4 she was sighted by the Dei Gratia, whose crew had been observing the ship two hours.   They decided the Mary Celeste was adrift.   A party from the Dei Gratia boarded the ship. They found her with water between decks and in the hold. Other than that the ship seemed in reasonable condition.   Except, there was no one on board.   And since the sextant and chronometer were missing, it appeared that the ship had been abandoned, under what conditions, no one could tell.   Wikipedia tells us that the 1701 barrels of alcohol were in place, “though when it was eventually unloaded in Genoa, nine barrels were found to be empty.”   The Die Gratia divided its crew into two sections, one to man their own ship, the other to sail the Mary Celeste to port, which happened to be Gibraltar.     The Mary Celeste site seems to have based much of its information on what we might consider an unimpeachable source. That is the transcript of the Admiralty Court enquiry involving the Dei Gratia and the derelict ship.   At first the Dei Gratia people attracted suspicion, perhaps naturally, and their plea for salvage bounty was only grudgingly given.   The site acknowledges that the “story, like many a tale has grown with the telling, to incorporate speculation of further mysteries, including pirates, creatures from the deep, abduction by aliens, submarines, and time travel.”   The BBC reports the puzzlement of the rescue crew on the Kaz II: –   “The engine was running, the computers were running, there was a laptop set up on the table which was running, the radio was working ” said a spokesman for the Queensland Emergency Management office.   Although the search for the missing crew of the catamaran has officially been called off, the Kaz II, relatively speaking, is still news. And maybe family concerns that perhaps kidnappers were somehow involved may pan out to be relevant.   But it´s going to take years for seeds of doubt to truly germinate, and for imagination run wild enough for ravenous sea monsters to emerge from the deep. Or perhaps there were UFO´s lurking off the Great Barrier Reef, waiting to pounce on the hapless Kaz!     hernandez.arima@gmail.com