Thursday, May 14, 2015

Ghost Ship: Carroll A. Deering

Carroll A. Deering
The curious fate of the Carroll A. Deering has put it at the top of the list of maritime mysteries.

The Deering is considered a ghost ship for it was found abandoned by the Coast Guard on the Outer Shoals of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina in 1921.

In August of 1920, the Deering a five-masted commercial schooner, prepared to sail from Norfolk, Virginia to Rio de Janeiro. It carried a cargo of coal.

The original captain was William H. Merritt--he fell ill soon into the journey and was left off in a port in Delaware. Hastily the Deering Company found a replacement. W. B. Wornell was a 66-year old retired sea captain.
A young Captain Wornell

The Deering made it to Rio de Janeiro without further incident. Captain Wornell gave his Danish crew shore leave and spent his time with an old friend--Captain Goodwin. He talked about the crew on the Deering with distain and stated all save the ship’s engineer were untrustworthy.

The Deering left Rio in early December and then stopped for supplies in Barbados. The ship’s first mate, Charles B. McLellan who came aboard the Deering at the same time as Wornell got drunk and complained about having to work with the old captain.

He stated to whomever would listen that Wornell would not let him discipline the crew and that he was an interfering old man. He stated it was left to him to do all the navigation because of Wornell’s poor eyesight.

While in the Continental Caf√© McLellan bragged, “I’ll get the Captain before we get to Norfolk, I will.” Another captain, Hugh Norton overheard this threat and had him arrested.

In an odd twist Wornell forgave McLellan and bailed him out of jail. On January 9th the Deering set sail for Hampton Roads.

The last time the Deering was spotted with her crew onboard was when she hailed the Cape Lookout Lighthouse in North Carolina. The keeper, a Captain Jacobson reported that a thin man with reddish hair and a foreign accent told him the Deering had lost her anchors--he did not look like any of the known officers aboard.

2nd Cape Lookout Lighthouse in 1913
Jacobson could not report this because his radio was out. He noted the crews’ presence on the ship was odd--for they were “milling around” on the fore deck of the ship, an area onboard where crews were not allowed normally. He then watched as the Deering set a peculiar course.

Soon after this, the Coast Guard spotted the Carroll A. Deering run aground on Cape Hatteras. After a series of storms let up, on February 4th the cutter Manning reached the Deering and managed to board her.

There was no sign of the crew and their belongings and the lifeboats were missing. The ships log, navigation equipment, papers and most of the valuable items on the ship were also gone.

It looked like the crew had abandoned the ship just as a meal was being laid out.

The U.S. government conducted an extensive search and an investigation--this task was given to then Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover-- but the crew was never located. 

The reason for why the ship was abandoned remains a mystery. The government has never offered an official explanation.

The Deering stayed ahead of a storm that hit the area at the time so this was ruled out as a possible cause.

A variety of reasons were put forth at the time. Was it foul play by rumrunners? Or was it a communist pirate ship that was set on capturing an America ship?

Could it be the crew mutinied--did they run the ship aground on purpose taking everything of value with them before they did this?

A more outlandish but persistent theory is that the paranormal forces at work in the Bermuda Triangle robbed the Deering of its crew. But the Deering wasn’t near the Triangle when she ran aground.

By March of 1921 the only thing left of the wreaked and battered Deering was her hull. The ship was towed away and dynamited. In 1922, the investigation was closed.

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