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THE STORY OF SPECTRAL SHIPS

* By VINCENT GADDIS *

"Strange ships puss in the night!"

IN THE farming ports of the world, from the ice-bound waters of the arctic to the bot and green islands of tropical seas, and on the decks and in the cabins of liners, tramps, and yachts, plowing the swells in the utter loneliness of empty horizons—wherever sailors gather, light pipes, and swap tales, strange stories are told. On the yellow pages of a thousand logbooks are weird accounts. The voyage of man through space and time, conquering the unknown and searching for knowledge, is long and arduous, and his harbor is mysterious and distant.

A ship is not a mere mass of wood and steel and canvas, but a living thing that draws life from the crews that walk her planks and hold her to her course. A ship and her crew are one, each dependent on the other for existence, and united they battle the rage of storms, and the menace of fire, iceberg and hidden reef. No man will die for his automobile, but many a captain has chosen death with a beloved vessel.

And a ship develops a personality. Formed from its voyages and conflicts, its cargoes and passengers, this personality may be warm and friendly, or it may be one of chilling evil, dangerous and accursed. An old salt can instantly sense the soul of a vessel, and like all living things, for good or bad, this soul can become a phantom, a ghost of the watery deep.

There is a classic example. In the Cruise of the Bucchante, a work compiled from the journals of Prince Albert Victor and the Duke of York (the late King George V of England), who served as midshipmen on the HMS Bacchante's voyage between 1879 and 1882, is reported the sighting of an eerie vessel. The date was June ll, 1881, and the ship was off the coast of Australia. The log tells of "a strange red light as of a phantom ship all aglow, in the midst of which light, the masts, spars, and sails of a brig, two hundred yards distant, stood out in strong relief as she came up on the port bow." Twelve men saw this strange apparition, and five hours later the lookout man fell from the mast and was instantly killed.

But there are many others. In October, 1929, a fishing boat set sail one night for the usual fall night fishing from Inishborin (Galway), Ireland. All through the hours of darkness, it was later sold, a phantom ship of mist clung to the fishing smack in spite of the crew's attempts to hail or lose her. On the following nig...

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