Spirits of the Sea: Myths and Legends

15 September 2008 By Janine Ketterer

The sea can play tricks on the mind. Just ask any sailor or veteran crew. The eerie mysteries of the fathomless depths may make you see things that aren’t really there. Or are they...? Is it a manatee, a mermaid, a sea monster or something more sinister?

Ghosts have permeated sailors' stories for centuries. Tall tales of flying ghost ships, a mysterious glow seen while on watch and unexplained disappearances are nothing new in the boating world.

Let's face it: When you’re out at sea, all alone, in the dark, who knows what could happen.

In the October 2008 issue of Dockwalk magazine, we compiled some ghoulish legends, but we found there's no shortage of strange stories from the sea. If you found the magazine article chilling, check out these other ghost stories as well as some eerie, still-unexplained mysteries of abandoned vessels.

RMS Queen Mary
RMS Queen Mary, a luxury liner as well as a World War II transport vessel, is one of the most haunted seafaring boats of all time. It’s reported that Queen Mary is home to more than 150 ghosts and 49 mysterious deaths.

One ghost, said to be seen often, is a little girl who died of a broken neck after sliding down a railing. She reportedly inhabits the pool area with two other women who died in that vicinity, one in the 1930s and one in the 1960s.

Another ghost of the Queen Mary was cooked to death in his own oven. Troops during World War II found this cook’s food to be atrocious, the legend says, so they stuffed him into the oven and cooked him alive. It’s said you can still hear his screams bellowing from the kitchen.

The Queen Mary itself was also the cause of many deaths. During the war, in a maneuver to avoid enemy ships, she struck a friendly ship amidships, severing the boat in two and leaving 300 people fighting for their lives in shark-infested waters. Queen Mary now resides in Long Beach, California. The ship is now a popular tourist destination and guests can even spend the night on board...if they dare.

Great Eastern
In 1857, this large luxury liner was full speed ahead to rule the seas. An estimated six times larger than any other vessel built at the time, Great Eastern was on course to make transatlantic ventures. However, early events foretold future doom for this Titanic of its day.

The master shipwright disappeared mysteriously during construction. During sea trials a ventilator blew, killing one man and scalding others. Shortly after this tragedy, her builder died suddenly of a stroke.

In 1862, Great Eastern sailed over some uncharted waters and almost ran aground; the bottom of the boat was torn up. She did not sink, however, due to her double hull.

Crew reported hearing bizarre banging sounds from deep below the decks, sometimes loud enough to wake them from sleep. When the vessel was finally dismantled for scrap metal, the mystery was revealed: the bones of the master shipwright were found between the two hulls.

M/V Joyita
M/V Joyita, a1931 luxury yacht, was built for pleasure cruising, but as World War II approached, the U.S. Navy commissioned her for duty in the South Pacific. Joyita was carrying medical supplies, 16 crew and nine passengers on October 3, 1955, on a trip from Samoa for the Tokelau Islands, but she never made it to port.

A month later, the vessel was found 600 miles from her planned itinerary. Joyita was partially submerged and there was no sign of any passengers, crew or even cargo. Theories surfaced that the crew had been raided by pirates, but no one knows the true fate of Joyita.

UB-65 German U-Boat
German U-Boats were built to be war machines, vessels of destruction. But UB-65 may have been its own worst enemy.

It appeared to be doomed from the beginning; only a week after its launch, the second officer was loading a torpedo when he dropped it. The torpedo exploded, killing the officer and damaging the boat. After that, a malfunction in the engine room caused deadly fumes that killed three crewmembers.

A crewmember was “thrown overboard” during a storm; however, others on deck said it looked as though he had been pushed. At another time, just before a dive, a crewmember on watch saw what appeared to be a person on deck although everyone was inside and the hatches had been secured. The crewmember recognized the figure as the second officer killed by the torpedo and called for the captain, who also was witness to the event.

Other crew witnessed the ghost of the second officer. One man, in a fit of panic, threw himself overboard because he claimed to have been besieged by a spirit. After this, the captain brought in a priest to exorcise the boat and a formal investigation followed.

The haunting diminished after this, until July 10, when a crewmember saw the apparition of the second officer in the torpedo room, pointing at the torpedo loading bay. It then disappeared. Later that day, an American submarine came across the U-Boat and prepared to fire. However, UB-65 seemed to implode. It was later discovered that the torpedoes malfunctioned. Perhaps the second officer was trying to warn his crew about the impending danger. There were no survivors.

Kaz II
Most maritime mysteries take place decades ago, when storytelling was a common form of entertainment. This next tale, however, is recent.

Derelict sailing yacht Kaz II was found off the coast of Queensland, Australia, in April 2008. The table had been set and dinner was prepared and waiting. The electronics were all up and running, the dinghy was stowed on board and the engine was idling. The hunt for crew turned up nothing.

The skipper, Derek Batten, had taken two neighbors on a sail along Australia's north coast to the west coast. The 40-foot catamaran seemed to have been abandoned, yet no signs of struggle were present and everything seemed to be in proper order.

Batten was also an experienced sailor, said to be capable of dealing with most situations at sea. Officials believe one man fell overboard and upon trying to rescue him, the others did as well. But no one will ever know for sure.

What about you? Have you ever spotted an apparition? Share your experience below or spill any of your favorite stories you use to frighten the first-time crewmember on the midnight watch.

More from Dockwalk