Are Ghost Ships Real? Spooky Historical Ghost Stories To Tell Your Friends
Don’t freak out. But ghost ships are real.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking spectral ships with undead skeleton crews walking the decks or barnacle-bound boats that suddenly appear from under the waves, captained by creepy squid monsters!
No, I’m talking ghost ships. So what is a “ghost ship” exactly?
According to seafarers and mariners, a ghost ship is a ship that has no living crew on board but still sails adrift on the open sea. Often the crew simply abandon the ship for safety reasons, but occasionally the crew mysteriously disappear or die in bizarre and puzzling ways.
And although these ghost ships don’t have any actual phantoms on board, the stories about them are no less chilling. Some of the ships in our stories below genuinely existed in history and others only live in legends (and in our over-active imaginations when we’re trying to get to sleep!).
So here’s your trigger warning - missing people, ghosts, dead bodies, gory bits and all-around unsettling creepiness ahead.
Are you ready for some ghost ship stories? I’d recommend gathering a group of your friends together with some blankets, turning all the lights off and grabbing a torch to light up your face for maximum spooky effect. Oh and ideally, set yourselves up in a creaky old house on a dark night with the wind howling outside.
The Mary Celeste – The Most Famous Ghost Ship
Status – Real
The Mary Celeste set sail for Italy in November 1872. The ship carried around 1,700 barrels of alcohol and a total of ten people, including Captain Briggs and his wife and two-year-old daughter.
A month after she set sail, Captain Morehouse of the ship Dei Gratia was surprised to spot the Mary Celeste adrift in the ocean. The Mary Celeste had an eight-day head start on the Dei Gratia and should have already arrived in Italy.
On stepping aboard the Mary Celeste, Morehouse’s crew found the ship completely deserted. Everyone’s belongings were still in their quarters, the barrels of cargo were still intact and six months of food and water were waiting to be consumed. But there was nobody on board. One of the ship’s pumps was dismantled and the lifeboat was missing. Had the crew abandoned ship? If so, where were they?
After an official hearing and inquiry, decades of speculation and even a short story written by Arthur Conan Doyle, the mystery of the Mary Celeste has still not been solved. And the lost crew? They’re still missing to this day.
Insert chills creeping up your spine here…!
Baychimo – The Unsinkable Alaskan Ghost Ship
Status – Real
In October 1931 the Baychimo, a steal-hulled cargo steamer, set off on her regular trip transporting goods to Canada. The waters that the Baychimo sailed were often dense with ice and on this particular voyage the ship got badly stuck. After a week of trying to free the ship from the ice, the crew abandoned her, hoping to come back once the ice had melted.
Once the crew had returned to the Baychimo (still stuck in the ice, but 45 miles away from where they had left her!), they judged that a powerful storm had left too much damage to the vessel. They abandoned the Baychimo again, for good this time.
But the Baychimo proved her crew wrong and kept sailing for many decades, unmanned. Over the years since she was abandoned, many seafarers have reported spotting the vessel floating as a ghost ship on the seas around Alaska. She was last spotted over fifty years ago in 1969.
Could she still be drifting, deserted and ghostlike, around the icy waters to this day? What a chilling thought!
The Ourang Medan – The Crew That Died In Fear
Status – Real (probably…)
In the 1940’s, passing ships picked up a nearby ship’s distress call claiming that all of the crew on board had perished. The message ominously ended with the words “I die”. The source of the worrying call was a ship called the Ourang Medan.
On finding and boarding the Ourang, rescuers described a grizzly sight. Although the ship was in perfect condition, the bodies of the crew were found scattered across the decks in an alarming state. They appeared to have died of fear, their terrified faces turned upwards, their teeth bared. Even the ship’s dog had died in a similar position, its lips pulled back mid-growl.
Those who found the ship decided to tow it to the closest port. But the Ourang never made it there. A fire suddenly broke out on board, causing the vessel to explode and sink to the bottom of the ocean.
And the weirdest thing about this story? There’s no record of the boat having ever existed before it was rescued. Was the Ourang a secret ship that was transporting illegal cargo? Was the cargo dangerous and something went wrong? Or was there something aboard the ship that scared everyone to death?
Yes. It’s official. We’re creeped out too.
The Octavius – The Ultimate Spooky Ghost Ship Story
Status – Legend (or is it?)
The Octavius was on her return journey to London in 1762 when she disappeared. The ship’s captain wanted to sail through the infamous Northwest Passage, a treacherous passage of water that nobody had ever successfully sailed through before.
Thirteen years later, the crew of a whaling ship called the Herald spotted the Octavius drifting aimlessly off the coast of Greenland. Below deck, they discovered the entire crew of the vessel, frozen to death. They found the body of the captain, still sitting at his desk, frozen with a pen in his hand while writing the logbook. His logbook entry claimed that they had been enclosed in ice for seventy days and they were struggling to light a fire to keep warm. The year was 1762. And their location? Alaska.
That was when the crew of the Herald had a frightening realisation. If the crew of the Octavius had died in Alaska in 1762, how had the Herald found the ship thousands of miles away near Greenland in 1775? The Octavius had successfully sailed through the Northwest Passage. Surely the ship couldn’t have just floated through such a perilous passage of water without a crew to operate it? How could the ship have been sailed so expertly through the passage when everybody on board was dead?
The crew from the Herald quickly abandoned the Octavius, believing it to be cursed. They left the ship to drift away into the open ocean where its eerie undead crew could still be sailing it to this day.