I never heard of this until now, but it makes one wonder. What really happened on this ship?
The story goes that the ship was discovered adrift in the Atlantic in 1872 with absolutely nobody on board. The captain, his family and the ship's crew of seven were all missing and no trace of them could be found despite a thorough search of the vessel.
The circumstances surrounding their disappearance became all the more mysterious when it was found that all 1,700 barrels of alcohol in the ship's cargo hold appeared to be completely untouched, as was a full six months worth of supplies and the personal belongings of the crew.
Despite some minor damage and flooding the ship seemed to be seaworthy with no indication that it had been attacked. Oddly, one of the lifeboats was missing, suggesting the crew had simply abandoned ship despite there being no apparent reason for doing so.
Over the years theories to explain the crew's disappearance have ranged from mutiny, piracy and alcohol fume poisoning to more outlandish explanations such as an attack by a sea monster or extraterrestrial visitors.
Despite numerous investigations however the mystery remains unsolved to this day.
Pirates captured the vessel, and sent the crew for a long ride in an emergency life raft.
Pirates leave vessel, as is, to go fetch backup, bigger boat, or more crew to lift the newly aquired goods from captured vessel...
Pirates get caught in a storm/rough seas, Rogue wave capsizes pirate vessel, effectively killing all pirates and any information about the newly captured vessel.
Captured vessel drifts for some time before anybody comes upon it.
"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth"
"The most plausible explanations are all based on the barrels of alcohol. Captain Briggs had never hauled such a dangerous cargo before, and did not trust it. The idea was put forth by the ship's major shareholder, James Winchester, and is the most widely accepted explanation for the crew's disappearance.
"Nine of the 1,701 barrels of alcohol in the hold were later discovered to be empty. They had been made of red oak, not white oak as the others. Red oak is more porous and thus more likely to emit vapor. This would have caused a buildup of vapor in the hold. Poorly secured barrels could rub against each other, and friction between the barrels' steel bands could cause sparks. The possibility of explosion, however remote, might have panicked the crew into abandoning ship.
"Historian Conrad Byers believed Captain Briggs ordered the hold to be opened, resulting in a violent rush of fumes and steam. Believing his ship was about to explode, he ordered everyone into the lifeboat, failing to properly secure it to the ship with a strong towline. The wind picked up and blew the ship away from them. Those in the lifeboat would either have drowned or died of hunger, thirst or exposure.
"A refinement of this theory was proposed in 2005 by German journalist Eigel Wiese. At his suggestion, Dr Andrea Sella at University College London created a reconstruction of the ship's hold in 2006 to test the theory of the alcohol vapor's ignition. Using butane as the fuel and paper cubes as the barrels, the hold was sealed and the vapor ignited. The force of the explosion blew the hold doors open and shook the scale model. Ethanol burns at a relatively low temperature with a flash point of 13 degrees C or 55.4 deg F. A minimal spark is needed, for example from two metal objects rubbing together. But none of the paper cubes were damaged, or even scorched. This theory may explain the remaining cargo being found intact and the fracture on the ship's rail, possibly by one of the hold doors. Perhaps this fire in the hold would have been violent enough to scare the crew into lowering the boat, but the flames would not have been hot enough to leave burn marks. 'What we created was a pressure-wave type of explosion,' says Dr Sella. 'There was a spectacular wave of flame but, behind it, was relatively cool air. No soot was left behind and there was no burning or scorching.' Brian Dunning in a Skeptoid podcast on this subject adds, 'The ethanol vapors in the Mary Celeste's hold would burn even cooler and quicker than butane, though probably much less dramatically, with a blue or invisible flame, unlike like the butane's yellow flash. But it certainly would have been every bit as alarming to the crew, if it had happened.'
"A frayed rope trailing in the water behind the ship is suggested as evidence that the crew remained attached to the ship, hoping the emergency would pass. The ship was abandoned while under full sail and a storm was recorded shortly thereafter. It is possible that the rope to the lifeboat parted because of the force from the ship under full sail. A small boat in a storm would not have fared as well as the Mary Celeste. This is perhaps the simplest and most convincing explanation that was expounded in a 2008 investigation and television documentary that both featured and satisfied one of the descendants of the original ship's captain."
This theory is generally considered one of the more plausible.
From what's left of the logs, we do know a few things were going wrong on the ship: The Captain's chronometer was malfunctioning, making it difficult to know when they would make landfall (he was consistently miscalculating their longitude, expecting to reach Santa Maria three days earlier than they did). The ship was leaking, and there was no way to tell how bad it was without putting into port and offloading some of the cargo - it turns out it wasn't that bad, but again, no way to tell. Both pumps were fouled by coal dust, leaving now way to get the water out, meaning the water it was taking on would sink it eventually, but it was hard to tell how soon. When the ship was found, it was clear somebody tried to fix one pump, but had made matters worse.
All told, the captain didn't know when they'd reach land and when they'd sink, or which would happen first, and probably ditched the ship and tried to get back to Santa Maria. If he'd been working with all the information (knew how much water the ship had taken on and how quickly, had a working chronometer) he would have probably made it to the next port, but again, lots of holes in his information and logs sound like he may have been panicking.
The ship was just about where you'd expect it if it had been left to drift for 10 days after the crew abandoned it and turned back. This does leave two questions:why the crew never reached Santa Maria (they weren't far away, but a lot of things can happen in a tiny, overcrowded lifeboat even in a few hours at sea), and why the captain didn't seek refuge in Santa Maria when he had the chance - he was within sight of the island on the last day he made log entries, after knowing for at least four days the ship might be in trouble.
Using butane as the fuel and paper cubes as the barrels, the hold was sealed and the vapor ignited. The force of the explosion blew the hold doors open and shook the scale model. Ethanol burns at a relatively low temperature with a flash point of 13 degrees C or 55.4 deg F. A minimal spark is needed, for example from two metal objects rubbing together. But none of the paper cubes were damaged, or even scorched. This theory may explain the remaining cargo being found intact and the fracture on the ship's rail, possibly by one of the hold doors.
Perhaps I'm not picturing these doors correctly, but I find it curious that they'd say damage to a rail was caused by the door being forced open, but no damage is named as happening to the lock or whatever securing mechanism was used to keep the doors sealed. Whenever I've seen a door forced open violently, there's damage first around the lock, or the soft bits around the lock, if it is hardened metal.
And if you're going to bring up enduring mysteries, Oak Island is one of my favorite. The thing just keeps giving up surprises apparently.