Saturday, April 24, 2010

Possible Time of Abandonment

Example of a Logbook
Based on testimony given and other trustworthy sources, it's possible to trace, with some certainty, the movements of the Mary Celeste from noon, 24 Nov to 8:00 a.m. the following day:

Noon, 24 Nov 1872 -- According to the observation taken at this time and noted on her log, the Mary Celeste is at latitude 35°56' N and longitude 27°20' W. All of the Azores are now astern except San Miguel off to the northeast about 100 miles away and Santa Maria dead ahead about 110 miles directly east. She is moving along at 8 knots until 7:00 p.m. when, with freshening wind, her speed increases to 9 knots.

At 8:00 p.m., her royal and topgallant sails are taken in when the first watch comes on duty. By 9:00 p.m. her speed drops to 8 knots at which she continues to midnight. At this time, the log reads, "Knots, 8: Course, E. by S; Wind, west: M.P. rainy." She would be nearing the end of Santa Maria Island. The official record states that "stormy conditions prevailed over the Azores on November 24 and November 25" so it's likely the crew is having an uncomfortable time of it.

25 Nov 1872 -- According to hourly entries in the log between 1:00 and 4:00 a.m., the Mary Celeste continues at 8 knots. As dawn breaks an entry is made on the log-slate, 'At 5, made the island of S. Mary's, bearing ESE" with a similar entry at 6:00 a.m. With this bearing, the point of land observed by the watch must be Ponta Cabraestante which is the northwestern extremity of Saint Mary's -- at an approximate latitude of 37°0' which is slightly further north than her position at noon the previous day.

Why is Captain Briggs, or whoever was directing the course, taking her to the north of St. Mary's, when all hands know they must pass through the Straight of Gibraltar in order to ready Genoa?
  • It's well known to navigators there are no harbors or safe accommodations here or elsewhere on this island.
  • About 21 miles to the northeast of the island's northeast extremity lies dangerous Dollabarat Shoal on which the sea breaks with great violence in stormy weather -- its barely hidden rocks are not visible when the sea is calm.
  • The present course will take them betwen this shoal and the northeast end of the island. With a shifting wind, a common occurence in these waters, the Mary Celeste's position could become a perilous one.
Why is the Mary Celeste going into a more northerly latitude, when she should be going to the southward?

According to the track noted on her chart, it's 8:00 a.m. and she has skirted the island's north shore. The log slate's final record reads, "At 8, Eastern point bore SSW. 6 miles distant." The eastern point observed by the forenoon watch likely was Ponta Castello, a point on the southeastern shore of the island. This point is surmounted by a detached peak of considerable height and is higher than any other place along the island's eastern shore. In the morning light, it would stand out more prominently than Ponta Matos, the island's northeastern extremity, lying about 5 miles to the northwest and probably nearer to the Mary Celeste.

Possible time of abandonment -- Based on the above, it's possible that on Monday, 25 Nov, at some time after 8:00 a.m., something happened which caused the sudden abandonment of the Mary Celeste. As testified by Deveau, "The men's clothing was left behind; their oilskins, boots, and even their pipes as if they had left in a great hurry or haste." Based on the following considerations, it's reasonable to surmise abandonment took place betwee 8:00 a.m. and noon on 25 November:
  • There was no food left on the cabin table
  • The galley stove was knocked out of place and no cooked food was found
  • The Captain's bed had been slept in, but not made
  • There was no sign of interrupted or finished meal or evidence of preparations for serving a meal
  • There was no log-slate record after 8:00 a.m. on a vessel where records had been systematically kept

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