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Thu, Aug. 05

Haddad: A lifesaving message from the mystery of the ghost ship Mary Celeste

Under command of Captain Briggs, the ship Mary Celeste docked on New York City’s East River on November 5, 1872, and took on board a cargo of 1,701 barrels of commercial alcohol. The spirits were intended for fortifying wine in Italy. The cargo was worth about $35,000 at the time (close to $750,000 by today’s value). The Mary Celeste then set sail for Genoa, Italy.

Along with Captain Briggs and her crew of seven, the ship carried the captain’s wife, who had sailed with her husband many times, and their two-year-old daughter. This brought the total to 10 people on board.

Briggs was no stranger to the sea, having spent most of his life on ships. The Mary Celeste was his fifth ship as captain. Experience had taught him that the quality of the crew could mean the difference between life and death at sea, and he had been sure to select men with exemplary records who were proven trustworthy and capable seamen for this voyage.

Twenty-nine days later, on Dec. 4, sailors aboard another ship called the Dei Gratia spotted the Mary Celeste in the Atlantic Ocean about 600 miles west of Portugal. The Mary Celeste was still under sail and heading toward the Strait of Gibraltar. As the Dei Gratia came closer it became clear that no one was at the helm or even on deck, but the ship was flying no distress signal.

After boarding the Mary Celeste, sailors from the Dei Gratia found she was in seaworthy condition and carried at least six months’ worth of food and water. Her cargo was virtually untouched and the crew’s personal belongings and valuables were still in place. The ship’s clock was not working, and the compass was destroyed. One lifeboat was missing. There was no sign of a struggle, or of any sort of violence, ruling out mutiny or piracy. The last entry in the captain’s logbook was dated November 24, 11 days earlier, but there was nothing in the log indicating foul play. What added to the mystery was a long, strong rope found dragging behind the vessel, attached to its stern but frayed at the other end. None of the ten people on board was ever seen or heard from again.

What happened to the crew and passengers has been the subject of much speculation over the years. Theories range from natural causes — underwater earthquakes, waterspouts, alcohol fumes — to human errors of judgment. Some believe they were taken by extraterrestrials in UFOs or eaten by sea monsters. The disappearance of the crew is considered one of the greatest maritime mysteries of all time.

One theory held by historians is that Captain Briggs may have become convinced the Mary Celeste could not make the journey safely because of the ship’s broken clock, called a chronometer. There was some water discovered in the hold but not nearly enough to sink the ship or cause it to be unmanageable, but he may have overestimated the flow of water into the bilge. With multiple things failing at once, Briggs may have perceived the threats as more dangerous than they were. Feeling lost and without a proper measure to navigate, these perceived threats may have overwhelmed his judgment, causing him to prematurely order everyone to abandon ship in the lifeboat, but it never reached shore.

If this theory is correct, ten people abandoned a seaworthy vessel that would have carried them safely home.

There may be times when choices we make, the agency of others, or unexplained tragedies will damage our life chronometer, and we become convinced our ship is sinking. A voice may whisper that you are a failed captain — one who will never be good enough to navigate to any destination of worth. The perception of failure multiplies when we are hit with more than one wave at the same time. This can cause some to give up on dreams, lose all hope of ever feeling or finding love or acceptance, and ultimately succumb to the urge to abandon the journey.

As a father who has felt the heart-wrenching pain of watching a child nearly fall for the lying words of the whispering adversary, I urge all reading this column to be aware of where your shipmates are standing on the deck of life. No one should bear such storms alone. With sincere support from family, friends and loved ones, a weakened sailor can find strength, courage, hope and light, even during the darkest moments of their voyage.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 800-273-8255. Learn more at

Also see a list of quad-city area resources below.


• West Yavapai Guidance Clinic offers a variety of mental health programs for youth and adults, and their Crisis Stabilization Unit in Prescott Valley is open 24-hours-a-day to anyone who needs assistance, with or without insurance.

• Spectrum Health Care, 877-634-7333,

• Terros Health Care offers mobile crisis care, 877-756-4090,

• The Launch Pad Teen Center, 928-227-0758,

• MatForce, 928-708-0100,

• Southwest Behavioral Health Services,

• Yavapai Justice and Mental Health Coalition,

• Yavapai County Suicide Prevention Coalition, 928-708-0100

• Arizona Teen Lifeline Hotline, 800-248-8336

• Crisis Response Network Hotline, 877-756-4090

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