96 years ago, a 5-masted, 225-foot schooner crashed into the shoals of Hatteras, NC. The ship's sails were fully engaged, and, as Coastguard searched the ship they did not find the crew that engaged these sails. The only living soul aboard the ship was a cat, oddly enough, with six-toes. One of the only clues of this strange shipwreck? The ship's name: Carroll A. Deering.
Locals spoke about the mystery constantly, as the coastguard and FBI investigated the ship. In fact, there were 5 total investigations by different government and private institutions to try and figure out what, how, and why the Deering met its fate on the shores of Hatteras.
The 225-foot Deering left Boston and picked up a load of coal in Norfolk in late 1920, bound for South America. The Deering company hired W.B. Wormell to replace Capt. William Merritt, who became too sick to make the voyage.
Joe Shwarzer, the director of the North Carolina Maritime Museums, says "This is still one of the great unsolved maritime mysteries...There are any number of potential explanations for it.”
However, we do know a little bit about the Deering and its journey before it turned into a ghost ship. The Deering company hired W.B. Wormell to replace the previous captain, who was too sick to make the long voyage. Lucky for him, eh? It left Boston to pick up coal from Norfolk in late 1920, and it was bound for South America, and then would make its way back to Boston.
The ship was making its way back home when it was sighted on January 28th, 1921. This is supported by a report lightship at Cape Fear, south of Wilmington. It was spotted again on January 31st, at approximately 6:30am by Andrew Gray, a member of station 183. Gray spotted the schooner stranded on the outer edge of Diamond Shoals. Several other reports were made of the stranded ship, however, rough waves that morning prevented any rescue boats from heading out.
When rescue crews were able to get close enough to investigate by sight, they reported no signs of life...or the life boats. Rescue crews returned four days later and boarded the boat, as the weather had calmed down by this time.
Upon boarding found food on the galley stove, clothing in lockers, 3 pairs of boots in the captain’s cabin, and even a bed that had been recently slept in, according to a 1921 Virginian-Pilot report.
Theories abound on what happened to the crew - and why they would leave food and supplies on board. For example, given the extreme weather it is possible that they could have tried to make for land but drowned or wrecked in the process.
Or, equally as believable, it is possible that the crew was distressed and the steamboat, the Hewitt, picked them up. Sadly, the Hewitt sank a few days later...potentially taking the Deering crew with it.
The Bath, N.C., Daily Times had a slightly more nefarious conclusion - that pirates had raided the ship and killed and/or enslaved the crew. However...wouldn't true pirates, ya know, steal everything they could (like the boots and food that were noted as being left)? Though, 3 other ships disappeared around this same time and it was thought to be the work of pirates or rum-runners.
Even more nefarious, there were papers found at a Russian communist office in New York which called for its members to seize any U.S ships they could. Thus, the Deering could have been one of the targets (according to reports of the day.)
At the end of it all though? We don't know. Despite several searches of the eastern seaboard no bodies, evidence, or clues were found that would lead us to discovering the Deering's true fate.
One thing does remain of the crew - their six-toed cat, which, according to locals, has produced a long-lasting progeny of equally-toed cats amongst the island.
The above image is from Flickr user Apasciuto and is liscensed under creative commons. It is not related to the story - simply an image of the ocean!