Sea Stories

Why seamen have good reason to believe in ghosts

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FIRST HAND ACCOUNT: As a serving British seaman in the Merchant Marine, neither I nor my shipmates were flippant of ghosts on ships and ghostly vessels or strange supernatural happenings.

We never had a problem coming to terms with maritime apparitions or the paranormal.  This may be due to the appearance of ghosts occasionally occurring. I cannot recall a single seaman not having at least one believable ghostly tale to tell.

MV Grecian

After signing on as a Senior Ordinary Seaman (SOS) on the MV Grecian which was at the time moored at a Liverpool quay, I recall a night time passage approaching Gibraltar from the Middle East and North African ports. Entering the tool room situated far below the waterline a ship’s Third engineers and a donkeyman chanced upon a young Arab sitting cross-legged on an oil drum. Presuming the youngster to be a stowaway, the donkeyman called out to the refugee, who ignored his shouts.

Pausing, he then stared long and hard at the Arab teen whose returning gaze was blank. At this point, the engine room rating realised that the fugitive was not looking at him but through him with unseeing expressionless eyes. Horrified, the donkeyman engineer realised that the figure on the drum was an apparition, the teen was not of this world and was unaware of his presence.

At this point, he backed out through the tool room’s door. Then, without taking his eyes from the still open door he called out to the Third Engineer who came at a run. Both men cautiously approached the tool room and peered inside but there was no sign of the ghost.

Michael Walsh (left) with his comrades.

Horrified, both men fled to the upper deck.  I can testify to their extreme shock. Only when the ship reached the Port of London did the ship’s captain reveal that the same spectre in the tool room was evident during earlier voyages. It was that of a youngster who, on stowing away in Tripoli was fatally sealed in a hold. For days until death claimed him as its own the stowaway had ripped away his fingernails and fingertips in a vain attempt to loosen the rusted screws of each hold’s ventilators and call for help.

During a ship’s voyage, a ship’s lookout on watch at the bow of the vessel will ring the fo’c’sle bell once if a ship is seen to starboard. If a vessel is spotted to the left, the watchman rings the bell twice to warn the officer on the bridge. However, if a ship sharing the same part of the ocean is spotted ahead the lookout will ring the fo’c’sle bell three times

As our vessel approached the English Channel through the stormy night the fo’c’sle bell accurately and constantly rang its warning tolls. Only at dawn was it realised the lookout was situated nowhere near the fo’c’sle bell but instead had the previous evening been posted to the monkey island situated on top of the ship’s bridge. This was the rule when the weather was too bad to risk a man’s life and limb on the fo’c’sle.

At dawn, the watch on the monkey island was ordered to go forward along the vessel’s foredeck to the fo’c’sle and tie-down securely the eccentric bell. The lookout soon afterwards returned to the bridge saying the bell had the night before been disabled.  Who then had been correctly tolling the bell’s warnings? ~ Michael Walsh Awarded  ‘Writer of the Year’ 2011

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Related books: The Leaving of Liverpool, Britannic Waives the Rules: Last of the White Star Liners, UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA Volume I (The USAThe UK), UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA Vol II (The USAThe UK), UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA VOL. III ( The USA and The UK) UNTOLD SAGAS OF THE SEA VOL. IV ( The USA and The UK) and All I Ask is a Tall Ship by Liverpool writer Michael Walsh

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