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Abandoned Ship

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Optimus Prime
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« on: December 24, 2007, 09:41:29 pm »

Richardson said he would need water temperatures, wind speeds and wind directions at the time, data that MacGregor found in the International Comprehensive Ocean-Atmosphere Data Set (ICOADS), a database that stores global marine information from 1784 to 2007 and is used to study climate change. She, her yachtsman husband, Scott, and Richardson drew on the data to determine whether the Mary Celeste could have drifted from its recorded location on November 25 to where the Dei Gratia crew reported finding it on December 5. Their conclusion: yes, it could have, even without a crew to sail it. "We found out it basically just sailed itself," Richardson says.

At that point, MacGregor considered the fact that a captain would most likely order a ship abandoned within sight of land. Since Santa Maria was the last land for hundreds of miles, it seemed safe to assume that the Mary Celeste had been abandoned the morning of November 25, after the last log entry was written.

But why?

On this point, MacGregor says, Attorney General Solly-Flood's notes are crucial. He wrote that he saw nothing unusual about the voyage until the last five days, which is why he transcribed the ship's log starting five days from the end. The ship's log is believed to have been lost in 1885, so those transcriptions provided the only means for MacGregor and Richardson to plot the course and positions logged for the ship. The two then reconsidered those positions in light of ICOADS data and other information on sea conditions at the time. Their conclusion: Briggs was actually 120 miles west of where he thought he was, probably because of an inaccurate chronometer. By the captain's calculations, he should have sighted land three days earlier than he did.

Solly-Flood's notes yielded one other piece of information that MacGregor and Richardson consider significant: the day before he reached the Azores, Briggs changed course and headed north of Santa Maria Island, perhaps seeking haven.

The night before the last entry in the ship's log, the Mary Celeste again faced rough seas and winds of more than 35 knots. Still, MacGregor reasons, rough seas and a faulty chronometer wouldn't, by themselves, prompt an experienced captain to abandon ship. Was there something else?

MacGregor learned that on its previous voyage, the Mary Celeste had carried coal and that the ship had recently been extensively refitted. Coal dust and construction debris could have fouled the ship's pumps, which would explain the disassembled pump found on the Mary Celeste. With the pump inoperative, Briggs would not have known how much seawater was in his ship's hull, which was too fully packed for him to measure visually.

At that point, says MacGregor, Briggs—having come through rough weather, having finally and belatedly sighted land and having no way of determining whether his ship would sink—might well have issued an order to abandon ship.

But, like Attorney General Solly-Flood, MacGregor can't leave the story of the Mary Celeste alone; she is continuing her investigation for a book. "The research goes on," she says. "Because I have been touched by the story, as I hope other people will be."

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