Richard W. Ohrn went missing for 12 days last year after his blood-spattered boat was found abandoned and dragging anchor two miles off Delray Beach, Florida. That triggered a Coast Guard search and a federal charge that by staging his disappearance “to escape legal issues” — the Palm Beach County sheriff’s description of why he vanished — he caused a false distress alert.
For 95 years, the gravesite of the USS Conestoga and her 56 crewmembers remained a mystery. Thought to have been somewhere in the vast Pacific off Mexico or Hawaii, the wreck of the oceangoing Navy tug was found and identified recently less than a day’s voyage from San Francisco, where she had set out on a 4,800-mile passage to her new duty station in American Samoa on March 25, 1921.
Thirty-five years ago this past April 14, Maersk Line’s Capt. Ngoc Nguyen was a frightened 13-year-old crammed aboard a 35-foot fishing boat with his mother, three younger siblings and 60 other refugees fleeing their Vietnamese homeland six years after Saigon’s fall.
In the Tasman Sea, where muscular westerlies blowing unimpeded across the Southern Ocean pile up towering waves and ride the vortex of savage storms, yachts are swallowed with disturbing regularity, in winter especially. The 1,200 miles of sea between New Zealand and Australia known as “the ditch” — the Tasman Sea — is a nasty shrew at May’s end, when three months of winter descends on these parts.
Few things fire the imagination like a mystery at sea, where distances are vast, the heart of the deep is fickle, and ships and crews meet their end in ways upon which we can only speculate. Ships are lost or abandoned; crews disappear; ghost ships drift through fog-shrouded water; skippers go missing or, as we have just seen in the news, are found adrift and mummified.
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