Ghost ships


What a great topic! Who doesn’t love ghost ships, right?

Oh, I see this post differentiates between “ghost ships” — physical vessels that have been found mysteriously deserted — and “phantom ships,” which are ships that don’t physically exist. Well, I was thinking of the latter. Do you remember that wonderful scene in The Dark is Rising series where the phantom ship sails in and over the town? I think that’s in Greenwich, which is no one’s favorite in the series, but that particular scene gave me chills.

There’s also a great ghost ship in McKillip’s The Bell at Sealey Head — although in that case, fictional. What an interesting story that is. That’s the one of McKillips where the main pov characters have no effect on the plot, which I didn’t notice until someone pointed it out to me. I liked it very much. I notice that at the moment, the hardcover is six bucks while the Kindle version is $13, which I’m sure makes perfect sense to someone in Ace’s marketing department.

But back to the linked post:

…the mystery of the Mary Celeste, perhaps the most famous of ghost ships. The Mary Celeste left New York on November 5, 1872 with a crew of seven, along with the captain’s wife and their young daughter. 

Yes, that’s certainly the most famous ghost ship. Here’s one I hadn’t heard of:

One of my favorite ghost ships is the Baychimo. In 1931, the vessel became trapped in the ice—a common theme—and the crew temporarily abandoned it, seeking shelter in a nearby settlement. Eventually, it freed itself and the crew returned, but then it became stuck once more. Then a blizzard struck, and the ship vanished. The crew assumed it had sunk. However, they later learned it was adrift. After boarding the Baychimo, they retrieved their valuable cargo and left the ship behind, assuming it was no longer seaworthy. … But the Baychimo sailed on…for thirty-eight years. The last sighting was in 1969, when the Baychimo was frozen again in the pack ice. However, she hasn’t been seen since. And her wreck has never been found.

You know, this post about ghost ships could be subtitled: Do Not Sail To Antarctica. You’d think the possibility of getting your ship frozen into ice would firmly discourage such voyages, but there are a fair number of examples, apparently.

I still prefer phantom ships! If you can think of a good SFF example, by all means drop it in the comments. Ditto for SF ghost ships, actually, because I’m sure there must be many mysteriously empty and abandoned ships scattered through the space in science fiction.

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17 thoughts on “Ghost ships”

  1. It is an ancient Mariner,
    And he stoppeth one of three.
    “By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
    Now wherefore stopp’st thou me…
    My favorite part:
    Day after day, day after day,
    We stuck, nor breath nor motion;
    As idle as a painted ship
    Upon a painted ocean.

    Water, water, every where,
    And all the boards did shrink;
    Water, water, every where,
    Nor any drop to drink.

  2. My other favorite phantom ship is Naglfar, made of the fingernails of the peacefully dead in Norse myth.

  3. Well, “Dawson’s Christian” is a popular filksong about an SF phantom ship — I wouldn’t be surprised to learn someone’s written a story about it, but I’m pretty sure the song is where it started.

    I first heard about the SF ghost ship “Aniara” in Vinge’s _A Fire Upon the Deep_, but he apparently picked it up from a no-kidding epic poem (!) originally written in Swedish by a Nobel laureate (!!). (I had no idea until googling the spelling just now sent me to Wikipedia.)

  4. I don’t remember Naglfar, Pete. I’m not sure the Norse myths I read emphasized the peaceful dead …

  5. I missed the SFF qualifier. Kate Elliott had a ghost ship in the high road trilogy, The Forlorn Hope. The protagonists make a deus ex machina escape on it. It is haunted by the original crew.

  6. Alison … was there? I seem to have forgotten that, if so. Wonderful trilogy; I should re-read that.

    Pete, that sounds like fun. I have the first book of that on my Kindle.

  7. I’ve always been fond of Brain Jacques’ Castaways of the Flying Dutchman. The first book in the series was the best, I think, though I did enjoy the others as well.

  8. Kristine Katharine Rusch’s “Diving Into the Wreck” series has some pretty cool (and creepy!) ghost spaceships. If spaceships count I am sure there are other SF examples. (Would Rama count? Robert Reed’s Great Ship?)

  9. I wasn’t familiar with the McKillip book you mentioned, so decided to take a look. And… figured I should share an eBook buying tip that, while not useful very often, does sometimes comes in handy, as with this book.
    The thing is, Amazon, for eBooks that have/had multiple published versions, sometimes only returns one of them on search results of the title (or author, or series…), even though technically the other(s) is fine and valid and available for sale.
    So, check other eBook stores. Even if you want to buy from Amazon. Especially for old books, but this does sometimes happen with brand new ones.
    Searching “The Bell at Sealey Head” on Amazon returns just the one 12.99 eBook. Searching on Kobo shows two results, one for 12.39 and one for 5.39 (which is already an improvement if you’re fine with the alternate DRM, but merely comparing prices is sort of obvious, so not my tip).
    Now, the tip: For *each* result on Kobo, go to the book page, scroll down, copy the ISBN, and search on Amazon for that ISBN.
    In this case, the 12.39 Kobo book is the same one that is 12.99 on Amazon. But the 5.39 one on Kobo is sold on Amazon right now for… 3.38 .
    So really worth checking. Note that, as I wrote, check all results, not always the cheapest on the other store will be the cheapest on Amazon.

  10. @ Louise,
    Yes! That’s the one I was going to mention. I loved those books to tatters as a young teen – Brian Jacques was a sailor, and had a fine flair for the dramatic – I feel like he really nailed the story of the Flying Dutchman. What a delightfully creepy story of a ghost ship-turned phantom ship.

    I’m also thinking of the Chronicles of Solace series by Roger MacBride Allen – there’s a spaceship called the Dom Pedro IV, which drifts out of its proper time due to wormhole shenanigans, which sets in motion quite a chain of events.
    Another which is almost – but not quite – a ghost ship, is in the book Icarus Hunt by Timothy Zahn. The Icarus certainly seems to be a ghost ship for 3/4 of the story . . .

  11. Wow, Yaron. I had no idea. That’s a fantastic tip, and I’m going to pull your comment out and put it up as a post to make sure everyone sees it.

  12. I think you could argue that Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley is all about ghost ships — up above the clouds of our Earth are fantastical ships with people living on them. I liked Magonia a lot, and found it full of fresh takes on YA. Though I didn’t like the sequel as much.

    I think Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear has a great ghost ship in it (if I’m not getting my books confused). And if I’m wrong it’s still an interesting book, especially for her concept of “foxes,” basically a pharmacy embedded in your brain so you can correct the chemicals in your brain to keep you most adaptive to living in society. With pirates who have unadjusted brains!

  13. R Morgan, I’ve got Magonia on my actual physical TBR shelves. Lovely cover, first page is fine, but I somehow didn’t seem to be in the mood to read it last time I picked it up and looked at it. To be fair, I haven’t been in the mood to read much of anything. But I keep seeing people give Magonia a thumbs up, so … eventually for sure!

    Ancestral Night sounds like it’s got great worldbuilding! And I usually really like everything by Elizabeth Bear.

  14. There is definitely a phantom ship in Fionavar, the third book, IIRC. Don’t look down, you’ll see the holes.
    CJC had one in the Union/Alliance setting, I think it was Port Eternity. And maybe Voyager in Night would count?

    Can’t think of any others by anybody.

  15. I don’t think I could read Magonia right now. I would find it too stressful. The main character is dying at the start of the novel and I remember it as rather tense throughout.

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