Haunted Ghost Ship Octavius
By James Donahue
The story of the ghostly and frozen sailing ship Octavius is an old yarn that contains
much detail, yet some believe is only a legend. Whatever the truth, the story is worth retelling on this Halloween weekend.
It seems that the crew of the whaling ship Herald came upon the derelict Octavius,
drifting with tattered sails still raised, off the west coast of Greenland on October 11, 1775.
When they boarded the ship the crew of the whaler was shocked to find its entire
crew frozen to death. Some appeared to have died quickly in the midst of performing their routine chores. The captain, for
example, was found in his cabin, seated at his desk with a pen in his hand. He was writing in his log when he died.
The captain’s wife and child were also found frozen in a nearby bed. Also in
the room was the body of a sailor with a tinderbox in his hand.
The last entry in the log book revealed that the Octavius had been adrift in this
frozen state, high in the frozen arctic and with its ghost crew for 13 years.
The crew of the Herald was so abashed by what they found the sailors fled with only
the Octavius log book in hand. It was said that the pages were so frozen that they slipped from the book bindings and only
the first and last parts of the book were found intact when the book reached the Herald.
There was enough information in the surviving log to reveal that the Octavius left
England on a long trip to the orient in 1762 and was returning home when disaster struck. It was thought that rather than
take the long and perilous journey around the horn of South America, the captain made the fatal mistake of choosing to try
to sail the legendary Northwest Passage. On its way the ship was captured in the ice and the crew froze to death.
That the derelict ship was found adrift off Greenland 13 years later means that the
Octavius miraculously completed its strange journey without a working crew. If it really happened, the ship obviously broke
free from the ice during summer months and continued drifting farther and farther east until eventually breaking free into
the North Atlantic.
If the story is true, the Octavius was the first ship to ever successfully sail through
the Northwest Passage.
One of the reasons the story remains on the list of tall tales among the old salts
is that after this odd encounter, the Octavius drifted off after that, never to be seen again.