Carroll A. Deering – mystery at sea

 Carroll A. Deering was launched On April 4, 1919 in Bath, Maine.  Designed for cargo service, this five-mast schooner, the last of nearly 100,  was built by the G.G. Deering Co. and named for the owner’s son.  She was described as a “tremendous sailing ship”, 255.1 feet long, 44.3 feet abeam, 25.3 feet deep and weighed 1,879 net tons.  The G. G. Deering Company never used champagne to christen their ships, instead, always a bouquet of long stem red roses.

Only the best stock was used in constructing this three deck vessel. Her features included an oak ceiling and planking of  hard pine, a handsome combination of mahogany, empress, and ash woods were used to finish the interior.  Oregon masts measuring 108 feet long, with top masts measuring  46 feet long flanked the vessel.  Other luxurious features included a bathroom with open plumbing and cabins fully lit by electricity and heated by steam.  Indeed, she was a wooden boat enthusiasts’ dream!  Mrs. Carroll Deering stood at the bow of the ship and christened it using the traditional large bouquet of roses which she scattered as the vessel made its descent down the ways.


On the morning of  January 31, 1921, the ship was found hard aground on Hatteras Diamond Shoals, North Carolina.  Abandoned and deserted, with all of its eleven crewmen missing, the circumstances are as strange as those of the Mary Celeste, and her demise remains as one of the greatest unsolved maritime mysteries of all time.  Her sails were up and the galley showed evidence that a meal was about to be prepared.  The crews’ personal effects were gone, along with the ships navigational equipment,  log books, and life rafts.

The Carroll A, Deering Schooner was being prepared to sail from Boston to Buenos Aires, then on to Rio de Janerio.  In charge of the voyage would be part owner and Captain,  William M. Merritt who chose his son, S.E. Merritt as his first mate.  Nine other Scandanavian men were hired as crew and on August 20, 1920, they set sail for Boston.  Later that same month, after sailing from Boston, Captain Merritt became ill and the vessel was diverted to port in Lewes, Delaware.  After determining that the captain was too ill to continue the voyage, he is left at port.  His son, E.E. Merritt also gets off the ship and stays to care for his dad.

Left without a captain and first mate, the Deering Company hastily hired replacements for the positions.  Captain Willis T. Wormell, a veteran retired shipmaster and experienced navigator is chosen as the new Captain.   He hires Charles B. MeLellan as his first mate.

On September 8, 1920, the Deering is finally underway for Rio with a cargo of coal.  The vessel arrives without incident and the crew is given time off.  In the meantime, Captain Wormell meets up with an old friend, also a Captain, and confides that he does not like does not like his crew and the behavior of his first mate concerns him.  They agree that the ship’s engineer, Bates can be trusted.

The Deering left Rio on December 2, 1920, and stopped for supplies in Barbados. First Mate McLellan got drunk in town and complained to Captain Hugh Norton of the Snow that he could not discipline the crew without Wormell interfering, and that he had to do all the navigation owing to Wormell’s poor eyesight. Later Captain Norton, his first mate and another captain were in the Continental Café and heard McLellan say, “I’ll get the captain before we get to Norfolk, I will”. McLellan was arrested, but on January 9 Wormell forgave him, bailed him out of jail, and set sail for Hampton Roads.

The ship was next sighted by the Cape Lookout Lightship in North Carolina on January 28, 1921, when the vessel hailed the lightship. The lightship’s keeper, Captain Jacobson, reported that a thin man with reddish hair, not looking or acting as an officer and with a foreign accent told him the vessel had lost its anchors. Jacobson took note of this, but his radio was out, so he was unable to report it. He noticed that the crew seemed to be “milling around” on the fore deck of the ship, an area where they were usually not allowed.    Shortly after, a passing steamer was asked to stop by the Lightship to take the message for the schooner.  It is maritime law to respond to the whistles of the Lightship.  However, the steamer, whose name could not be seen, did not stop and continued sailing on.

On January 31, 1921 the Carroll A. Deering is spotted with all sails set riding a sandbar at Diamond Shoals.  According to the official report, “ she was driven high up on the shoal… in a boiling bed of breakers with all sails set as if abandon in a hurry.”  All personal effects belonging to crew is gone, along with all of the ship’s navigational instruments, and the lifeboats.   In the vessel’s galley it appeared that certain foodstuffs were being prepared for the next day’s meal at the time of the abandonment.

Rescue ships were unable to board the ship due to bad weather and it was not until February 4 that the ship was boarded. The Coast Guard attempted to salvage the vessel but was unable and the Carroll A. Deering was scuttled using dynamite on March 4.

Despite an extensive investigation by the U.S. Government that included the Commerce, Treasury, Justice, Navy, and State Departments, no explanation could be found for her disappearance.  It is interesting to note that at the same time of the schooner’s disappearance, nine other ships disappeared around the same time, in the same place.  None of the ship’s crew were ever found from any of the missing vessels.

There were a number of theories considered by the U.S. Government during their investigation that included piracy, mutiny, a hurricane, a Russian/Communist piracy, Rum Runner’s, or a paranormal expression.  The investigation finally wound down and came to end in 1922 with no official explanation ever being found.

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