New safety laws usually come about as a direct result of a disaster or some other traumatic event. Such was the case with the laws formed after the fire and subsequent sinking of SS Yarmouth Castle. The ship was originally built as Evangeline, and it was an American steamship. It was the second of two identical ships built by the William Cramp and Sons Ship and Engine Building Company for the Eastern Steamship Lines for service on the New York City to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia route, operating in practice out of Boston as well. As with many ships, Evangeline was pulled into service during World War II and turned over to the War Shipping Administration, which operated all oceangoing vessels for the United States. During its war years, it was used primarily as an army troop transport. On July 1, 1946, after the war was over, Eastern Steamship Lines resumed control of the ship. Following its war service, it was put back in normal service for a short period and then, the ship was laid up. In 1954, it was sold and put under Liberian registry, operating from Boston to Nova Scotia, then to the Caribbean. In 1963 Evangeline was sold again, put under Panamanian registry. Then, it was renamed SS Yarmouth Castle. It was operated by Yarmouth Cruise Lines between Miami and Nassau, Bahamas, from 1964 until the disaster on November 13, 1965.
On November 12, 1965, Yarmouth Castle departed Miami for Nassau carrying 376 passengers and 176 crew members for a total of 552 people. The ship was due to arrive in Nassau the next day. The captain on the voyage was 35-year-old Byron Voutsinas. Shortly after midnight on November 13, a fire broke out in room 610 on the main deck. Being used as a storage space, the room was filled with mattresses, chairs, and other combustible materials. Unfortunately, the room did not have a sprinkler system, and in the end, the source of the fire could not be determined. It is thought that jury-rigged wiring might have thrown sparks that then entered the room through the ventilation ducts, but simple carelessness was not ruled out either.
A normal patrol went by the room between 12:30am and 12:50am, but they failed to systematically check all areas of the ship and detect the fire. At some point between midnight and 1:00am, the crew and passengers began noticing smoke and heat. Finally, a search was started to find the fire. By the time they discovered it in room 610 and the toilet above that room, it had already begun to spread and attempts to fight the fire with fire extinguishers were useless. Attempts to activate a fire alarm box were also unsuccessful. The bridge was unaware of the fire until about 1:10am, and by that time, Yarmouth Castle was 120 miles east of Miami and 60 miles northwest of Nassau, and in deep trouble. Since the radio room became involved, they were unable to call for help, or even call for the passengers to abandon ship.
The captain proceeded to the lifeboat containing the emergency radio, but he could not reach it. He and several crew members launched another lifeboat and abandoned ship at about 1:45am. The captain later testified that he wanted to reach one of the rescue vessels to make an emergency call. The remaining crew proceeded to alert passengers and attempted to help them escape their cabins. Some passengers tried to escape through cabin windows but couldn’t open them due to improper maintenance. The sprinkler system finally activated but was pretty much ineffective due to the severity of the fire. Crew members attempted to battle the flames with hoses, but they were hampered by low hydrant pressure. The investigation later determined that more valves were open than the pumps could handle.
Some of the lifeboats burned and others could not be launched due to mechanical problems. Only about half of the ship’s boats made it safely away. Passengers near the bow could not reach the lifeboats, but some were later picked up by boats from rescue vessels. The Finnish freighter Finnpulp was just eight miles ahead of Yarmouth Castle, also headed east. That ship’ crew noticed at 1:30am, that Yarmouth Castle had slowed significantly on the radar screen. Looking back, they saw the flames and notified their captain, John Lehto, who had been asleep. Lehto immediately ordered Finnpulp turned around. The Finnpulp successfully contacted the Coast Guard in Miami. It was the first distress call sent out. The passenger liner Bahama Star was following Yarmouth Castle at about twelve miles distance. At 2:15am, Captain Carl Brown noticed rising smoke and a red glow on the water. Realizing that this was Yarmouth Castle, he ordered the ship ahead at full speed. Bahama Star radioed the US Coast Guard at 2:20am.
Though rescue efforts were largely successful, for those who survived, 90 people lost their lives. Yarmouth Castle capsized onto her port side just before 6:00am and sank at 6:03am. The wreck has not been located but is thought to rest 10,800 feet below the Atlantic. “The Yarmouth Castle disaster prompted updates to the Safety of Life at Sea law, or SOLAS. The updated law brought new maritime safety rules, requiring fire drills, safety inspections, and structural changes to new ships. Under SOLAS, any vessel carrying more than 50 overnight passengers is required to be built entirely of non-combustible materials such as steel. Yarmouth Castle’s largely wooden superstructure was found to be the main cause of the fire’s rapid spread.”
At one time or another, most of us dream of stumbling upon a buried or hidden treasure. Of course, most of those who dream about that, do so as kids, and usually after reading some story about buried treasure in a book, or watching a movie about such an event. One such buried treasure story that somehow endured for more than two centuries, is that of the Oak Island Treasure. Oak Island is located off Nova Scotia, Canada, and has been touted as the location of a money pit of buried treasure that was supposedly left there by the pirate, Captain William Kidd (1645-1701). The story seems credible enough to have led to numerous expeditions costing millions of dollars to travel to the island to search for the treasure. Unfortunately, these expeditions were to no avail, and the treasure has never been found. Perhaps it never existed, or maybe Captain Kidd or some other early treasure hunter came for it and took it away before the story even broke about its existence.
You might think that after more than 200 years, people would assume the whole thing was a hoax, give up, and move on with their lives. Well, you would be wrong. Between books and documentaries, the mystery of Oak Island’s hidden treasure is not likely to die out soon. It is even said that there must be seven deaths in search of the treasure, before the island will yield its hold of whatever might be hidden there. To date, there have been six deaths in the searches. I don’t think that would motivate me to head out and look for it.
Oak Island is a 140-acre privately owned island in Lunenburg County on the south shore of Nova Scotia, Canada. The tree-covered island is one of about 360 small islands in Mahone Bay and rises to a maximum of 36 feet above sea level. The island is located 660 feet from shore and connected to the mainland by a causeway and gate. The nearest community is the rural community of Western Shore which faces the island, while the nearest town is Chester.
Oak Island was, for the most part granted to the Monro, Lynch, Seacombe and Young families around the same time as the establishment of Chester on 1759. The first major group of settlers arrived in the Chester area from Massachusetts in 1761. The following year, Oak Island was officially surveyed and divided into 32 four-acre lots. Of course, if there was a treasure, it was already buried before the land was divided.
In 1965, a man named Robert Dunfield constructed a causeway from the western end of the island to Crandall’s Point on the mainland, making it more accessible to people. Oak Island Tours now owns 78% of the island, and 22% is owned by private parties. There are two permanent homes and two cottages occupied part-time on the island. Since the 1850s, there have been documented treasure hunts, investigations, and excavations on Oak Island, but to no avail. There are many theories about what might be buried there, if anything really is. Areas of interest on the island with regard to treasure hunters include a location known as the Money Pit, a formation of boulders called Nolan’s Cross, the beach at Smith’s Cove, and a triangle-shaped swamp. The Money Pit area has been repeatedly excavated. Skeptics argue that there is no treasure and that the Money Pit is a natural phenomenon, but then they are probably look upon as wanting to keep any treasure for themselves. Until something is found, the treasure remains a mystery and a myth.
After the movie, The Perfect Storm came out, swordfishing boat, Andrea Gail became almost a household name. We could relate to the feelings of loss the families of those men felt, and found it hard to get past the idea of how those men died. Those things are a normal reaction to such a tragedy, but in the end, we expected they would find the swordfishing boat, and be able to bring closure to the families…allowing them to bury their dead. Sometimes, however, a lost ship takes a long time to find, and strangely, sometimes it is never found at all. Such was the case with the Andrea Gail. Her last coordinates had been called out on the emergency radio, but this was such a fierce storm, and the Andrea Gail was right in the middle of it, trying desperately to make it back home.
The name Perfect Storm depicted not just another storm or even just another hurricane…this storm was a monster. The 1991 Perfect Storm, also known as the The No-Name Storm, especially in the years immediately after it took place, and the Halloween Gale, was a nor’easter that absorbed Hurricane Grace and ultimately evolved back into a small unnamed hurricane late in its life cycle. The area of low pressure developed off Atlantic Canada on October 29. A ridge of high pressure to its north pushed it southward. Then, it reached its peak intensity as a large and powerful cyclone. The storm battered the east coast of the United States with high waves and coastal flooding before it turned southwest and weakened. Moving over warmer waters, it transitioned into a subtropical cyclone before becoming a tropical storm. It made a loop off the Mid-Atlantic states and turned toward the northeast. On November 1 the system evolved into a full-fledged hurricane with peak winds of 75 miles per hour, although the National Hurricane Center left it unnamed to avoid confusion amid media interest in the predecessor extratropical storm. It later received the name “the Perfect Storm” after a conversation between Boston National Weather Service forecaster Robert Case and author Sebastian Junger. The system was the fourth hurricane and final tropical cyclone in the 1991 Atlantic hurricane season. The tropical system weakened, striking Nova Scotia as a tropical storm before dissipating. There were thirteen confirmed deaths from the storm, including six on board Andrea Gail.
Everyone who saw the movie, now also knows about the Flemish Cap, which is an area of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Nova Scotia, and was where the Andrea Gail was when The Perfect Storm began its rampage. The Andrea Gail had sailed from Gloucester, Massachusetts on September 20, 1991, and after a minimal catch, sailed for the Flemish Cap. After encountering high seas in the middle of the storm, the vessel made its last radio contact late on October 28 about 180 miles northeast of Sable Island. After that, they tried to make a run for it through the storm, rather than lose their catch to spoil. The Andrea Gail sank while returning to Gloucester. Over the next few days, only three pieces of debris were found, and the Coast Guard said those could have washed off the boat in rough seas. To date, the boat, and her crew, David Sullivan, Robert Shatford, William Tyne, Dale Murphy, Michael Moran, and Alfred Pierre, have never been found.
However…on December 2, 2011 the Daily Mail Reporter printed this story…Lobster pot tag washes up 3,000 miles away across the Atlantic…two decades after being lost in Perfect Storm that inspired film. “A tag from a lobster pot lost two decades ago in what came to be known as ‘The Perfect Storm’ has washed up 3,000 miles away in Ireland. The pot that held the tag with Richard Figueiredo’s name on it was one of hundreds he lost when the storm struck off Cohasset, Massachusetts, in 1991. Rosemary Hill, of Waterville, County Kerry, found the tag on a beach last year. Last week she decided to try to contact Mr Figueiredo and found him through the Facebook account of his son Rich. Oceanographer Curt Ebbesmeyer told The Patriot Ledger newspaper that the tag’s 20-year drift is unusually long. Mr Ebbesmeyer, who studies flotsam and ocean currents, said the pot and tag may have been buried in offshore mud before drifting south off the U.S. Atlantic coast and then getting caught the in eastward Gulf Stream. He added that the tag then probably drifted south again into the circular Subtropical Gyre current in the mid-Atlantic, making six three-year loops before it again caught the Gulf Stream toward Ireland. Coast to coast: The tag would have made several loops as it drifted with a leading oceanographer saying it may have clocked up 50,000 miles. He believes in total it could have drifted 50,000 miles. Miss Hill, 39, loves beachcombing and said that this is the first time she’s ever traced a buoy or other piece of maritime flotsam to its owner. She told The Patriot Ledger she saw the orange tag amid clumps of seaweed on a stroll last year. She added it to other beach souvenirs and then forgot about it until last week. ‘I looked at it again and thought, “Why not try to find the owner?”‘ she said. ‘Nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ Mr Figueiredo and Miss Hill spoke last Thursday. She said she would mail the tag to him, but he wants her to keep it. He said: ‘The meaning it has over there is what matters. ‘I am honored that she has put so much enthusiasm into this. What’s happening now is a gift to me.'” I find that to be an absolutely amazing journey.