Article

 October 14, 2016   Michael Collins

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On 31 October, 2001 from 2030hrs to 2050hrs The United States Coast Guard received a transmission from a 406Mhz EPIRB device registered to the vessel Ninia. Ninia is a 34’ sloop rigged sailing vessel, white, registered to James L—and home ported in Seattle, Washington. While the transmission period was brief, the US and Canadian CG were able to triangulate the vessel’s approximate position to the “Broken Islands” in Barkley Sound, B.C. Canadian CG vessel CCGC Bamfield conducted a search and on the morning of 28 October was able to locate Ninia, abandoned at anchor in the vicinity of S—Bay but with no sign of her crew, newlywed couple James and Susan L–. While searching for Ninia the Bamfield also located the vessel Seraph three (3) miles away at E—Bay. The Seraph was reported overdue to this station on 25 October, and was also found abandoned at anchor with no trace of her crew, Charles and Louise S–. US law enforcement personnel now officially register both crews as “missing persons.” What follows is a transcript of the log of the Ninia (Seraph’s log was not found), presented here in the hopes that it can be correlated with other data to provide some insight into what happened to the Ninia’s and the Seraph’s crew.

 


 

(BEGIN LOG of S/V Ninia)

25 October

0900 JL. As wonderful as yesterday was, I think today is even better. We’ve been watching Seattle – and the stress of the wedding – fade behind us on this crisp fall morning. We’re off for our two-week adventure in Barkley Sound. This will be a great honeymoon.

 

2100 SL. It’s been a great day (but long!) so far. James wants to sail every minute, but wind is so calm now that we’re motoring along in the rain. I’ve heard so many horror stories about the strait, but in this calm getting a damp chill is the worst of it, as long as we avoid the freighters!

 

26 October

0600 JL. Long night, but dawn approaches – seems like finally we’re getting a whisper of breeze – maybe we can sail up the coast to Barkley?

 

1030 SL. Off Pachena Point. James woke me up with “breakfast in bunk!” He’s so great. I know he’s having a great time out here sailing but I can’t wait till we’re at anchor and can spend some “quality time” together! We’re sailing along now in a nice breeze and a surprisingly sunny day! James says we’re not far from the entrance to Barkley Sound. Tried to call mom and dad but there is no cell coverage out here. Jim says it probably won’t work again until we’re back in the Straits. Even the radio transmissions are getting weak; mostly we just hear Tofino traffic and the occasional fishing boat

 

1500 JL. Cleared customs in Bamfield. Off to the Broken Islands in the morning!

 

27 October

1000 JL. Cast off Bamfield gov’t dock 10 minutes ago. All sail set, ghosting towards the Broken Group.

 

1600 SL. It’s so beautiful here! Amazing weather, especially for so late in the season! Seems like we have the whole place to ourselves.

 

1700 JL. Anchored in E—Bay for the night; 40’ cutter Seraph anchored nearby. So far they’re the only other cruisers we’ve seen. Looks like the late season tactic is working! If they are still here in the tomorrow, we’ll have to go somewhere even more secluded.

 

28 October

1100 SL. Convinced Jim to stay late in bed this morning (wink). Jim wants to move on to somewhere more secluded than this – hard to imagine. After lunch I think we’ll take a walk ashore before we move to the next cove. Maybe we’ll drop in on Seraph?

 

1300 JL. House VHF crapping out I think. Tried to get marine operator and wasn’t able to raise them No answer from radio checks either. I receive WX and handheld tx ok; handheld gets house tx broken. Transmitter?

 

1800 SL. I convinced Jim to stop messing with the VHF and we went for a great walk ashore. On the way back to Ninia, the crew of Seraph Chuck and Louise) waved us over. We went aboard for a drink, etc. and had a great time chatting, talking about adventures, etc. I really hit it off with Louise – we chatted forever (to Jim’s annoyance I think!). She’s very sweet, full of good advice on being a boat wife (or boat widow, as she calls it). She says the only boats they’ve seen in the week they’ve been here are ours and an old boat whose owner – a single hander – dropped in a few nights ago. Louise gave me a cool pen with their boat name and email address on it. Such a great idea! I’ll need to get something like that for the Ninia. Jim wants to head over to another cove he has picked out – time to get the boat ready. I’m a little worried abut the late start but Jim has confidence in the GPS and radar.

 

2300 JL. I don’t know how many times I’ve told myself not to enter a strange harbor at night – but I keep doing it. After tonight, I’ll really never do it again! We left E—Bay in late dusk, way too late but I was determined to get to the ideal “secluded cove,” and Chuck on Seraph said they planned to stay another day or two. I figured we’d get underway early, but by the time I dragged Susan away from Louise and we got Ninia ready it was dusk. We struck out anyway. We enjoyed some magical night sailing, just ghosting along at 2-3 kts and paying very close attention to the chart plotter and the radar. As we got close to S—Bay, I guess I got careless or too confident, and CRUNCH went the keel on a rock. We were going pretty slow so I don’t think there was much damage, but being aground at night on an ebb tide in the middle of nowhere was pretty scary. We were getting pretty worked up trying to figure out how best to deal with the situation (with fog rolling in, no less!), when out of nowhere materializes this strange guy rowing an old wooden dinghy. He must have heard us in our “animated conversation.” He was wearing an old P-coat. In the dark I really couldn’t make out his face, but it was pretty freaky the way the glow of the port nav light made his eyes seem to glow red. Despite the strange appearance and his strange accent the guy put me at ease pretty quickly. He obviously REALLY knows his way around boats. He had us lower down our anchor and a bunch of chain into his dinghy and rowed it out a couple of hundred feet to set it. Then he had us take up on the windlass while he pulled down on our boom to heel the boat way over (strong guy!), and we slipped off the rock. Pretty cool! I invited him aboard for a drink but he declined, saying he had other things to do. Weirdest thing was as we were resetting the anchor we saw him rowing out of the bay, into the fog. He was really moving, must’ve been trying to get back to his boat. It’s funny how fog kills sound out here…

 

29 October

1000 JL. Woke late this morning. Heavy low overcast and a bit of a breeze, but this little harbor seems snug. I’m quite happy. Oddly another boat joined us here late last night. It’s a strange old schooner, about 40’, named Demeter. I’d be upset we lost our solitude again, but by the look of the dinghy I’d swear it’s the same guy who got us off the rock last night. I took our dink over to try to thank him, but despite rapping on the hull and calling out I didn’t get a response. Figure he doesn’t want to be disturbed any more than we do. I can live with that.

 

1400 SL. This is a beautiful place, despite the cruddy weather. I cooked us what I must say was a great lunch (James agrees!), and now it’s off for a walk ashore.

 

2300 JL. A great day! After lunch we went ashore in the dinghy and hiked all over the island. Late afternoon the weather cleared up a little and we sat out on the west side of the island, and watched the sunset over the Pacific. We waited till the VERY end, enjoying the deep red hues of the sunset in the clouds. We stumbled our way back to the beach, Susan was nervous but we made it ok – and were surprised to see the guy from from last night sitting in front of a campfire. He was wrapped in an old wool cloak, just staring at the fire. He didn’t even react when we said hello. We were just going to leave him alone and head back to Ninia when he suddenly invited us to sit and join him. What a cool (albeit eccentric) guy he turned out to be! Turns out his name is Jacob. He was born aboard an English working boat, and was a professional ship’s captain himself before he retired (he said his boat was lost off the coast of England). Must’ve been really traumatic, he didn’t want to talk about what kind of boat it was, just said it was a long time ago, and that he should have trusted his crew more. We span yarns, seems like he’s been all over (that must explain the accent). Seem to know everything about the sea, like he’s sailed everywhere. He looks kind of young to have so much experience, and especially young to be retired. But he’s definitely salty, and old school. I could’ve chatted all night, but Susan got tired or chilly or something and so we headed back to Ninia for the night. Maybe I’ll drop in on Jacob tomorrow.

 

2315 SL. It was kind of an adventure tonight, getting lost in the dark on the way back to the beach, then meeting Jacob (our rescuer from last night). I know we should really just be thankful, but the guy kind of gave me the creeps! He has a spooky deep voice which Jim apparently loved (they talked On and ON). He a really angular face and dark beard, and with the fire as the only light it always seemed he was more in shadow than not. His eyes especially, seemed kind of sunken, just reflecting the red flames from the fire. I got really cold despite the fire, and finally convinced Jim to come back to Ninia with me. Listen to me – I sound like I’m freaking out! Must be too close to Halloween.

 

30 October

1000 JL. Another sleep in. We’re getting up later and later. Jacob’s back on his boat, or at least his dinghy is there. I suggested we invite him over for breakfast, but Susan said she wants me to herself. Hard to argue, I guess, it IS our honeymoon. And she says she’ll make it worth my while!

 

2030 SL. Long day alone together. This was a perfect day, but we just heard a PAN PAN from the Coast Guard on our VHF. They are reporting an overdue vessel, asking for anyone with information to contact them. The crazy part is the boat they were talking about was Seraph! I hope they’re alright… we tried to hail Seraph (with no luck), then tried to contact the Coast Guard to tell them we’d seen Seraph just a few days ago, but the radio is acting up and we can’t get through. The handheld doesn’t seem to have the range to reach either. I am really worried! There is a light (lantern or something) on aboard Demeter, maybe Jacob has a radio we can use to get through?

 

2330 JL. Went over to Jacob’s boat to try to borrow a radio. He listened to Susan telling him about Seraph, then invited us in out of the cold. Anyway, turns out this guy is so traditional he doesn’t even CARRY a radio. How strange is that? I started talking to Jacob again, telling him about Seraph. He’d never seen them, but said he suspected they were like a lot of older couples who don’t have a tight schedule to keep and were just staying out longer than their kids expected. I think he’s right, that they’re probably fine. Anyway we spent a while chatting, Jacob has a lot of cool stuff on his boat from all over. He has a really great knowledge of nautical history as well. Very interesting guy to talk to, but Susan seemed to be getting nearly hysterical, wanting to get back to Ninia for no reason I could fathom.

 

2345 SL. I am getting really spooked. Jacob is definitely a weird man. He doesn’t have a radio, and his boat is strange. There are these little artifacts all over it. While Jim talked to Jacob in the salon, I was sitting in the nav station and noticed all sorts of weird things. His portlights are painted over for one thing. He has no galley other than a sink as far as I can see. The whole boat just smelled musty, at least it seemed to smell under the kerosene smoke. He has framed this strange old newspaper article about a disaster on a boat called Demeter in England in 1897, something about a whole crew disappearing? Why would you have a decoration like that? Anyway the final straw was when I saw one of the Seraph’s pens in his pencil holder! This was after he told us he’s never seen Seraph! I would have said something to him but he looked up at me with these weird eyes and I just froze. I finally got Jim to take me home to Ninia. Jim seemed frustrated with me, but did take me home. How can he be so calm about the Seraph disappearing? I wish the cell phone or the radio, or SOMETHING would work.

 

31 October

0600 JL. What a nightmare. Super realistic, but could it be real? I definitely sleepwalked. I remember waking up cold. Susan seemed agitated, tossing around in her own nightmare. I stroked her arm and it seemed to calm her. Fog seemed to be in the boat. I was disturbed, decided to look around topsides. Looking to the foredeck, I saw the strangest thing, like the fog was gathering itself from the forward hatch, and gaining shape like a tall man – but then vanished and flew away like a great black bird. It must have been a dream. I remember rubbing my eyes trying to wake up. I looked to the foredeck again, and saw nothing. Noted the weather was a low overcast, but no fog. Cold, I went back to bed. Snuggled up to Susan. I was hoping to talk to her to shake off the spell, but I couldn’t wake her, and she seemed so cold as well…

 

1130 SL. Another late morning. Jim slept in really late, said he didn’t dsleep well, something about a bad dream. I had terrible nightmares last night. Nothing I can put my finger on, but today I feel so weak and cold. I am really scared now – I just know Jacob had something to do with Seraph being overdue – I told James to call it a woman’s intuition if he must. The damn radio keeps squawking PAN-PAN.

 

1500 JL. Susan told me something disturbing about finding a Seraph pen on the Demeter. She is really feeling under the weather, but insists we head back to E—Bay to see if we can find evidence of the Seraph. It won’t take long if we motor the dinghy over, and the weather’s calm enough.

 

1700 SL. Despite the speed of the dinghy it took us a while to get over to E—Bay; the whole time my sense of dread deepened. We found Seraph, just sitting at her anchor as we’d found her, but there was no trace of Chuck or Louise. Everything was just like they’d been plucked from the boat – down to the dishes on the table, and the dinghy still tied to the stern. I can’t come up with a rational explanation for this. This spooks even Jim. We tried to call the CG on the Seraph’s radio, but all her batteries are dead. I wish we could reach someone! We headed back to Ninia, eager to get away from this Seraph, who’d become a ghost ship in our minds. Jim wants to ask Jacob again about the Seraph. We’re going over in the dinghy now.

 

2000 JL Went over to talk to Jacob about Seraph, but couldn’t get him to answer us. His windows are painted over so we couldn’t see inside, and the companionway was secured from the inside. We even tried to pry the hatch open, but had no luck. I don’t know whether to be scared of Jacob, or worried about him. Why wouldn’t he answer? Things have gotten weird – we’ve decide we should just leave for Bamfield now, and report the whole situation to the CG station there.

 

2015 JL. Crap! I don’t know how this happened, but we don’t have enough juice left in the batteries to crank the engine! We’ve broken out our own kerosene lamp for light. Strange shadows don’t help our already jittery disposition. There’s a light on on on Jacob’s boat now. He must have a battery, and I don’t think he’s a bad guy. Susan wants me to stay here, but I’m going to ask him to borrow a house battery to get us started. Susan won’t come, she’s terrified of Jacob now. If I just stay in the dinghy, there’s really nothing he can do to me; this should be safe. This will be safe.

 

2030 SL. I can’t believe he went over there. The fog is so thick now that I can’t even see Demeter. I heard Jim turn the dinghy motor off so I guess maybe Jacob has a battery after all. I hope so. I tried to convince Jim we should just sail off, but with fog and darkness he says we’d need electric power for our radar and GPS. I guess he’s right, but I’m so freaked out now, I don’t want him to be gone, I don’t wnt to be here anymore…

 

2200 SL. I am so scared. Jim still hasn’t come back, and it’s been almost two hours! I’ve been screaming for him for so long now that I’m hoarse and I still hear nothing back. I can’t see anything for the fog. I wish I could stop crying. I wish Jim were back. I am activating the EPIRB now, I hope someone comes soon!

 

2210 SL. Oh god I think he’s coming. I hear the oars in the water. I’m locking myself in. Maybe if I’m very quiet I can hide. Need to turn the lantern…

 

[END OF LOG]

CG Commentary: While the EPIRB transmitted for only about 15 minutes, it was enough to get a general fix. Both SV Seraph and SV Ninia were found apparently unharmed, anchored safely and with dinghies attached but no sign of crew. Parties with information about the whereabouts or activities of the two vessels prior to the time of the activation of the EPIRB, or information about the vessel Demeter please contact this station. Ref#1031004315634

 

Happy Halloween!

 

“Incident Report first appeared in the October 2002 edition of 48° North. We held a contest for the best Halloween story that year and the winner was “Incident Report” a nice piece of fiction, by Alexander T. Weinert.