Description: It was the adventure of a life time. In an obscure marina off the shores of Maryland a schooner unlike any other ever built was discovered. Dorian and Diana Coe purchased the schooner and sailed from the shores of tranquility into the bowels of hell itself.
Prurient tales of suicide, murder, and the disappearance of an entire crew were hand written within the ship’s logs.
On her decks sailed a well seasoned Captain and crew that never knew the schooner’s shadowed past. The new owners ignored the words of men with integrity and sailed the Black Witch in the Spring of 1935.
Into the realms of illusion and pure evil the ship and its compliment sailed never knowing the fate awaiting them!
The year of our Lord, 1935:
Water rippled lazily, skirting the no wake sign standing stolidly close by the end of the pier. Custom yachts, sport-fishing boats, ski boats, and a wide assortment of both old and new vessels nestled in their berth as far as you could see. The mooring lines gently creaked and groaned from the smaller boats drifting out away to the ends of their lines, only to drift back again. The boats drifted slowly until their bumpers compressed themselves again against the faded wooden planks of the dock.
Sea gulls rested themselves upon the wooden pilings supporting a weathered walkway leading to the boats moored at the far end of the marina. They glided silently overhead through the mid-day sky, crying out when a stranger approached them from below.
Gene Avery had been a yacht salesman for nearly six years and had never had a client to arrive at the scheduled time for an appointment. At times this could be a very frustrating arrangement. He had missed his lunch again and his inner thoughts were starting to turn to sarcasm toward his potential clients.
Mooring slip number thirty-four always seemed to have a run-down appearance. It was not that number thirty-four was different from any of the other slips at the marina. Still, since the arrival of the schooner the appearance of everything surrounding it had seem to lose its charm. Sales had begun to slowly decline. She was big, black, and ugly, yet it was difficult to not feel attracted to her. As you stood looking at her, there was an underlying beauty that was not to be denied.
Gene stood and studied her from the dock. A great deal of money would have to be spent to restore this old tub. Gene knew he would be happy for a sale on this vessel, not only for the bonus he was promised, but also for the relief of knowing the old eyesore was gone for good.
Gene turned away from the schooner and watched the young couple approach him. In his mind, he sized them up so he may make the proper approach and not destroy any chances he had of making a sale. He quickly stepped up to them flashing his big smile and shaking their hands in turn as introductions were made.
“Well sir, as you can see, the schooner is as I described her to you. Come on aboard and we will examine her, so you can see she is still seaworthy. The necessary repairs will take some time, but her hull is as strong as the day her keel was laid. A better price on a vessel like this can’t be found anywhere.”
Gene flashed his salesman’s smile again and ushered the young couple up the gangplank and onto the schooner’s deck. They inspected her decks fore and aft, both above and below decks, knocking on wood here and there looking for signs of rot, and if so how much damage it had caused. Dorian Coe knew ships and knew them well. By trade he was a ship builder and also helped in designing them. His wife, Diana, had spent most of her life on vessels of all sizes. Boats were of a second nature to the both of them. Dorian turned slightly in his tracks to face the salesman. “Mr. Avery, would you excuse us for a moment? We would like to go below once more before we make any kind of decision.”
Avery smiled. “Please take all the time you need. If you wish, I could leave you two alone and meet you back at the office at your convenience.” Mr. Avery smiled and offered his hand.
“That would be acceptable, thank you very much.” Dorian shook hands with Avery and watched him descend the gangplank and walk back up the pier.
Diana stood leaning against a bulkhead below decks. Dorian stuck his head through the hatch and spotted her smiling face. She wriggled her finger and winked at him. “Follow me sailor, there is something I want to show you.”
Dorian followed her back to the main salon and flopped himself down on a pair of ragged cushions. Diana stood by a cracked and tarnished porthole. Dorian waited patiently as she stood with her arms folded beneath her breast.
Diana spoke softly. “You know it would cost us a minor fortune to refit this schooner, don’t you?”
Dorian nodded. “But, once it is finished, it would be purely magnificent.”
Diana took a stroll around the salon, lightly rubbing her fingertips across the fine-grained trim. “Do you see all this Mahogany and Teak wood? By the time we replace all of the wood that has rotted, and the metal that has rusted out, rework all the trim, we will have almost built an entirely new schooner for the money we spent refitting her. The addition of radio equipment and other necessities we’ll have to have will be enough to nearly bankrupt us.”
It was a fact Diana knew her vessels well, but it really annoyed him that she was always calling a ship a boat and vice-versa. Dorian sat thoughtfully examining the interior of the salon. She was right! To refit this schooner was going to be very expensive. He wanted her, and wanted her more than anything he could ever remember wanting. He needed time to convince Diana that the schooner could be fixed up at a reasonable price and that may take more than just a little finesse. Dorian meant to have the schooner regardless! Rising to his feet, he approached Diana with a wistful look in his dark gray eyes.
“I would suggest we go back to Mr. Avery’s office and get the ship’s log for this beauty. Then, we will put a small deposit down on it until we can check the schooner out thoroughly. If we like what we see and the price is right we’ll buy it. If not, we take our deposit and look for something else.”
Diana’s thoughts were of a different nature. A “beauty” the schooner was not, but it had great potential. She was not easily fooled, and in her heart she knew Dorian would have this schooner or bust.
Mr. Avery sat behind his desk calculating the profit he could possibly make from the sale of the schooner. He had known very little about the young couple inspecting, what he so often referred to as the floating shipwreck. They would be impressed with the shine of the brass and then the sale would be exceedingly simple from there. He had to resist the urge to laugh out loud just thinking about it. From the appearance of these people, they had never set foot on anything larger than their neighbor’s Ski boat.
Hearing the tinkle of the bell above the door, Mr. Avery looked up to see the young couple entering his office. He came out from behind his cluttered desk and offered them a seat and some refreshments.
Dorian and Diana accepted the proffered chairs and sat quietly as they waited for Mr. Avery to take his seat behind the desk.
“Now, what did you think of her, Mr. Coe?” Mr. Avery asked anxiously.
“The old girl needs a lot of work Mr. Avery. Before we can make any kind of decision, there are some things I need to go over before we can do business. Dorian noticed a sudden change in Avery’s facial expression. Mr. Avery quickly changed gears and went on the defensive. “What would you need to continue our discussion on the sale of such a fine vessel?”
“I will be requiring the coast guard certificates of inspection for the past ten years, and also, any and all ship’s logs since the keel was first laid. We will also need a copy of the certificates of ownership from the previous owners, and current registry for the schooner to be legally in this port.”
Dorian smiled and nodded at Mr. Avery as he sat behind his desk with a look of distaste dominating his heavily jowled face.
“I suppose we could work something out on that, Mr. and Mrs. Coe. I feel like you already know that it would take some time to gather the documents you are requesting. To hold the schooner for that length of time would require a deposit of five thousand dollars. The deposit would then be forwarded toward the sale of the vessel, and therefore not refundable if you should decide not to purchase the vessel.” Mr. Avery sat on the edge of his chair, briefly studying their faces for any kind of reaction.
Dorian felt Avery was playing him for a fool. He made his move and decided Avery could take it, or leave it. “If you wish to make a sale on this schooner Mr. Avery it will be done on my terms. I will give you the deposit you ask for, however, if the sale is not completed, the full amount of the deposit will be returned. We will expect that to be in the contract. Furthermore sir; if those documents are not on the premises, you sir, are in violation of maritime law. Now sir, if you will be so kind as to retrieve those documents I will write you a check and be on my way. Unless, you have decided the schooner is not for sale.”
Mr. Avery’s face reddened deeply as he rose from his chair and pulled the box of documents from his safe. This customer had been grossly misjudged. He had never been embarrassed so thoroughly or politely by anyone in his entire career. Avery was sweating profusely and was very relieved when Mr. and Mrs. Coe had left his office.
Dorian and Diana put the box of documents on the back seat of their car and drove home. A new adventure was about to begin for them, and the tales started in the ship’s logs. They could hardly wait to begin reading them. There was no doubt in Dorian’s mind the salesman thought he was a fool.
Dinner that evening was filled with anticipation. The lure of the log books sitting in the box by the fireplace was to say the least, a test for their patience. They both failed! Dinner had to be postponed, and the rush was on to see, which of them would get to start reading the logs first.
The logs had been dated on the outside of the bindings with gum labels. Reaching into the box, Dorian pulled out the first log, dated 1907. Opening the cover, he discovered the ink used to make the entries was
already fading. This would make it difficult to read, almost impossible on some of the pages. It had been written in old English long hand. A man named Jonas Z. Bookmeyer had been the schooner’s Captain on her maiden voyage.
Captain Bookmeyer had come out of retirement to sail an unknown schooner, for people only interested in luxury sailing. This was a bit unusual for a Captain who had spent his life at sea aboard tea clippers.
His first entry in the new log had explained who he was, but not why he had taken this ship to command. It did not fall within the range of his character or his stern disposition. In the tradition of many older sea captains, he was by nature, a strict disciplinarian while commanding the graceful Clippers. You would stop and wonder how a man such as this would tolerate the life styles of the new owners.
The schooner had been originally christened as “The Black Witch.” On May 2nd of 1908 they sailed from Baltimore, Maryland to the port of Wilmington, North Carolina and welcomed the new owners and their guests. Enough provisions were taken aboard to last for four months. Much to Captain Bookmeyer’s disapproval, many cases of wine, rum, and Scotch whiskey were also taken aboard. The Captain was immediately reprimanded for voicing his disapproval. To his dismay, the owners had admonished him in front of his crew. This served to destroy the respect for his orders when given to the crew to carry them out.
Lack of respect for the ship’s Captain causes many problems on a voyage of any length. She set sail from Wilmington bound for the Florida Keys, and then on to the coast of Barbados. She was nearly capsized while sailing through the Bermuda Triangle.
The incident occurred when Captain Bookmeyer ordered all hands to man their stations. A squall was starting to build and two waterspouts had been sighted about one league off of the starboard bow. The crew had taken too long to reef the sails in the gale force winds, causing the Black Witch to heel hard over. An eighteen-foot swell hit her on the port side sweeping the entire deck of anything that wasn’t battened down. Two crewmen were swept away during the sudden storm. The storm cleared more suddenly than it had started.
The owners and passengers had been frightened out of their wits. Threats of charges being brought against the Captain, when and if they ever reach port became serious. The Captain advised the owners that the fault for the incident lay with them, for not letting him discipline his crew in proper fashion.
He had no way of convincing them of the difference between the laws of the sea and the laws concerning the behavior of men who walked the streets of American cities. To the owners he was simply barbaric.
Two weeks out of port and members of the crew were beginning to languish on deck as if it were a pleasure cruise for them. The Captain immediately issued punishment for the belligerent crewmembers. The new owners threatened to replace him with the schooner’s first officer. Captain Bookmeyer reminded them of the charter they had signed with him, and he could not be replaced until the voyage was over, unless, he had violated maritime law. At that point in time he had not violated any laws.
The reports of foul weather, extensive damage to the ship, and last but not least, mutiny were detailed in the log. The crew had been jealous of the comfort and fine dining the passengers was enjoying. They lay in their bunks at night and listened to the drunken revelry, knowing they were only allowed a sailor’s meager fare and no alcohol. They had braved the weather to keep her afloat. They had repaired the damages when the winds threatened to rake her from stem to stern, even serving as laborers to bring the insolent passengers their food and whiskey.
Any sign of appreciation for their services was not forthcoming. Then they had to contend with their Captain. A common cur was held in higher esteem than his crew.
On June 22nd, 1908, the crew of The Black Witch committed the ultimate crime, MUTINY! While anchored off of the coast of Cuba, the owners and the passengers were taken as hostages while the crew set sail for places unknown.
A telegram was received by the United States Consulate in England to be on the lookout for the schooner. It had been sent by a crewmember from origins unknown.
The Black Witch was discovered under full sail off the coast of Brazil in October of 1909. She was boarded by officers and men of the H.M.S. Heritage and sailed back to the United States. The attached report also stated the only person found on board at the time of discovery was the ship’s Captain. He had committed suicide by hanging himself. There was no sign of any disturbance on, or below decks, nor was there any sign of loss in the ship’s provisions. The ship’s log had been completed within four hours of her being boarded.
After the port authorities had finished their investigation the schooner was put up for sale and sold at auction for barely what it costs to construct it. She sat in port for nearly five years before she would sail again.
The original bill of sales and all other documents of ownership have never been recovered. Diana thumbed back through the pages of the ship’s log. 1907 was almost as far away for her as Greek Mythology. Trying to read the scrawl of an aging Captain Ahab was not a simple task by any means. Thinking of the maiden voyage, she pictured in her mind the tale in a gothic novel.
“Dorian, the name of this schooner in the ship’s log indicated the original owners wanted something unique. The way they had it painted; it would have surely been the subject of many conversations whenever she sailed into any port around the world. She had to have been a spectacular sight!” Diana’s face beamed with delight as she pictured the schooner under full sail upon the open sea.
Dorian picked up the next logbook lying inside the box and looked at the leather bound cover thoughtfully. “What do you think happened after the crew had taken over the ship? If you think about it, someone had to have seen this vessel during the time she was missing. Why didn’t somebody report seeing her? It was officially missing for about fourteen months. During that period of time, the world trade market had the seas crossed with ships of all kinds. How do you hide a ship as unique as this one?”
Diana sipped on her glass of tea, still flipping the pages of the log. “We do know one of the members of the crew was dissatisfied with his fellow mutineers. If not, he would not have taken the chance of getting off a telegram to the authorities? I do find it hard to believe Bookmeyer killed himself. I believe it was murder. Men like the good Captain are too well disciplined, honor bound, to ever shame their family’s name by committing suicide.
The crew probably had problems choosing a leader and sticking with him. I imagine there were quite a few fights over the women passengers, as far as who was going to whom and for how long. To even try to hide this schooner, she would have had to be repainted. Someone, somewhere, still had to have seen her before this could have been accomplished. There are a lot of questions about this schooner that will always be impossible to truly answer.
Her reduction from, a three masted schooner to a two masted sailing vessel, is strange to me, and I don’t think mutineers usually make sure the ship’s log is kept up to date, as this one was. The difference in the two handwriting styles is quite evident also. The thing that strikes me as most peculiar was finding her under full sail that close to Brazil. It should have either run aground, or the crew should have been captured within the time frame the authorities talked about.”
“There are a lot of differences in the description of this schooner and the one we were aboard today.” Dorian reached out for the ship’s log in Diana’s hand. She handed it back to him, and watched as he placed it back in the box with the others. He had put the next log on the carpeting next to him. The date noted on the label was, May 2nd, 1914. Dorian’s brow furrowed slightly as he handed the logbook to his wife.
“Talk about coincidence, look at the date on this one.” Dorian said as she accepted the book.
“They must have thought May was a good month for sailing back then, she laughed jokingly. “It is my turn to read this one, just sit back and relax, big boy.”
Diana opened the cover and began to read aloud. The ship’s log was written in a manner much different from the first one. The writer of this log was obviously a well-educated and very refined younger man.
Mr. Andrew Lafayette Davenport purchased The Black Witch at public auction on March 6, 1914.
Due to the condition of his newly purchased vessel, it would sit in dry dock being repaired until late in April.
Davenport, like his father, was an industrialist. His love and passion in life was to sail around the world in a schooner befitting a man of his reputation and feel for the fine things in life. Although his net worth was more than the average man could imagine, he always hunted for the bargains. The Black Witch was a bargain to him at any price! Mr. Davenport contacted the very best maritime architects that money could buy.
For several days they held meetings in his office trying to give him everything he was demanding for the schooner. Some of the changes could not possibly be done without upsetting the balance of the ship. He demanded them anyway. There are some things in life which money cannot buy. These changes could not be bought at any price. Andrew showed his disappointment by firing them all, and then hiring them back again the following day.
Each day he would visit the docks and inspect the progress of the tradesmen. No one was allowed on board during his inspection tours. His last tour of inspection was two days before he was to set sail. Everything was in order and ready to sail on his command.
Mr. Davenport had turned over all of his corporate control to his father for the duration of his absence. He had no doubts that his business interests were in capable hands.
May 2nd, 1914, the voyage had begun, leaving New York harbor in the dawning hours of a new day. Mr. Davenport sailed with thirteen passengers and a skeleton crew. He had planned to pick up more crewmembers when they reached Biminis. His chest swelled with pride as he stood upon her deck, leaning on the taffrail looking toward the delicate curve of her bow. The brass and gold gilt glimmered in the sunlight. She had been painted a deep chocolate brown, with a gleaming white stripe painted amidships. Her rails had the sheen of fine furniture, quite unusual for a ship of the sea. But he always, almost always, got what he wanted. One does not tell Mr. Davenport no! Her pure white sails of the finest canvas were billowing in the wind, a vision of beauty for any man to behold. The Coup de gras’, she had been freshly christened the Angelique, a name he had filed away in his mind for just such a time as this. His guests were genuinely impressed with the schooner. They had sailed on luxury ships, but none to compare with the personal service and comfort they were being treated to now.
Forty miles off of Cape Charles, sailing under fair winds on a southeasterly course; they were forced to make a change in their plans. The chef had been bitten by a spider and taken seriously ill. The nearest port with a doctor was Wilmington, North Carolina. Mr. Davenport ordered the immediate change of course and proceeded under full sail for Wilmington. The crewmember died four hours prior to docking. Port authorities detained Mr. Davenport, his crew, and his guests until a physician could determine a cause of death.
The Angelique set sail again three days later with a course plotted for Nassau in the Bahamas. A temporary cook was hired in the port city until a proper chef could be found. A member of Davenport’s staff found a chef for him and his guests then met them off the coast of Florida. The transition took place exchanging the cook, for a chef from a well-known restaurant in Louisiana.
The chef was Cajun, with particular notions as to how his galley should be complimented. He became adamant about the changes with Mr. Davenport, or he would refuse to cook dinner for his guests. Mr. Davenport finally gave in to his demands and agreed to have the changes made, along with the special spices and condiments he desired. These would be purchased at their next port of call. Meanwhile the chef would be expected to perform his duties to the absolute best of his abilities.
While sailing through the Bermuda Triangle, they were stranded in a dead calm. For two weeks the schooner moved not an inch. Tempers flared in the broiling heat of the day. Staying in control of the situation was difficult, to say the very least. For a man of lesser intellect, it would have been impossible! To add to the misery, the Angelique began to take on water. By noon of the eighth day, the bilge pumps were being manned around the clock by all hands. The exceptions being Mr. Davenport and the chef. The chef had refused to soil his hands, sinking or not.
The breeze began to stiffen on the eve of the fourteenth day. It was reported to Mr. Davenport by midnight the schooner was no longer taking on water, and her bilges were bone dry! It was just as if she had never leaked at all.
Mr. Davenport began to suspect the schooner had been sabotaged as they sat besieged by the dead calm. An investigation was held by the first officer to discover the person or persons responsible for the problems that had arisen.
The first mate was found in his cabin nine days later, murdered. His head had been bashed in with a belaying pin as he slept in his bunk. Authorities in the islands did not show any concern for the crime. Therefore, did not interrogate, nor arrest anyone for the murder of Thomas Quinton. The deed was not uncommon for ships sailing in these waters. Mr. Davenport was told to administer his own justice for any crime committed aboard his ship. They were not allowed to interfere unless the crime was committed on the island itself.
Fresh provisions were added to the ship’s stores and they set sail for open waters. Four new crewmen had been added to the ship’s compliment. They were comprised of three former British sailors and a native from the islands. His blackened skin stood in contrast to the rest of the people aboard the schooner. Mr. Davenport made him his personal attendant for the rest of the voyage.
Diana looked up from the log, staring into the dancing fire in the hearth.
“Dorian, the things we are reading in these logs remind me of the movies or books we have been reading. I really do find some of this hard to believe! Davenport wrote his log more like a journal than a ship’s log.”
Dorian reached over into the box and picked up the rest of the ship’s logs with the intention of thumbing through them. He wanted to see if the rest of them had the same kind of horror tales being told as in the first two volumes.
To his genuine amazement, the rest of the logs were empty! The pages had aged, but it was apparent nothing had ever been written on them. The covers had been dated just as the first two had been; still, the pages on the inside were blank. Dorian was angry at this obvious attempt to hide the past of this schooner.
He threw the empty logbooks across the room, bouncing them off of the walls. Diana jumped from her sitting position and backed away from him.
“What in the world is wrong with you?” She screamed.
Dorian whirled on her. “The rest of the log books are blank! That salesman is trying to hide something from us. I guess the idiot didn’t think we would actually read them.” Dorian started making his way back toward the kitchen.
Diana called to him from the den. “What are you going to do?”
“I am going to call Gale Ritchie. He knows every ship ever built in these waters. He’ll have a record on it somewhere.”
Dialing Gale’s number, Dorian listened to it ring about a dozen times before it was answered by a drunken voice on the other end of the line. “Hello damn it, who is this?”