There are only a few things more terrible to encounter in the sea than an abandoned ship. The danger is minimal by day, but by night the ships sink into darkness without the slightest warning: the crash sways the ship from one side to the other.
These abandoned ships navigate the open seas either by a or by b from the current, or the wind if the sails are deployed. The seas wander similarly, whimsically altering their course.
More than a few of the steamships that never returned to port ,even when the seas were calm, have surely stumbled upon one of these silent ships that travel by their own accord. There is always the possibility of discovering one at any minute. Luck has it that the current usually swirls them up in the Sargasso sea. The boats finally come to a rest, here or there, forever frozen in this liquid desert. In this state they remain until they slowly begin to crumble. But more arrive every day, taking their silent place, so that the silent and gloomy desert is always haunted.
The principal motive for these abandoned ships are, without a doubt, storms and fires that send these black skeletons wandering adrift. But there remain singular cases, one of which was the Maria Margarita, which set sail from New York on August 24th, 1903 and that on the morning of the 26th was encountered by a corvette ship. The Maria Margarita showed no signs of life. Four hours later and without a response, a group of men were sent over on a small boat and boarded the Maria Margarita. There was no one on board. The mariner’s shirts were still drying over the bow. The kitchen stove was still lit. A sewing machine had the needle poised over a stitch, as if it had been abandoned only a moment before. There was not the slightest sign of a fight or panic, everything was in perfect order. Yet everyone was gone. What had happened?
The night that I discovered all of this we were all together on the deck. We were headed to Europe and the captain told us his stories of life at sea. All absolutely true, of this we can be sure.
The feminine audience, won over by the suggestion of the living seas, heard a cracking noise. The nervous women unknowingly lent themselves to the restless hoarse voice of the mariners on the bow. A very young and recently married woman dared to speak,
“Could it have been eagles?”
The captain smiled kindly,
“What’s that, miss? Eagles that carried off an entire crew?”
Everyone including the young woman began to laugh, albeit nervously.
Luckily, a fellow passenger knew a bit about this situation. We all gazed at him in curiosity. He had been an excellent passenger during the trip, admired for his wallet, his risks, and the fact that he spoke little.
“Ah! Yes, please. Tell us, sir.” Begged the young woman who suggested it had been eagles.
“I am without prejudice or bias” the discreet man confirmed. He spoke briefly, “In the Northern Sea, like the captain’s Maria Magdalena, we once found a sailboat. Our course — we also traveled with sails — carried us directly to their side. The singular appearance of abandonment, which cannot be mistaken with a ship, called our attention and we slowed down in order to observe them more carefully. We finally sent out a small vessel but no one was on board and everything was in perfect order. But the last diary entry was dated four days earlier, so we found no real reason for concern. We even laughed a bit about the disappearances we had heard so much about.
Eight of our men stayed on board to help govern the new ship. We continued our travel cautiously. By nightfall we had made up ground on our journey. We returned to the vessel the following day, but saw no one on board. Sending the small vessel out again, the new men searched the ship in vain: everyone had disappeared. Not a single object was out of place. The sea was absolutely calm as it extended out over the horizon. A pot of potatoes were left boiling in the kitchen.
As you will come to understand, the superstitious fears in all the men reached its peak. After a long debate, six men were brave enough to enter the abyss and I was among them. As soon as we boarded, my new shipmates decided to drink to wash away their fears. They were seated in a circle and when the time came most of us began to sing.
It was noon and already past the midday siesta. At four the breeze subsided and the sails went limp. One of us peaked overboard at the oily sea. All of us were now pacing the ship, without the desire to converse. One of us sat on a rolled up rope and dried his shirt in order to patch it up. He sewed in concentrated silence. All of a sudden the man sprang up and let out a long whistle. The other ship had returned. He looked out at them with puzzled eyes, as if surprised at their return, before sitting back down to resume his work. A moment later, he threw down the shirt, drew close to the side boards and plunged himself into the water. Hearing the sound, the others turned their heads marked with confused looks and furrowed brows. They brushed off the instance a moment later and returned to their communal apathy.
A moment later another began to stretch, he rubbed his eyes while he walked and plunged himself into the water. Half an hour went by, the sun was beginning to set. I suddenly felt a man touching my shoulder,
“What time is it?”
“Five” I responded. The old man who had asked me the question looked at me distrustfully, with his hands in his pockets while leaning against a wall in front of me.
He distractedly stared at my pants for a while. Finally he took the plunge into the water.
The three remaining men rushed over quickly and inspected the dissipating waves. They sat on the guardrail slowly whistling into the vanishing horizon. One came down and laid down on the deck, exhausted. The other two disappeared, one after the other. By six, the last man (he stood up, arranged his clothing), parted his hair in the front, he walked half asleep to the edge and plunged into the water.
So now I was left alone, staring like an idiot over the desert sea. Everyone, without knowing what they were doing, had sunk themselves into the sea, captured in a deadly sleepwalk that hung about the ship. When one threw himself into the water the others followed, momentarily hesitant, as if they remembered something only to forget it a moment later. This is how everyone disappeared, and I suppose that the same had happened the day before, and to the other mariners, and the other ships. That is all.”
We all paused staring at the strange man with explicit curiosity.
“You never felt anything?” My cabin mate asked him.
“Sure; a great indifference and determination toward the same idea, but nothing more. I’m not sure why I didn’t feel anything more. I assume that the motive is this: instead of exhausting myself in a distressed defense at all costs against what I felt, as everyone should have done, even the mariners without realizing it, I sincerely accepted my hypnotic death, as if I were already dead. Something very similar had undoubtedly happened to the guards of that famous brigade who night after night plunged themselves into the water.
As his commentary was a bit complicated, no one said a word. A little later our narrator retired to his cabin. The captain followed him with his eyes.
“A phony.” he murmured.
“On the contrary” said a sickly shipmate, who was on his way to die in his homeland. “If he were a phony, he wouldn’t have stopped thinking the way he did, and he too would have plunged himself into the water.”