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The Strange Mystery of the Octavius

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In 1761, the magnificent 3-masted sailing vessel the Octavius left port in London, England, making a journey to China along with a full crew and the Captain’s wife and son. The trip went routinely, even arriving ahead of schedule and after its cargo had been unloaded and preparations had been made for the journey back, the Captain decided to take a bit of a gamble. The weather at the time was warm and calm, and so it was decided to take the at the time unproven Northwest Passage. At the time, this was a fabled sea route between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans that meandered through the Arctic Ocean along the coast of North America, and had long been seen as a short cut to Asia. However, during that era it was completely theoretical, no one had ever successfully attempted it, and for this Captain to try it was quite a risk, Nevertheless, they headed out in a bid to complete the passage anyway. And so this doomed vessel would go out into the unknown, to become a legendary high seas mystery.

The Northwest Passage was notoriously treacherous and icebound for large swaths, which was one of the reasons no one had ever been able to cross it, but the Octavius crew bet on the warm weather and pleasant conditions to help them through. They made their preparations, plotted a course, and went out into the great unknown, but the vessel was about to head off the face of the earth, the last time anyone ever saw it being its silhouette disappearing over the horizon. The Octavius never arrived in London, and after it missed its scheduled arrival by a large margin it was assumed it had met its fate in the ice choked Northern Passage like many others who had attempted it, and it was ultimately declared lost.

Over a decade later, in October of 1775, a whaling vessel called the Herald was out hunting the icy waters off of Greenland when they happened across an eerie sight. Out in the distance was spotted a schooner that seemed to be aimlessly drifting. When the Herald approached, they could see that there was no one on deck and that the ship appeared to have been abandoned, despite the fact that it looked to be in perfect working order and undamaged, albeit ravaged by the elements and its sails little more than limp tatters. Yet, although it was a little worse for wear the ship was in fine condition all things considered. Upon drawing closer and examining the mysterious ghost ship they were able to deduce that this was the long-lost Octavius, which sent a wave of shock through the baffled crew. Where had it been all of this time and what had happened to the crew? Why had it gone missing? The crew of the Herald meant to find out, sending a boarding party to investigate further.

When the boarding party warily climbed onto the Octavius, they did so to nothing but the sound of whipping wind and the waves lapping against the side of the aimless ship. Calls out to anyone aboard were met with silence, and it seemed as if no one had been there for a long time. Walking across the creaky, weather beaten deck, they prepared to penetrate down into the gloomy interior, lighting the way with lamps that sent out dancing flickering lights to banish the darkness. As they picked their way through the dim interior, they made their first macabre discovery among many, a man in his quarters who was frozen solid, apparently as if he had been in the middle of doing something. Delving further into the lost ship turned up more and more frozen bodies, all of them perfectly preserved and like insects stuck in amber, looking eerily like they had simply been suddenly frozen into place and time as they had been going about their daily business. The entire crew of 28 men were found in this condition, but it would really get weird when they reached the captain’s cabin.

As the boarding crew entered the room, they could see from behind that someone was sitting at the desk, looking so real and lifelike that they actually called out to whoever it was, but there was no answer. They soon found out why when they drew closer and saw that it was the captain, but that he had been frozen in place similarly to the rest of those who had been on board. His frigid, stature-like hand was still grasping a pen that hovered over the ship’s logbook, above an entry dated November 11, 1762. The rest of the still room was totally in order, the inkwell was neatly placed on the desk, nothing was out of place, and it all gave the spooky feeling that this man had simply been frozen within seconds. Even creepier than this was the grim discovery of his wife and kid, the two of them similarly frozen while wrapped in a blanket on a bunk bed.

A look at the logbook showed that the last location logged for the Octavius had been north of Utqiagvik, Alaska, about 250 miles north of Barrow, but there was no further information on what had become of the ship after that. All that was known was that, considering where it was found, the ship had managed to pass through the Northwest Passage after all, whether any one had been alive or not. The crew of the Herald was spooked enough at this time to make their departure, and this would be the last anyone has seen of the Octavius since, its fate unknown. The main theory is that the ship got stuck in the ice while trying to make its ill-fated run through the Northwest Passage, but this does little to explain why the crew were found so perfectly frozen without any sign of chaos or panic aboard. Unfortunately, the ship has never been seen again and so there is no way to know what exactly happened to it and its crew, or whether the story is even true or not.

The tale of the Octavius has gone on to become legendary, and has been retold with various changed details over time, although the main thrust of the story is the same, with the same surreal elements of the crew and captain frozen solid as if in the middle of doing everyday tasks. There is little in the way of actual, concrete corroboration on any of this, and the tale of the Octavius has passed over into the borderlands of maritime myth and legend, its exact circumstances and details lost to time.

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