Short Story: Concerning a Boat Haunting
Note: I the changed names of those involved because I may be a dick, but I’m not an asshole.
All boats have their ghost stories: old spirits of dead sailors still attached to the ship, seeing things late at night when you’re alone in the ocean, waking up with the feeling of something near you, watching. These are stories for late at night. Told during the hours of 12-4am when everyone else is sleep except for your watch, and there is nothing else to do but kill time. As with most stories, few are true, most are bullshit, all are exaggerated, but our story occurred while I was in earshot. How much of it really happened remains debatable.
We begin, as always, in the water – off the coast of Morro Bay, CA.
An average public sail begins on an average Sunday. The boat crosses the bar, people start puking, and everything goes according to schedule. Then, the weather takes a turn. A squall line appears, and the crew prepares accordingly. The squall hits, sail is taken in, and then the crew feels a sharp jolt… almost as if a submerged object has struck the bow of the boat. The vessel is about three miles off shore and there are over 40 paying passengers aboard; as discretely and efficiently as possible, the crew checks all compartments for possible flooding.
At this time, Kathy, a long-term volunteer, is down below doing galley duty. A crew member comes down, checks the area, tells Kathy to keep an eye on the bilge, and goes back on deck. Kathy continues galley duty until she makes a quick trip to the head. This much of the story is fact.
Kathy’s version of what happened after that:
“I’m in the head, doing my business, and I hear what sounds like a person moving around in the stall next to me. I assume that a crewmember came down to use the heads a bit early without my noticing because when you have the music on in the galley you can’t always hear people come into the main hold. The stalls go all the way down to the floor, so I can’t really check, but I know there’s someone in there with me. Then the lights go out.
“I just think, whatever, this person didn’t hear me come into the head and turned off the lights as I was leaving. It happens. So I shout ‘Hey! I’m in here!” and the lights go back on.
“Then it starts getting a little weird because this person doesn’t say anything or leave; I hear them moving around outside my stall door. At this point, I start thinking maybe a passenger came down without a crewmember. I finish my business and try to leave my stall. The lock is off, the handle moves, and the door starts to open outwards, but then there’s this resistance – someone’s holding the door shut on the other side.
“I shove against the door, and say, ‘Knock it off,” thinking someone’s messing with me. The door immediately opens, but no one’s in the compartment with me. There’s no way anyone could have moved that quickly or silently without me noticing, but I open the door and check the main hold in case there’s a passenger down below without supervision or if someone’s playing a joke on me. No one was in the main hold, the companionway going up on deck is shut and I can see people sitting on the hatch. No one left the compartment, and there’s no one in the galley. I even check all the stalls in the head to make sure no one’s hiding in there, but I’m alone.
“So I’m moderately freaked out at this point, but I go back in the heads to wash my hands, trying to convince myself that I’m imagining things. I’m bending over the sink, looking in the mirror, and I know no one else is in there with me, but I can hear something behind me breathing. You know that feeling you get when someone’s staring at you? Like that, only a thousand times worse. Then something shoves against the small of my back, not hard, but like enough to move me forward, and I feel something go past me. And I am so done.
“I run out of the heads, into the main hold, and just hide in this spot in the galley, shaking. About two minutes later, Jessie comes down into the main hold to make dinner. I tell her what happened, she goes into the head, comes out with this look on her face, grabs some, I think they were herbs or spices, from the galley, and walks back into the head. She’s in there for about five minutes. Then she comes out and all she says is, “I got rid of it’ and starts cooking dinner, calm as you please. I mean… what the hell!?”
This is the story I got from Kathy. It took me another two months to get Jessie to tell me what happened when she was alone in the head.
This is what Jessie told me:
“I’ve always been able to sense ghosts. It’s just a thing. My mom can too, but she sees them more vividly than I do, but I think that’s because I don’t really want to see them like she does. When I was a kid my mom taught me to picture this golden light surrounding me, and that always made me feel safe and able to keep those things at a distance. Occasionally, I see hazes of things, but I can ignore it if I want to. It’s not something that really scares me; it’s just a part of my life.
“Anyway, when this happened, I came down into the galley at my usual time to start dinner, but I took one look at Kathy’s face and knew something wasn’t right – she was a standing in the corner of the galley with this terrified look on her face, shaking. She told me what happened in the head. I went in to check it out.
“As soon as I walked in, I felt it moving in the corner. Now, when I want to, I guess the best way to describe it is ‘talk to a spirit’ I drop my defenses, that golden bubble, and call it to me. Usually, I’ll let it pass into and through me, and then I get an understanding of it – what it wants, etcetera etcetera. But I called it to me and stopped right before it could pass into me. It just… it didn’t feel like any spirit or ghost I’d even encountered before – it didn’t feel right, you know?
“I look into the mirror, and I see this dark mass right over my shoulder, like it’s clinging to my back, and… I don’t want to say ‘demon’ but it wasn’t human energy and it was definitely purely negative. It felt vindictive. I think, when we felt that jolt, we ran over something and it hopped aboard.
“Anyway, my mom taught me that to get rid of these things you have to change the energy in the room. Basic physics, you know? So I get some salt and sage from the galley – salt and sage are conductors for energy – and sprinkle them in a circle. I say a few things in the mirror, and negative energy is forced out. That’s about it.”
To this day, Jessie won’t tell me what she said in the mirror. She says I’ll think that she’s a ‘totally nutcase.’
These are the sides of the story. I know people who think the whole thing is pure bullshit; and I know people who nod and say, “Yeah, Jessie’s really good with things like that.”
This is what I know:
The main hold of the Lady Washington is set up so that if there is a flood, water can’t leak into any of the other compartments. There is only one way into the main hold. Taking the companionway into the main hold leads you into the galley. Picture a twenty foot square with three separate areas: main hold on the left, galley and heads on the right. The galley is to the right of the companionway, separated from the main hold by a counter. Turn to the left, go through a door on your right, and you will be in the heads. It is impossible to get in and out of the main hold, heads, or galley without being seen or heard.
In regards to the reliability of the story tellers, Jessie is not your average pre-tween. For one, she doesn’t read Twilight – she reads science fiction and trashy romance novels involving Scottish rogues and time traveling feminists. Jessie teaches belly dancing and, at sixteen, landing a full time job cooking three meals a day for fifteen crewmembers on board the S/V Lady Washington. In short, while other sixteen-year-olds were writing bad poetry and crying, Jessie was getting her GED in awesome.
Her mother, Danni, is a tribal belly dancer, tall ship sailor, and professional bad-ass, has zero tolerance for bullshit, and raised her child right. People who have the opportunity to get to know this mother-daughter team never met or will meet two women that they could trust and admire more. So when someone like Danni or Jessie says they can see ghosts, you believe it. Because these people aren’t saying shit like, “I can sense your aura” or using it to get attention; it just comes out matter of fact when the topic is forced out of them. I trust these people. These people get enough attention for being amazing without their spirit stories.
Kathy is a sweet girl, but she’s a bit of a drama queen. I don’t always trust her perspective.
There are the facts. Think what you will.
In the meantime, here’s a picture of a creepy boat.