Since the 1500s, over two-thousand ships have gone down off the North Carolina coast, leading to the nickname “the graveyard of the Atlantic.” With so many lost ships, it’s no wonder the area is haunted by the spirits of those who never returned to port.
In 1976, a yacht skippered by John Fielding almost joined their ranks. He was on a pleasure cruise with his wife and young daughter, when an unexpected storm blew up just as night fell. The high winds and rough waves snapped the cables needed to steer the yacht; suddenly, the ship was at the mercy of the elements. If the vessel didn’t overturn in the high waves, it would surely be dashed against the shoals which had claimed so many other ships.
Fielding knew the only hope of rescue lay with the Coast Guard. Fortunately, the radio was still operational, and soon the Coast Guard was on the way. While Fielding hunched over the radio, listening for updates, his wife called out that the Coast Guard had arrived. Puzzled because it hadn’t been long enough for a ship to arrive given the rough conditions, Fielding nevertheless hurried out of the cabin to greet their rescuers.
As the huge shadow of another ship hove alongside the troubled yacht, it resolved not into a Coast Guard cutter, but a large freighter. A voice called out from the deck high above, asking if assistance was needed.
In the flashes of lightning, Fielding could just make out the silhouette of a man, who identified himself as the freighter’s captain. “You’re headed for the bottom–abandon ship and come aboard!” he called down.
Knowing how dangerous it would be to attempt to board the freighter without trained rescue personnel on hand, Fielding declined and added that the Coast Guard was on the way. The freighter captain rather abruptly took his leave, claiming they needed to make room for the Coast Guard ship.
Shortly thereafter, the Coast Guard arrived and the family was saved. After the rescue, Fielding mentioned the freighter which had attempted to render assistance and asked the radio operator to check on the other vessel.
Shocked silence met his request. For the vessel and captain he’d named hadn’t been out to sea on that night. Rather, the freighter had been lost in a storm some years before, along with every soul aboard.
Had the freighter captain been trying to save the living family from the watery death he endured? Or was there some other purpose behind the encounter? What, after all, would have become of the family if they had accepted the invitation to come aboard?
No one will ever know. The Graveyard of the Atlantic does not easily give up its secrets.