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Monday, December 17, 2018

Decemystery 15: The Inkerman and the Cerisoles

Come sail away, come sail away, come sail away with me!
Disappearances are nothing new. They happen for an array of reasons. Sometimes someone wishes to run away from the life they have and start anew; their previous life having been mired by misery and misfortune. Other times, the person (or persons) were the victim of foul play—or simply got lost and died to exposure or dehydration/starvation. Or the wildlife got them.

Then there are instances of planes going missing. Engine failure or getting lost happens—and yet despite what the media lead you to believe, airline travel is still the safest way to travel. Regardless, the legendary disappearances of Flight 19 in the Bermuda Triangle and Amelia Earhart captivate and scare people to this very day.

However, on the opposite end of the spectrum of normality is the disappearances of ships and/or their crew. I've always found ghost ships to be really dang creepy. Sailors spend their lives out at sea, navigating weather and the vast oceans. For all intents and purposes, their disappearances shouldn't happen easily. But they do, and they're easily some of the most unsettling unsolved mysteries out there. And as luck would have it, thanks to my friend Tyler, I have a few of them I want to go over this month. With any luck, I won't fall victim to my own random disappearance due to life getting in the way. That said, our first venture into this topic: the Inkerman and Cerisoles.

Named after two major battles fought during the Crimean War and Italian War—and both sporting the nickname “Holy Grail”—the Inkerman and Cerisoles were two French minesweepers that were built in 1917, christened on November 11 of the following year and had their maiden voyage two days later. Though oddly, Wikipedia states that their maiden voyage was “in a storm on Lake Superior in 24 November, 1918”. Yet it also states it was the 13th of that month was the maiden voyage.

Regardless, the ships—along with sister ship the Sebastopol—left the harbor of Fort William, Ontario on the aforementioned date of November 24. The destination: the Atlantic Ocean. They'd take the northern shore of Lake Superior, which was where they'd departed from in Ontario, and the St. Lawrence River to reach the Atlantic. The crews of the Inkerman and Cerisoles were comprised of 76 French sailors and two Canadian captains: Captain R. Wilson and W.J. Murphy. Both were veterans had experience navigating waters both ferocious and calm. Unfortunately for them, the forecast called for bad weather.

Very bad weather.

As the ships reached further into Lake Superior, they were a blizzard. The winds were recorded as being upwards of 50 miles per hour. Complementing that were waves that reached 30 feet in height. Coupled with the heavy snowfall and all three ships eventually lost sight of each other. But don't take my word—or the word of my all-knowing source that is Wikipedia. No, take the word of a sailor that was aboard the Sebastopol.

“We had to get out the life boats [sic] and put on lifebelts ... the boat almost sank – and it was nearly 'goodbye' to anyone hearing from us again ... You can believe me, I will always remember that day. I can tell you that I had already given myself up to God.”

The power of the storm was so great that the waves eventually flooded a portion of the engine room on the Sebastopol—nearly putting out the coal fire in the ship's boiler. Luckily though, after two days of being ravaged by the storm, the ship arrived at Sault Ste. Marie at Eastern coast of Lake Superior. However, was quickly became apparent was that it was alone. The sister ships to the Sebastopol were nowhere to be found.

Days passed and rumors were birthed that the Inkerman and the Cerisoles had managed to sail to the St. Lawrence river without being noticed by a single soul. However, by that point, most had come to believe that the ship's were no more. Ten days later, on December 3, 1918, a search was launched. Alas, with wartime censorship, the effort was significantly smaller than it could have been and as a result, the public was left out of the picture. Not that it mattered though, because the public had no idea the ships were lost and it wouldn't be until the end of the year when wartime censorship ended that they'd learn.

Even then, the Inkerman and Cerisoles were never found. The ships both vanished and no trace of the 76 sailors—or the two captains—were ever officially found. Unofficially, in  1936, some fisherman on Michipicoten Island supposedly found two skeletons in worn out French Navy attire on the shore of West Sand Bay. Allegedly, they were still wearing their ID discs around their necks.

Hastily, the fishermen buried the skeletons an old wooden fish box without any sort of memorial mark on or near the grave. However, the ID discs are claimed to have been sent to the “proper” authorities.

There's no confirmation for this story from what I can see. So, take it with a grain of salt. That said, let's sail onward to the theories section.

The first theory's port is that aliens claimed the lives—and ships—that vanished on that fateful voyage. Evidence for this comes in two forms. The first is the obligatory claim that something vanishing without a trace immediately equals aliens. The second is that when in doubt: aliens. Beyond that, evidence for this theory can be found where one finds the existence of a Flat Earth.

The second theory's port is that the ships did make it to St. Lawrence river and… Well, sailed to the Atlantic and sunk. Or got lost. Or they all lived out their lives elsewhere for reasons I can't fathom. The likelihood that this theory is right is infinitely higher than aliens, but that's still unlikely simply due to the difficulty a ship built in eight months would have combatting a storm like the one they encountered. The cards were stacked against them all and if the story of the sailor aboard the Sebastopol is even remotely accurate, then I doubt they made it out.

Which brings us to theory three's port. They all sunk; swallowed by the sea and dying a frigid, unforgiving death. This theory stems from, well, common sense. The storm was a ferocious one and the ships all lost sight of each other. Although the captains may have been veterans, even the most seasoned sailor and Navy officer will tell you that mother nature is a bitch and will more often than not win a fight.

Although it may be fun to say that the Flying Dutchman claimed the two ships, the likely cause for their disappearance was a rogue wave or storm surge that swallowed them all—their watery graves now being at the bottom of the lake where they've probably become unrecognizable.

There's an old saying: “Lake Superior never gives up her dead”. That holds true to the Inkerman and Cerisoles. Their crew and the ships themselves are likely to never see the light of day unless by some stroke of dumb luck. One can only speculate to the events that transpired before the lake swallowed them. One thing is for sure though: it wasn't a pleasant death.


  1. Always love these stories of yours Vert, but I'm going to go with the rational side of my brain here, and say Mother Nature did them in.

    1. Yup, I agree. But who doesn't love to blame aliens?

  2. Tyler "Bio" RodriguezDecember 17, 2018 at 11:12 PM

    It remains the Canadian Navy's largest unsolved sinking incident. Its also the last time a warship sank in the Great Lakes, also the largest loss of life on the lakes. The fact a hundred years has passed without a peep is interesting. No evidence ever officially came up, that little story could be just that. A story. From an evidence standpoint they vanished into thin air. That usually doesnt happen in the lakes. There is usually something, even a minor hint of wreckage. Whatever took them down did it quick. Every year people try to find them. Every year nothing is found. They are almost as legendary as the Le Griffon at this point.