In August 1920, the Carroll A. Deering set sail from Norfolk, Virginia, in tip-top shape, with an experienced captain and a crew of 10 men bound for Rio de Janeiro with a cargo of coal. However, five months later, on January 31, 1921, the five-masted schooner was discovered abandoned off the coast of present-day Cape Hatteras National Seashore. At the time, she was returning to Newport News from a trip to Brazil.
The ship departed on August 22, and although Captain William H. Merritt fell ill a few days later and had to be replaced by the hastily-recruited Captain W. B. Wormell, the ship delivered its cargo on schedule and set sail to return in December.
It is after setting homebound sail from Barbados when things started going horribly wrong. On January 29th, 1921 the ship was spotted by a lightship at Cape Lookout (North Carolina). A lightship is an anchored ship which guides other ships passing by with its lights and radio communication. The Captain of the lightship Jacobson heard a crewman from Carroll A. Deering hailing at him saying they had lost their anchors and that needed to be reported to the parent company (i.e. G G Deering). The ship Deering however did not stop and cruised past beyond sight.
Two days later, on January 31st 1921, Deering was found hard aground at Diamond Shoals, a water area located off the coast of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and fringed with reefs. Due to harsh sea conditions, it took time for the coast guards to approach and access the ship. They finally boarded the ship on February 4th in the morning. Abandonment was confirmed, crew, navigational equipment, belongings, and documents gone, but with a twist: dinner was on the stove and the captain’s cabin chaos. A few months later, the ship was hauled from the rocks and dynamited to eliminate hazard to other ships.
The mysterious circumstances of the wreck became the subject of investigation which included a visit to Dare County from the FBI. Various explanations for the cause surfaced, including effects of the Bermuda Triangle, Bolshevik pirates, and mutiny. Although such explanations were discredited by investigation, the cause remains a mystery.
To this day, the Carroll A. Deering is one of the most discussed and written-about maritime mysteries of the 20th century, its enduring popularity no doubt fueled by the complete uncertainty as to how the ship arrived at its fate.