The Lost Ship of the Desert – Historical Notes

I am going to be completely honest with this one. When I first came up with the idea of this one, I one hundred percent was thinking of that scene in Holes where the find a rowboat in the vast endless desert. It’s a fascinating image, a lost boat or ship, lying their useless with no water for miles. I then named this segment “The Lost Ship of the Desert”, decided to Google “ship found in desert” just to see what pops up, and learned the Lost Ship of the Desert is a thing.

There are two common versions of the ship, one being a Spanish explorer vessel, the other being a Viking ship (also likely an explorer vessel). In the Sorora Desert in California, several emigrants and travelers have remarked on seeing a ship, some claiming they could lead researchers to the exact location (only to have something stop them from getting there), others passing on tales. While certainly an interesting sight in the long expanse of any desert, this does have some reasoning behind it. This website explains it as so:

How could a ship come to rest on desert sands so far from salt water? One explanation holds that an exceptionally large tide from the Gulf of California may have collided with an exceptionally heavy runoff from the Colorado River at the delta, producing a flood which broke through the land barrier to the Salton Sea. The cresting waters could have carried a ship over the natural dam and down into the Salton Sea basin. The flood would have then retreated, leaving the vessel stranded.

With other explanations being very similar. The Spanish Galleon is the most common version I saw, but the Viking ship popped up quite a bit as well, occasionally as a ghost ship itself. The Los Angeles Star apparently reported on it up to 1870 (accounts ranging back to the 18th century), claiming that the hull was full of gold and bullion, printing any accounts that were told to them. I did find one confirmed example of a ship lost in the desert (and filled with treasure), a Portuguese ship called Bom Jesus on Namibia’s desert coastline. Miners and archaeologists found it after a long time searching.

I did slightly less research into sea shanties than I did into traditional cowboy songs, but I tried to hunt down an appropriate tune for this one. Where previously I’d learned cowboy songs were¬†not work songs, sea shanties certainly were. Most websites I looked at divided them into short haul shanties (for tasks that required quick pulls over a short period of time), haylard shanties (for work that required more set up between pulls), and capstan shanties (long repetitive tasks that require sustained rhythm). Also unlike cowboy songs, which are generally about how terrible it is to be a cowboy, I found few traditional shanties about the hardships of being a sailor, though hardships abound. The song I ended up choosing was “The Fish of the Sea”, a song I find actually a little goofy, but it’s refrain matched my intent most of any song I looked at. It does appear in Assassin’s Creed, if you’d like to listen to that version here.

Things will slow again here during the fall/winter months, though look forward to a bonus story this Halloween. I am also updating my general writing blog Black Cat Fiction with spooky stories all month long, the first already being posted here. And if you are still looking for something scary, my Fear Street recap blog is currently going through the 99 Fear Street series, updated every Sunday. There will be a lot on my plate the end of this year, but I’m very excited for the December chapter, and there will hopefully be more additions to the Cryptid Corner.


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