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The Ship of the Dead

Portsmouth in 1607
The voyage of the British merchant ship Cormorant from Portsmouth, England, to the Caribbean island of Nevis had special meaning for Andrew Oglethorpe. After ten years as a sailor, Oglethorpe had decided to call it quits and live out his days as a fisherman in the British West Indies. And so, on June 15, 1607, the night before his last voyage, Oglethorpe set up shop in a Portsmouth pub and drank to his good fortune.

Captain Horatio Wheeler
It wasn't to last. As Oglethorpe staggered toward the docks an hour or so before dawn, a prostitute called to him from the shadows. Inebriated, and facing three months at sea with no female companionship, Oglethorpe eagerly followed her into a dark alley, ignoring the old seafarer's maxim: harlot for hire, might be vampire. No sooner had they found a private spot than the prostitute sunk her fangs into him, and Andrew Oglethorpe's dream of a life of tropical ease was over before it started.

Like many victims of vampirism, Oglethorpe chose to deny what had happened. He boarded the Cormorant and assumed his duties as the ship left port under the direction of Captain Horatio Wheeler. By nightfall, Oglethorpe was in sick bay with a fever and chills. As Oglethorpe's wounds were not easily visible, the ship surgeon probably confused his symptoms with one of the more common ailments of the day. Eventually, Oglethorpe slipped into a vampiric coma; he was being prepared for burial at sea when he came back to life.

The Cormorant
brought vampirism
to the New World
The fate of the crew would have been left to the imagination had Captain Wheeler not been an assiduous journal-keeper. Entries in his log became increasingly ominous as the journey progressed.

August 24th: "For the past three days, we have been sailing through a storm, which has prevented us from continuing a sweep of the ship designed to root out any remaining vampires. Thus far, we have captured and thrown overboard three crew members who were showing signs of the dread disease."

September 14th: "The vampires have barricaded themselves in the hold and, despite my entreaties, none of my crew dares go down there to dispatch them. Our nerves are frayed, as none of us have slept for two weeks. Last night, a man leaped off the boat rather than face another night of this torment."

September 16th: "They are at my door now. There is no hope. I can only pray that God dash this accursed ship against the rocks, lest it deliver its hellish cargo upon some innocent shores."

The captain's wishes would not be met. On the night of September 20th, Cormorant cruised into the harbor of the small Caribbean island of Nevis with Captain Wheeler, now a vampire, at the helm. Native islanders paddled out on canoes to greet the ship, unaware of the awful surprise waiting on board.

From this one ship, the vampire virus would spread rapidly across the Caribbean and the New World. The disaster prompted an overhaul of shipping procedures. Henceforth, all sailors were given thorough physical examinations before boarding.

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