Marysburgh vortex

Marysburgh vortex

The Marysburgh Vortex is an area of eastern Lake Ontario with a startling record of shipwrecks which has fueled theories of paranormal explanations and drawn comparison to the Bermuda Triangle. According to shipping and insurance records during the schooner era and the early days of steamship travel, more than two thirds of the shipwrecks in Lake Ontario occurred in the area encompassed by the alleged Vortex. It is located east of Point Petre in the southern portion of Prince Edward County and extends in an easterly direction towards the mouth of the St. Lawrence River, and north in the direction of Kingston, Ontario.

Also in Lake Ontario, about 90 kilometers west, the Sophiasburgh Triangle, located off the western end of Prince Edward County at the entrance to Presqu'ile Bay exhibits a variation in Earth's magnetic field which interferes with the normal functioning of compasses, and makes it difficult to enter the safety of the bay during a storm or low visibility.[dubious ]


Chronology of events

1804 HMS Speedy

The HMS Speedy, a gunboat, disappeared in the Sophiasburgh Triangle during a blizzard. Unable to navigate save for with a compass, the ship is thought to have become lost near Newcastle and hit the Devil's Horseblock, an infamous rock column that lay just beneath the water's surface until after the Speedy's disappearance. Following the ship's disappearance, the area surrounding Newcastle's harbor was declared too dangerous for shipping, and proposals to make Newcastle the new capitol of Upper Canada were abandoned.

1883 Quinlan

One of the earlier and better documented losses in the area was that of the Quinlan, a coal-carrying schooner out of Oswego, New York destined for the north shore of Lake Ontario in the autumn of 1883. Her planned course was a direct line north, straight through the Marysburgh Vortex. The first sign of anything unusual was that shortly after clearing the American shores, she sailed into what her crew called an "unusually thick fog". After that, the weather began to get colder and the ship began to accumulate a blanket of heavy snow which her crew desperately tried to clear for fear of Quinlan becoming top-heavy and capsizing. As fast as they could remove snow, more accumulated, until the waves began to rise in an unprecedented manner, battering the ship and leaving the crew unable to do anything but hold on for dear life. Her compass ceased functioning and began to spin as the waves drove her through the storm, leaving the crew no idea which direction she was headed. Even if the crew had known their direction of travel, it would have done them no good because the fury of the storm had taken any control of the ship out of their hands.

Finally, she was slammed into the rocky shores of Marysburgh in Prince Edward County just before noon, where her masts splintered and her hull was split. While the ship was torn to pieces, onlookers from shore were able to rescue a few of the sailors clinging to the remaining hull and rigging. The remaining crew members were sucked back into the storm and lost. After their recovery, the few surviving members of the crew agreed on one thing: "some odd attraction", an unknown force, had gripped the ship, disabled her compass, and driven her to her rocky doom.

1889 Bavaria

Another of the earliest strange occurrences happened near the end of May 1889. It involved the disappearance of the crew of the ship Bavaria. The Bavaria was one of three schooners that were being towed by the steamer D.C. Calvin. The tow line broke in a sudden gale and the schooners were left to their own devices. Two of the ships were later rescued and towed to port in Kingston, Ontario by the Calvin and another rescue ship named Armenia, but the Bavaria was not immediately found. The schooner was later located by the Armenia grounded on Galloo Island, a small shoal. She was perfectly intact, but missing her 8-man crew and a single lifeboat.

There appeared to be nothing wrong with the ship other than a small amount of water found in her hold. A large sum of money was found in the captain's quarters along with all the ship's papers, fresh bread was found in the oven, and a small half-finished repair job was found on the deck. It was as if the men on board had suddenly abandoned a perfectly seaworthy ship in fear of something unknown. It seems unlikely the crew would have begun baking bread or doing minor repairs during a storm during which they were fighting for their lives, so the evidence suggests they made it through the gale alive and later felt the need to suddenly abandon the ship after returning to normal duties. To add to the "ghost story"-type mythos of the disappearance, both another ship and a lighthouse keeper in the same area reported spotting and attempting to rescue 2 men in a lifeboat during the same storm. Both rescue attempts failed, largely because the men in the lifeboat made no effort to assist in their own rescue and seemed in a catatonic state, and simply vanished into the storm.[dubious ]

1917 George A. Marsh

The 135' George A. Marsh was a three-masted schooner built in Muskegon, Michigan in 1882 and employed for many years in the lumber industry. By August 8, 1917, steam had overtaken sail as the preferred method of shipping, and she changed hands several times as she became more and more obsolete. Relegated to a fate of basic coal-hauling duty and poor maintenance, she was hired by the Soward Coal Company to ship 450 tons (more than double her original gross weight) of coal to the Rockwood Hospital in Kingston, Ontario. After leaving harbour in Oswego, New York on what was by all accounts a beautiful day, Marsh was suddenly overtaken by a violent storm and the battering waves ruptured her seams. Captain John Wesley Smith attempted to beach her on nearby Pigeon Island, but her manual pumps could not keep up with the leaks and she rolled and partially capsized within sight of her destination, landing on the lake bottom right side up in 85 feet of water. Her masts, taller than she was long, actually protruded from the water and soon had to be knocked down with dynamite because of the hazard they posed to navigation. In total, twelve people died in this tragedy, including Captain Smith, his wife, and five children. There is a legend that the Captain himself, a strong swimmer, survived and in his grief fled to the United States where he lived for nearly a decade running a flour and feed business in Oklahoma. However, the only documented survivors were the Captain's brother, William Smith and deckhand Neil McLennan.

1964 The Star of Suez

On June 30, 1964, as the freighter Star of Suez sailed into the Marysburgh Vortex, it immediately began to experience inexplicable navigation problems. The Star ran aground, but the crew was able to free the ship. The next year, a mysterious fire broke out as The Star sailed into the Vortex. The crew was not able to bring the fire under control and another boat was called to help. The fire was eventually extinguished but the cause was never determined.[dubious ]

Theories and Stories

Although there is no one explanation for all the mysterious disappearances, fires, and shipwrecks, there are some theories about the existence of a natural or supernatural phenomenon, or even extraterrestrial influences.

Magnetic Disturbance

There are several magnetic anomalies in Lake Ontario which appear on nautical charts. One example is an anomaly between Kingston and Garden Island which disrupts magnetic compasses. It is risky for residents of the island to cross the lake when visibility is poor and it is difficult to see Kingston. This could have been a problem for early ships in storms or heavy fog, when they relied on compasses and celestial bodies to navigate.

Areas of Reduced Binding

This is a story that states that there are areas in Lake Ontario in which normal earthly rules like those governing gravity and time do not exist. A team of Canadian scientists led by UFO enthusiast Wilbert Smith claimed in the 1950s that an alleged study of magnetic anomalies revealed unusual atmospheric phenomena near the shore of the lake. These were said to be large, mobile "columns" which were as much as 300 meters across and reached upwards into the sky for hundreds of meters or more, detectable only by the sensitive instruments used in the study. This makes these claims dubious in nature since they are not readily verifiable. Allegedly, inside these pillar-like areas, oddities were noted pertaining to magnetic and gravitational properties of normal matter. They were claimed to be caused by a reduction of the nuclear binding forces which keep matter intact and behaving within the normal rules of physics. They were labeled by the scientists as areas of reduced binding [1].[dubious ]

This story attempts to explain the alleged mysterious floating ships and sailors' accounts of seeing ships that no longer existed, as well as many other unusual occurrences. It has even been thought by those interested in the paranormal, that these could be intermittently operational gateways to alternate dimensions.


It is particularly difficult to discover the truth about the Vortex because sources contradict one another. For example, there are conflicting accounts of the disappearance of the crew of Bavaria. In one account it was said that survivors were seen clinging to the "upturned" ship and debris, which would be impossible if the ship were found intact and upright on the shoal, while another claims no trace was ever found of the crew, and a third claims the captain was seen clinging to a capsized lifeboat before he went missing.

Many who recount such tales in writing embellish factual data to enhance readability, blurring the line between fact and fiction. On a case-by-case basis, rational explanations can easily be gleaned for many incidents - many lost ships have been overloaded, storms are common in the area due to the geographical features and variable water temperatures due to lake depth, numerous navigational hazards including documented magnetic anomalies, and the volume of traffic in the area was historically quite high thanks to the St. Lawrence River, Trent-Severn Waterway and Rideau Canal. Still, the area's shipwreck record creates fertile ground for speculation. Since railroads and trucking have reduced the volume of commercial shipping in the area, incidents have been greatly reduced and therefore have failed to warrant investing large sums of money in extensive scientific studies. With the advent of modern technology such as GPS systems, RADAR, electronic or radio navigational beacons, and two-way radios, many of the problems which plagued historical mariners have been overcome.

Coordinates: 44°04′14″N 76°48′03″W / 44.0706°N 76.8009°W / 44.0706; -76.8009

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