The 'Mary Celeste' carried 1701 barrels of alcohol. It is probable that, in encountering stormy weather, her hatches had remained closed during most, if not all, of the voyage up to the day of abandonment. Under these circumstances, the hold had been getting little or no ventilation. The vessel, having left the comparatively cool temperatures of New York, and having passed through the Gulf Stream into the milder climactic areas of the Azores, it would not be surprising if the atmospheric changes had been producing some effect upon an unventilated hold containing 1700 barrels of alcohol, some of which may have leaked.
Captain Briggs, mindful of the character of the cargo and necessity for ventilation, may have taken advantage of the calm or light wind prevailing on the forenoon of the 25th and ordered the removal of the bar of the forward hatch. At this juncture, something unusual happened. The up-rush of fumes from an unventilated hold, into which the contents of all or part of eight alcohol barrels had leaked, may have been so strong as to alarm the crew.
If confronted by this sudden and imminent peril, and fearing for the safety of his wife and child, and the members of the crew, Captain Briggs may have given the order to launch the ship's boat, which was lying across the main hatch. As the wind. Presumably from the West at the time, and the vessel's course approximately East by South, it is probable that the boat was launched from the leeward side, which under the circumstances, would then have been on the port side of the vessel. As an additional precautionary measure, Captain Briggs may have directed one of the men to break out a coil of rope as a tow line, so that if the threatened danger should pass, they could return to their vessel.
The tenseness of the situation can easily be imagined as they anxiously awaited the moment when all hands would be in the boat and they could cast oft from the "Mary Celeste" and put as much distance as possible between themselves and the danger threatening them. They could not foresee that the morning calm was not to continue. Sudden and violent squalls occur frequently in the Azores, and according to the meteorological report, something like this must soon have happened, for it states that in the afternoon of that date, a gale-force wind prevailed over this area of the Azores. Under the impact of such wind, the vessel may have lunged forward so suddenly as to break the improvised tow line, leaving the occupants of the boat striving frantically but futilely to overtake the onsweeping Mary Celeste.
A heavy rain accompany such a gale would have materially increased the difficulties of the people in the small boat. It seem probable that with its little company, she was blown southeast, away from the nearest land, Santa Maria, and out into the broad reaches of the Atlantic-with about 800 miles between them and the coast of Portugal-and soon was overwhelmed in a gale-swept sea.