Fantome (schooner)

Fantome was a 679-ton staysail schooner owned by Windjammer Barefoot Cruises in Miami, Florida. Completed in 1927 by the Duke of Westminster, she was purchased by Windjammer in 1969, and became flagship of the fleet. During her twenty-nine years of service in this regard, Fantome offered cruises in the Caribbean and the Bay of Honduras. She was lost in October 1998, during Hurricane Mitch.

Launched: 1927
Completed: 1927
Fate: Lost at sea 1998
General characteristics
Type: Staysail Schooner
Tonnage: 679 tons

Early years

Originally ordered for the Italian navy but before completion was purchased by the Duke of Westminster, who finished her as a yacht (launched in 1927). Westminster used her only a few years before she changed hands twice in short order. Ultimately she was acquired by Irishman A. E. Guinness, heir to the brewing fortune that bore his family’s name.

Guinness had taken her into the Pacific in the late 1930s and when war broke out in Europe in 1939, she was in Alaskan waters. Reluctant to cruise further or return to Ireland, he elected to lay her up in Seattle for the duration of hostilities. At the end of the war she was stranded in Portage Bay for 14 years, barred by King County from sailing pending the payment of back taxes.[1]


In 1969, Windjammer owner and founder Michael Burke flew to Greece to purchase the schooner directly from Aristotle Onassis. He bought her, sight unseen, in exchange for a freighter. Windjammer then set about refurbishing Fantome, which became the flagship of their fleet of six vessels.


On 24 October 1998, Fantome departed the harbor of Omoa in Honduras for a planned 6 day cruise. Hurricane Mitch, then over 1,000 miles (1,600 km) away in the Caribbean Sea, was expected to pose a risk to Jamaica and possibly the Yucatán Peninsula. Captain Guyan March decided to play it safe by heading for the Bay Islands and wait for the storm to pass.

By dawn on the following day, however, Mitch seemed to change course. Fantome immediately changed course for Belize City, where it disembarked all of her passengers and non-essential crew members. The schooner then departed Belize City, first heading north towards the Gulf of Mexico, in order to outrun the storm. Storm predictions proved extremely difficult, as the steering currents in Hurricane Mitch were very weak. When word reached Fantome that Mitch would most likely hit the Yucatán before she could get out of harm's way, Capt. March changed course for the south. It was too early to know that he was heading directly into the storm's path.

The plan was to make for the lee side of the island of Roatan. In case Mitch made landfall in the Yucatán or Belize, by being on the southern side of the island, it would provide her with enough protection to keep it from getting damaged by large swells and high winds. However, Mitch, now a Category 5 hurricane with winds up to 180 mph (285 km/h), took a jog towards the south, directly towards Roatan.

As Mitch moved in on Roatan and Honduras, Fantome made one desperate attempt to flee to safety, now heading east towards the Caribbean. Mitch's forward motion picked up, though, and Fantome was unable to outrun the storm. Around 4:30 P.M. on 27 October 1998, with Mitch having weakened but still at Category 5 intensity, Fantome reported that she was fighting 100-mile-per-hour (160 km/h) winds in 40-foot (12 m) seas. They were just 40 miles (64 km) south of Mitch's eyewall. Radio contact was lost with Fantome shortly after that.

On 2 November, a helicopter dispatched by the British destroyer HMS Sheffield discovered life rafts and vests, labeled "S/V Fantome," off the eastern coast of Guanaja. It was all that was found of Fantome. All 31 crew members aboard perished, and a memorial service was held for them on December 12, 1998.[2][3]

See also


  1. Crowley, Walt (30 January 2003). "Fantome, former fixture on Seattle's Portage Bay, sinks in Caribbean hurricane on October 27, 1998". HistoryLink. Essay 4140. Retrieved 29 April 2011.
  2. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2015-01-17. Retrieved 2013-09-25.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  3. "S/V Fantome". Archived from the original on 2015-01-17.
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