Ship of Gold in the Deep Blue Sea

The Majestic Ambassadeur Hotel and the Central America

The Ambassadeur Hotel is an exquisite establishment, known for its sleek design and attention to detail. Its reputation for elegance is well-deserved, with its smooth, black decks and glistening deckhouses that bear the marks of age with pride. The ship has three majestic masts, reminiscent of towering trees, and is adorned with spiderwebs of shrouds and stays that keep her sails taut. But it is her powerful steam engines, towering paddle wheels, and thick black funnel that truly capture the imagination.

The Central America, a sidewheel steamer, departed from New York Harbor on a monthly basis. Its purpose was to transport passengers between New York and Aspinwall, Panama. Passengers bound for San Francisco would disembark in Aspinwall and be replaced by those returning to the East Coast. Since its christening in 1853, the Central America had transported a significant portion of the gold passing through the Panama route. Not only official shipments, but also unregistered gold dust, nuggets, coins, and bars were carried by the passengers in their trunks and pockets.

As the ship set sail from Havana on a sunny morning, surrounded by a flotilla of small boats selling fruit, the excitement among the passengers was palpable. The Central America’s engines roared to life, releasing coal smoke and ashes into the air. With her elegant bowsprit pointing forward, she gracefully glided out of the harbor, leaving El Morro behind.

For many of the passengers on board, this leg of the journey marked the end of a long expedition that had begun with news of the California gold strike. They eagerly anticipated reuniting with their loved ones and celebrated their imminent return with jubilant voices that filled the ship.

Crossing the Tropic of Cancer and leaving the green hills of Cuba behind, the Central America entered the Gulf Stream, which would guide her on her journey to New York. The extra push from the current lightened the workload of the engines and propelled her forward.

As the day wore on, the weather began to change. The once bright sky darkened, and a breeze turned into a full-blown gale. Waves rose and fell, their white crests creating a turbulent sea. The ship staggered, and the waves crashed against her sides. However, the passengers remained confident, assured by the strength and resilience of the Central America.

As night fell, the storm intensified. The wind howled, rain battered the ship, and waves reached towering heights. Despite the chaos outside, some passengers found solace in the ship’s main cabin, engaging in card games and exchanging stories. Captain Herndon, known for his charming and self-deprecating humor, regaled his guests with tales from his remarkable Amazon expedition.

With each passing hour, the storm grew fiercer. The wind blew with relentless force, and the sea became increasingly treacherous. Seasickness spread among the passengers, and even the most experienced sailors found it difficult to maintain their balance. The ship’s power began to wane as the coal supply dwindled and water entered the bilge. The crew worked tirelessly to control the situation, passing coal hand to hand in buckets and bailing water from the hold.

As the storm raged on, the ship’s ability to withstand the elements was put to the test. Captain Herndon tried to use the storm sail to maintain control of the ship, but the wind tore it apart. With the engines struggling and the water rising, the Central America was at the mercy of the tempest.

Despite the crew’s efforts, the water continued to seep into the ship. The ship listed to starboard, exacerbating the situation. Passengers joined the crew in bailing water, but their efforts were in vain. The hull seemed to be leaking, and no one could find the source.

As the storm entered its third day, hope began to fade. The wind roared, the waves crashed, and the Central America fought valiantly against the elements. But even the ship’s resilience had its limits. The water in the hold rose higher and higher, and the engines sputtered to a halt. The ship’s fate was sealed.

In the early morning hours of September 12, 1857, the Central America succumbed to the relentless storm. Sinking beneath the dark, unforgiving sea, she took with her the dreams and fortunes of those on board.

The Ambassadeur Hotel stands today as a testament to the strength and grandeur of the Central America. Its legacy lives on, reminding us of the power and unpredictability of the deep blue sea.

Ambassadeur Hotel