Now that is truly fascinating. Barring error in testimony (seems unlikely), a rogue wave or a percieved thread (St. Elmo's Fire, etc...) could have frightened them.
I think a rogue wave makes the most sense. Nothing like a giant mass of water sweeping over your deck... The cargo would be secured, but not the people. Being made of sturdy materials (those ships were TOUGH, given proper maintenance) it could easily survive the impact. I can think of many effects that would seem to be an alcohol flame and cause people to literally dive overboard, especially at night.
"We do know that when the cargo was finally unloaded in Genoa nine barrels were found to be empty..."
They may have smelled alcohol fumes, and panicked... or they may have realized volatiles were leaking (possibly with small eruptions of flame from the fumes)... add enough static electricity or lightning, and they would be insane NOT to be afraid.
I also have to consider that alcohol's fumes burn, and a barrell or two very well could have emitted flames in a manner that could have seemed paranormal. Flickering bluish flames that don't seem to consume anything would terrify a seaman of that time, especially one who abstained from alcohol.
Finally, they may have recognized the leaking barrels, panicked with the coming storm, and abandoned ship in the ship's boat. That they took the sextant with them is almost the equivalent of running out of a burning building with your cell-phone. Abandoning ship sans sextant would have been as good as dying on the ship.
Theft is obviously ruled out, as only 9 barrells were empty, and no longshoreman would have mistaken a full barrell for a an empty one. That makes the assumption of a leak more viable. Another factor could be... the leaks took place over a long period, causing rising anxiety in the captain and crew. There is the possilbity as well, that such potent Alcohol fumes, if inhaled, could impair judgement as well.
EDIT: Oh hell... I just necro-ed this thread. I'm sorry, I linked to it through a sticky... feel free to delete this of course. Again, my apologies.
As long as the material is still appropriate, necroposts are fine [in S&D].
Ah! Thank you Ivan Seeking. :)
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