The sea is, in many ways, its own frontier. With most of the earth being covered by water, it stands to reason that humankind has not even really broached the surface of what lies at sea.
It's also home to many mysteries. Some too frightening to take back with you to land.
An unlucky few have borne witness to those mysteries.
Here were some of those stories.
TW: Disturbing images, including violence and suicide.
Truly Dead Calm
Worked the shrimp boats in the Gulf back in the '70s. 100 miles off the coast of Louisiana and the sea got dead calm. I mean dead calm, not a ripple or a swell.
The sea was so calm that vibrations from the engine idling would make little ripples in the water. The surface of the sea looked like a huge never ending mirror extending out in all directions.
The visual memory I have of seeing that perfectly flat sea in the moonlight is deeply etched in my memory and I can see it today in my mind just as real as if it was happening now.
I could talk about 25 foot seas in the middle of a hurricane, or a half dozen water spouts dancing around us during a summer squall, or sargassum seaweed as far as the eye could see so thick around the boat that you could walk on it, or flying fish all taking flight at the same time like a flock of birds skimming across the water. but none of that stuff had the impact on me like the dead calm of the sea 100 miles offshore.
My dad and I were sailing in the Sea of Cortez, it was early morning with some patchy surface fog. I was 14 or 15 at the time.
We heard what sounded like applause in the distance, but becoming louder. We could soon see a patch of disturbed water getting closer and closer and hundreds of objects flying out of the water and splashing back down. A few of them flew out, hit the deck of the boat and bounced back into the water.
Stingrays. A whole school of them, jumping out of the water for some reason. It was weird and awesome.
An Earthquake At Sea
US Merchant Marine here, sailing 4 years as of 4 days ago. I witnessed an earthquake while on board:
First off, easily the scariest moment of my professional career (so far). In transit along the West coast of Mexico just after lunch, just working through my Noon duties. Just my AB and myself on the bridge.
All of a sudden the ship starts shaking, slightly at first, gradually building into a seriously violent, pounding shake. The best way I can describe it is that it was similar to airplane turbulence, just slower and harder shaking. Of course, I am ~shook~. It only lasted about 30 seconds, but it was terrifying.
My AB and I are on both bridge wings looking to see if there's something in the water that we could've hit (a submerged container?). I'm verifying our position in every way possible, making sure we didn't just sniff the bottom somehow (being the Navigator on board, I'd be in deep sh*t if this were true. Better dust off the ol' resume).
Captain comes up to the bridge, "What in the holy hell is going on?" Engine room gets called, they start checking the voids spaces, machinery spaces, and bilges. Chief Mate comes to the bridge, gets the Bosun and the deck gang to start sounding all the tanks.
Phones and radios are going off left and right, everyone is asking me what happened and I've got no answers for them. After about 15 minutes, things start to settle down, and nothing seems to be out of the ordinary.
Capt heads down to his office to call the office and presumably sign me the heck off the ship I assume. He comes up about 20 minutes later with a printout from the internet. About 15 miles away from us, there was a 7.5 magnitude earthquake under the surface.
The amount of relief that washed over my entire body was almost orgasmic. Nothing seemed to be damaged in the aftermath, we all had a good laugh about it later. The Captain said I was white as a ghost when he came up.
Big Ships, BIIIIIG Ships
I tell my kids this story. A lesson in stupid. I was skippering a yacht from France back to England. Its the middle of the night and theres a thick fog.
The winds are light so i've lashed the sails out in a goose wing (dont do this if you need to change course fast). Suddenly out of the fog comes a freighter. It was like a moving appartment building and it was close. Ive never been that close to a freighter. I didnt have time to to cut the lashes, get all hands on deck, start the engine or anything. I wheeled about and let the tiny puffs of wind pull us away. It was all over in minutes.
I should not have lashed the sails. I should have had someone below ready to start the engine. But for a hundred yards of water i might have killed everyone. If you sail, learn from my mistake.
When I was 14, the family made a stop on a vacation at a beach for a day and a night. To walk into the beach you walked up stairs, down stairs, through a tide pool, and then on to sand.
That evening I decided I wanted to walk on the beach. It's a new moon. I also knew nothing about how tides work, really.
I walk up the steps, down the steps, into the tide pool...and into the tide pool...and into the tide pool.
I realized the tide pool had become the ocean and due to no moon and my panic, I couldn't get my bearings. I'm flailing and trying to run through water to figure out where shore is.
Eventually, my foot hits a dune and I scramble up the sand, burrs in my palms and grass cutting up my legs.
Went fishing in Corpus Christi one time and a friend of mine took us out on a little boat at night, pretty calm night and we are having fun drinking and fishing. Hear some knocking on the bottom of the boat friend says it just fish. I think nothing of it, I cast over the side and an just sitting there enjoying the night and listening to stories.
When I look over and see movement in the water then all of a sudden three guys come up out o00f the water and lol at me and I start freaking out then go back under water and one guy puts his finger to his mouth like shhhhhhh and I jump and tell my friends.
They know I don't scare easily so we high tail it outta there. Next day we tell some other friends what happen and they laugh, come to find out navy seals and other armed forces were doing training maneuvers where we were at. .... definitely scared the heck outta me.
By The Light Of The Moon
Lifelong sailor and I've been unlucky enough to see some pretty bad things, but honestly the scariest thing I've seen is a seaweed converted hand coming out of the water. Me, the moron, didn't realise it was just a rubber glove that was full of air.
More seriously, I was once doing rescue for a sailing regatta. It was nationals and there were around 200 boats out. They were mirrors, so crewed by kids around 12-16. Between the second and third race we were hit by a massive squall. In 60 seconds every boat has capsized and there were kids in the water, we had to scramble, some of the kids were exhausted and we had to help right more than one of the boats (normally you wouldn't do that). Being in charge of the rescue it was a bit worrying, but the guys working for me were great and they managed to keep the fleet safe and has cleared it up in about 5 minutes.
Boom Boom Splah
In the Persian Gulf in 1988-89 Iran and Iraq had been at war for years and had mined each other's harbors. The mines had begun breaking loose and floating around.
We would spot one and go to GQ (battle stations) and mine was in Repair Locker 2 below deck all the way forward. I remember thinking if we hit a mine, I'll have just enough time to recognize what happened before I die.
I was scuba diving in Key West when I was 10 or so. My father jumped in the water before me and it kicked up a lot of sand underwater. I jumped in after him and I noticed he was pointing to something right in front of us. I looked at him again and he was waving his hands, gesturing to back off.
The water cleared up and thats when I saw it. A 3-4 foot long barracuda within arms reach of me. For a tense few seconds the barracuda and I just stared at each other. I felt like it was sizing me up. It then flicked its tail and it bolted out of sight. It's was both exhilarating and frightening at the same time.