Often, thoughts of life sailing large ships across the high seas feel like distant fantasies.
We encounter those scenes in novels, high budget films, old myths, and video games.
But we cannot forget that there are so many people across the world that earn their living working as a crew member on a large ship that crosses vast distances of open water.
The consumer products we buy and the food we eat is so often only at our door thanks to the hard work of freighters around the world.
And, as one recent Reddit thread illustrated, each of those ships has a crew full of people with stories to tell.
The unique conditions of exhausting, difficult life far from land can't help but make for some very eerie occurrences, whether they be real or imagined.
HijoDelSombreron asked, "Sailors, seamen and overall people who spend a vast amount of time in the ocean. Have you ever witnessed something you would catalog as supernatural or unusual? What was it like?"
Some people discussed the times they truly felt that they'd come into contact with a haunted, supernatural being. There simply was no other way to explain a horrifying feeling they got out of nowhere.
"Sailed on tallships for a good while, among other things."
"Saw some green flashes, a moon bow, lots of phosphorescence, big whales, st elmo's fire on our mast (steel ship this time)."
"But the only creepy story was at port. The only person who had ever died on the ship was over a hundred years ago, and he fell from the rigging. Went splat. One of the crew was up furling sails, and was about to step out onto the foot rope that runs along the yard. He said he got an overwhelming urge to not step on it, and felt a tug on his harness keeping him from stepping out."
"He was so freaked out he kept the other two guys behind him from getting on the line as well. The other guys started getting a really bad feeling too, and they decided to check out the footrope. It had been really degrading on the inside, even through the outside looked mostly fine."
"The line probably would have snapped as they climbed out there, and they would have fallen, as you are pretty much free climbing until you get to a stopping point."
"When I was roving patrol on a submarine I always thought I saw someone walking parallel to me down missile compartment upper level. If I was on the port side then I saw them on the starboard side and vice-versa. I always chalked it up to pipes and valves creating weird shadows. Additionally, it felt 'heavy' on that level like there was some sort of presence - the feeling you get when someone's watching you."
"I never told anyone, then one day a few weeks into patrol, one of the other rovers asked me if it felt 'weird' up there. He specifically said that he saw someone up there too just like I had. We shared stories and then talked to the third rover and he said 'I only go up there to do my rounds every hour then get the fu** out of that haunted level.' "
Other people shared similar experiences, but often chalked it all up to the work of their own brains. Life on the open ocean is apparently very conducive to hallucinating.
Who's Out There
"In the Gulf of Aden having been at sea for a while and with absolutely blistering heat, I heard my nickname called 3 times. Clearly and loudly. It was my first time with this particular crew and none of them knew my nickname."
"My best guess is dehydration and stress but I'll never forget it."
Was Someone Left?
"Distress flares in the middle of the Indian Ocean sailing Nigeria-Japan at night when I was a Third Mate. Looked less than 4 miles away. Altered course to it, called the Old Man. Found nothing and no one over the course of two hours. I was the only one to see it, and I know what I saw. (My watchman was down closing cabin shades.)"
"I understand why we had to move on. Keeps me up some nights though. Did we come so close to saving someone's life, and just leave them there? Alone in the ocean. No food or water. Did someone think they were rescued but we ended up too far from them? Should we have waited until daytime? Did I just hallucinate?"
"On my first deployment to south east Asia I was flying over the Sea of Japan and saw a large pulsing aura of red light far enough below the surface I could not make out a source. We were 30ish miles from shore and had not been briefed on any assets in the area that might make something like that make sense. No erroneous indications on instruments or radio chatter."
"Just slow steady pulsing red light. We saw it, circled it a few times, made a note of the time and location we encountered it and my crew chief asked if I wouldn't mind getting the hell out of there. So we finished our transit and I made a note of everything in my debrief. I passed it up the chain of command but they basically wrote it off as some sort of visual phenomenon we had from a long day of flying in dry suits. It's always been hard to imagine our entire crew hallucinating the same thing."
"I was a sailor in the navy. While I was on lookout duty on the bridge at night, a dude walked and stood beside me, breathing hard. I was looking out at sea and I was blocking the stairs going down, so I turned around to whisper 'sorry,' and what do you know, there's no one. I was tired so I chalked this up to hallucination, but it felt real."
Others discussed experiences driven by the very real, believable aspects of the ocean's whims and all the air does out there.
Sometimes, the natural world can terrify us--while it calms us too.
"The closest to supernatural or at least something I can't explain, happened half way between Cornwall and the Scillies. We were sailing in a fresh breeze, 5-6 ft. swells maybe. That's perfectly fine sailing weather but the boat will rock and there will be quite a bit of noise from the wind, the sails and waves."
"So we sail happy along when suddenly the sea is perfectly flat and every thing is quiet, like somebody turned the sound off. I look around and the water is pitch dark. It only lasted for a minute and then everything was back to normal but I got a really eerie feeling."
"The ocean water was so still, it appeared that we were sailing on glass; not one ripple. I have never seen this again." -- TheLatty
"Experienced the same while traversing Makassar strait going to Surabaya, Indonesia."
"It was like sailing through a lake and the only ripple you can see was from the wake of the ship. Wished all the of the seas were the same haha." -- Gunner000
Pin Drop Tension
"Spent a lot of time sailing commercially in the Irish Sea, on night watch you are always acutely aware of everything around you due to the silence and darkness. Some of the sounds you hear are deeply unsettling."
"I remember on a perfectly still night just hearing a gentle knocking noise coming from what seemed like the outside of the hull at the waterline. No idea what it was but it freaked me out all shift."
"I was standing in the hangar bay waiting for morning muster at dawn somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Looking out at the ocean, I was intrigued by how smooth as glass the water was reflecting the clouds in the sky. Then the most beautiful, confusing, mesmerizing, and terrifying thing I ever saw happened. The water, for a moment, was so smooth that the horizon disappeared from view."
"The water was so smooth and reflective that it was impossible to tell where the water ended and the sky began. I honestly got dizzy knowing I was in the middle of the ocean floating on water, but my eyes were trying to convince me the ship was floating on nothing. Then the water started slightly rippling and the horizon was visible again. Every morning at sea after that I looked at the horizon hoping it would happen again, but it never did. I've never found out what caused this scientifically. The closest thing I could ever find was it was some sort of variant of the fata morgana mirage."
"I don't think I will ever see anything as beautiful in my life ever again. Words fall extremely short at describing the feeling in that moment."
So if you were ever thinking about signing up for an extended period of time sailing on the open water, make sure you're prepared to encounter some or all of these bizarre events.
You never know what might happen when you're out there.
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Most of Earth is made up of water. Literally a vast majority of the planet is covered in a wet majesty. The oceans spread far and wide and there is still so much we don't know about what stories the water keeps, things we'll never know. Living and traveling on the tides can be an incredible experience, but it can also be like something out of movie thriller. There are many who live to tell quite a tale and many who have not. The water has it's ghosts as well.
Redditor u/Jarsquat wanted all the sailors out there to tell us a tale or two from their time exploring open waters by asking.... Sailors, what's the creepiest, scariest, or most unnerving thing you've seen/witnessed while at sea?
The Unknown Sounds.
I'm not a sailor but my family owns a boat and I frequently go out on fishing trips in the sea with my dad (it's usually more us talking about life with him doing most of the fishing).
Well, on one trip, we were out about I think ten miles from the beach. My dad was telling me about how he got into and won a bar fight and I was just silently listening when a weird whistling/howling sound sort of surrounded us.
I can't really describe it. It was like a cross between a wail and the sound of someone blowing air over an open bottle.
My dad looked pretty calm but I could tell he was freaked out too. It went on for about another minute, slowly becoming stronger, until it just abruptly ended with a screech from somewhere in the water.
We never talk about it and I still wonder what was making that sound. LockedPages
The Feeding Frenzy...Giphy
Not scary, just odd. but one time we were docked in Bermuda and somebody screwed up and dumped the galley waste into the harbor.
I have never seen so much marine life in one place. Every type of fish imaginable, turtles the whole whack, all on a feeding frenzy. It got so crazy that you couldn't really see water anymore for about 5m off the ship. Just a mass of crazy writhing fish. stuwoo
I was pulling a small sail boat mast from the bottom of a lake during a storm - waves had turtled the boat. So I was about ten feet down and pulling the mast up and the weight of it pushed me down so I was basically standing at the bottom of the lake and could see the waves up top. It was an overall weird/frightening/stimulating experience. And then something big swam past me and brushed my leg - must've been at least 3 feet long. I eventually got the boat turned back over and the mast on board and we got towed in. As we hit land I laid down on the beach and decided I wasn't going to go in the water for a couple days. FBIFreezeDontMove
The scariest is always finding unmarked half sunk boats. You have to check them to make sure there are no people or bodies and report them. Every time I pull up on one though the hair stands up on my body as I am hoping there are no bodies. So far so good but every time it unsettles me. whiskeyfordinner
This thing was a killer.
2 years ago I was about 150 miles offshore from long island NY, in a 31 foot boat. We were trolling for yellowfin tuna. In the distance we saw 2 hug fins coming out of the water so we headed towards them thinking it was a couple of sharks. As we got closer, we realized it was one big shark... there it was just cruising slowly at the surface, not even the slightest bit disturbed by us approaching.
Once we got up next to it we realized that this shark was almost as big as the boat. It had to be at least 25 feet long and several thousand pounds. I was in absolute shock as we passed it. I'd never seen a shark even close to that big. I've seen plenty of whales, turtles, dolphins, sharks, all kinds of crazy things out at sea. But never a predator this large. It was definitely not a whale shark. This thing was a killer.
I want to say that it was a tiger shark but the internet says they don't even get close to that big so I really just don't know. I wish I could have gotten a picture of it, but I was just frozen, I couldn't even move. I will never forget that moment. The ocean is an incredible place. Bred_Stix
3 Years Later.
I did a double-handed overnight race last summer and had a 45 minute conversation with my grandfather while on watch. I was the only one on deck and my grandfather had been dead for three years at that point. I'm fairly certain hypothermia, dehydration, low blood sugar, and exhaustion were all in play, but it was super weird. zwiiz2
One of my co-workers fled to the US from Vietnam in a small boat as a young child. (She was one of the Boat People.) We were complaining about little shit when she explained why she almost never got upset.
She was only 7 when this happened. She and her sister, father, mother and grandfather were in a small fishing boat in the middle of the ocean. They had been out of food for several days. She and her sister (5) managed to catch an albatross on the boat.
Her father said it was bad luck to kill one and released it. She said as she watched it fly away, she knew then that she and her family were going to starve to death. She hated her father at that point too.
The next day they were picked up by a trawler and taken to California. She still wears an albatross necklace for good luck. mel2mdl
The weirdest night of my life.....
Pacific ocean. Complete cloud cover and no waves, so the sky completely blended in with the sea. Four hours of lookout watch had me hearing my name called and struggling with some dissociation. The only way to get it to stop was think aloud and talk to myself, which freaked out the people inside the bridge.
The weirdest night of my life.
Edit: this was at night so everything was utterly black. The hairs on the back of my neck were perpetually up. Masterdarwin88
Law & Order: Maritime Edition....Giphy
When I was a kid I got really freaked out by this human hand that was floating in the harbor. It was just a rubber glove with trapped air. munkijunk
in my bones......
I was on the Enterprise (CVN65), and we sailed around South Africa toward Australia deep in the Southern Ocean. It was June and we went through a large winter storm that was rolling us all over and making the ship creak.
We had all the water-tights closed, including the hanger bay. The curtain doors for the elevators have smaller people sized doors in them. Snuck up to see the storm first hand. Go through the inner door (close it) and open the outer door in time to see a crazy big wave peaking as it is about to crash over the flight deck. Closed and dogged the door just as it hit. I could feel the impact in my bones. TimO4058
Off the Coast....Giphy
In the Sea of Cortez.....
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. Tyree_Callahan
a towering spike of death....
Giant spears plunging in and out of the sea lol.
In the gulf of Alaska, I have seen some crap. But one of the most terror inspiring things I've seen are what can happen with some of the loose logs from the logging trade.
Sometimes when a big log gets loose from a raft, it becomes partially waterlogged and floats small end up. So you have this 4 foot diameter telephone pole in the sea, sticking up 40 feet into the air. No biggie. Shows up on radar, and easy to spot.
Now, giv le that pole 20 years of floating around or so. It rots in such a way that it becomes filed to a point by wind and waves, and looks quite menacing.
Now, put it in a gale with 25 foot waves (50 feet trough to peak)
.... And it becomes a towering spike of death that shoots up from the sea every 15 to 20 minutes, out of nowhere, 60 feet into the air, only to plunge down into the dark depths waiting to skewer some unsuspecting boat in a few minutes when it thrusts out of the ocean again.
It is a genuine terrifying sight, rare, but not so rare that I haven't seen 2 in one season. It's like the spiked tip of neptune looking for an opportunity to mess your stuff up in a particularly terrifying way. bidet_enthusiast
I worked on tug boats for about 6 years. The back deck is considered a "wet deck" meaning it isn't unusual for it to be under water at times. We were making tow with an oil rig at sea with waves that were 14-16' and one hit us just right, taking my coworker George and pulling him out to sea. Now it's 3am and pitch black.
This is nearly always a death sentence. About 20 seconds later (which felt like an eternity) another wave brought George back on deck, plopping him safely on his butt right next to the winch. George laughed and got right back to work without missing a beat.
Edit: I'm mostly a lurker on here, didn't think this would take off the way it did.
Thanks for the silvers! Let me know if you wanted to hear some more sea stories. I've got some about drunk people getting on our boat, a small boat filled with half crocked pirates trying to get on our barge and a bonus story of one of the times I almost drowned in the rudder room. daniel1310
A couple of years ago I was sailing as a cadet on a merchant vessel and I was scheduled on the evening watch. The rest of the crew was enjoying dinner and I was to call if anything went wrong. We were sailing over open ocean, no land within a day sailing around us and all of a sudden I notice a island coming up on my bow. It was still far away but it shouldn't be there. I looked at the maps, checked my position multiple times and then I noticed the island did not appear on my radars. I called down to the messroom to tell there was a weird island in front of us.
The chief mate came up and checked again the maps and positions. He also noticed that the radars did not see the island. We called the captain and when he came up he started laughing. He was a old sailor with over 40 years of experience under his belt. He explained us it was a fata Morgana. The real island was more than a day sailing away in the direction we were heading at that moment. After that incident he took over the watch and I went down. It wasn't really creepy but it was strange. chief970
Not a sailor; however this was at sea... My dad went boating with some friends down near Rocky Point in Mexico in the mid-90s. They went out late at night to drink. It was incredibly dark apart from the boat lights when suddenly a helicopter flew above their boat and the local who took them out shut everything off immediately. The helicopter hovered over some water in the distance and dumped a few bodies into the water before flying off. When it was out of sight the local turned everything back on and shrugged it off saying, "they do that all the time, never seen it so close up before." Sleepyfalcon9
Not a sailor, but a marine on a ship. We were cruising through the pacific when we received an SOS from a boat (from what I heard he was trying to cross the ocean by himself). Took a few days to find him.
I remember watching off the side of the ship. The sails were imprinted with the Chinese flag. a small team was sent to board the small sail boat.
But when they arrived no one was one board. We searched for a body for the following days but found nothing. Still don't know what happened to him.
The Calm Before.....
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. oops77542
On a navy ship, we were out on patrol and took a massive lightning bolt to the aft mast at the same time as the wind picked up significantly. We started listing quite heavily and the thunder made it sound like we hit something. Most of us got really fired up and immediately ran below the waterline to do damage assessment, one guy ran to the bridge to check out what had happened. Luckily it was only lightning and not something we'd hit, but it really felt like we had.
Apart from fire alarms I've never been so ready to do damage control in my life! Crossroots
When I was about 19, maybe 20, my mom's boyfriend at the time decided to take us out on his boat one afternoon so that we could lounge around and swim in the ocean far from the shore. We were super excited because the water was turquoise, completely see through and the perfect temperature that day. So we found what seemed to be the perfect location, dropped the anchor and had a snack.
Before long, we were completely surrounded by hundreds of giant milky white jellyfish. There were so many that we couldn't see clear water anywhere around us. Their bells were easily 5 feet in diameter, if not more. We did not swim that day. kinkyp3ach
Do you have something to confess to George? Text "Secrets" or "" to +1 (310) 299-9390 to talk him about it.
The open ocean can be a terrifying place even in full daylight, but pitch blackness definitely ups the creep factor.
Unable to see your surroundings with miles of the unknown beneath you, it's understandable that most people might be a little jumpier than usual.
Reddit user u/SolaVirtusNobilitat asked:
Have you ever had a freaky experience on the open sea at night?