What do you think of when you think of the sea? Do you think of a balmy ocean cruise, drink in hand, watching the sunset? Do you think of wisecracking pirates with multi-colored dreadlocks swinging from ship to ship? How about surfing a perfect, aqua wave along a white sanded beach?
How about death?
The ocean is the deepest grave you will ever see, Davy Jones’ locker holds the key to many a mystery. Planes, ships, people, they all disappear without a trace into the unfathomable deep. Deeper than the highest mountain, the trenches of the ocean hold fast to any booty that is unlucky enough to fall into its pulverizing, deathly grasp. Fish that are the stuff of nightmares, Kraken beyond your wildest imaginings – what the sea wants, the sea shall have.
Our songs and stories are infused with the legends of the sea taking into her greedy heart the souls of those who trusted her gentle waves – mariners, divers, swimmers, even those who dared live too close to her tempting shores. We all know of the Titanic, of the Costa Concordia, of missing planes and even an area of death known as The Bermuda Triangle. The sea is one thirsty lady.
But what about when the sea gives back? Because she can, you know. She can give back, and sometimes what is left is more frightening, more terrible, more creepy than if she had just kept it to herself and let us wonder about it for eternity.
So row your little rowboat back to the closest shore and gather round to hear the tales of what the sea gave back.
15. A Baby
Ok, let’s be serious – a baby is not terribly frightening. But to the parents of Baby Melda Ilgin, who put the ten-month-old baby girl in a flotation device and then promptly forgot about her, the experience was no doubt the most terrifying one possible. Baby Melda, like a cute little shark snack, floated a kilometre from the Turkish beach of Küçükkuyu towards the Isle of Lesbos, before being picked up by the coast guard.
One can only imagine that Baby Melda’s grateful parents were overwhelmed by the generosity of the ocean, to reject their sea worthy little tot. It is harder to figure out how Baby Melda herself felt about it, although one does rather appreciate a desire to visit a Greek island rich in history in one so young. Perhaps she will grow up with an affinity for the sea and a desire to travel far and wide on its comforting bosom.
14. An Arm….In A Shark…..In A Shark?
In Sydney, Australia, in 1935, a 3.5 meter long Tiger Shark was captured for display in the Coogee Aquarium.
“Bloody Ripper!” thought everybody, until the poor lil shark looked a bit sick, coughed, and vomited out a human arm in front of a horrified audience.
Who knew sharks could vomit?
Anyway, it turned out that this shark had indeed eaten another shark who had eaten the arm, which had a distinctive tattoo. Upon examination of the arm it also turned out that the arm had been severed with a knife, and media publication of the tattoo led to the identification of a well known criminal and police informer by the name of Jim Smith, who had until this time been missing.
The shark-expelled arm sparked a murder investigation, and the killing of the shark, and then a second murder of a Reginald Holmes, who confessed he had thrown the severed arm into the ocean on instruction from a Mr. Patrick Brady, who had been ordered to kill Smith by gangster Eddie Weyman, who had in turn been informed on by Smith. Quite the drama.
In the end, despite Brady being arrested and charged, he was acquitted and to this day the true story of the arm in the shark in the shark is known only by the ocean – and for some time I suppose the shark knew. If it even cared.
13. The Ghost Lifeboat
Somewhere between Antarctica and the very southernmost tip of the African Continent you can find tiny Bouvet Island. If you want to. Which you probably don’t.
There is nothing there, except fungi, liverworts, algae, seals and a whole lot of low-aiming sea birds. And as the most remote island in the world, it doesn’t even have nice neighbours – it doesn’t have any neighbours! One thing that this wintertime icebound island does have, however, is weather. And a weather station.
But this was not always the case.
In 1964 a South African expedition to the island discovered a lifeboat abandoned and empty in a lagoon formed by melting ice in the hinterland of the small island. So not actually on the shore. There were no identifying marks on the lifeboat, and no human remains were discovered.
Where did the lifeboat come from? It was 20 feet long and yet it had only a small pair of oars to power it. Someone had moved the contents of the boat, buoyancy devices and other nautical paraphernalia and carefully arranged them on the ground. But where was that person?
12. The Last Lifeboat From The Titanic
Everyone knows about the Titanic, Jack dies, Rose lives, our hearts go on etc.
In reality though, more than 1,500 lives were lost and the sinking of the ‘unsinkable’ Titanic is the stuff of legend and real heartbreak for the families and loved ones of those on board.
Luckily for those fortunate souls who made it onto the available lifeboats, help was close at hand. Only a few hours after the liner went down, the living were whisked from Collapsible life Boat A and the dead remained, to toss on a frigid ocean for the next two months.
Collapsible Life Boat A was spotted 200 miles away, weighted only by three decomposing bodies, bound together to float endlessly through time, or at least until the RMS Oceanic, a sister ship to The Titanic, found them.
The corpses of a passenger, 37-year-old Thomas Beattie, and two of the ship’s firemen were sea drenched and barely recognizable, burnt dark by the sun and coming apart in the hands of the sailors who boarded the tiny vessel to inspect its grisly cargo.
11. A Really Creepy Prehistoric Fish
66 million years ago, in the soupy Late Cretaceous oceans, a relative of the lungfish called the coelacanth swam sinisterly about, eating, loving, breeding and dying in its primitive little life cycle. Then, either due to catastrophe, climate change, a meteor or some other deep ocean mystery – they simply died out.
However in South Africa in 1938, a nosey naturalist called Marjorie Courtnay-Latimer was poking through the haul of a local fisherman when she suddenly jumped back in shock. “Good golly gosh!” said Courtnay-Latimer “I think it is a living fossil!”
Well the young naturalist was right, and with this discovery the coelacanth went from pre-history to mystery – where had it been all this time? How had it survived undetected for 66 million years? That is one long game of hide and seek!
And as for the coelacanth, well he is an endangered species due to the risk of being accidentally caught by people fishing for something tastier. The coelacanth is not a very good eating fish, and is best avoided.
10. A Sea… Ape?
A Sea Ape, you say? Do you mean a sea lion or a sea cucumber….or…?
No really. It is meant to be an ape. Well a seal type thing.
Dr. Georg Steller, scientific explorer of the cold lands and waters of Russia and Alaska discovered many species of animals in his explorations – from Steller’s Sea Eagle to the now extinct Steller’s Sea Cow (like a huge manatee) he had made many a legitimate discovery.
However, on one remarkable day the sea threw him a curve ball – in his book “The Beasts of The Sea” the zoologist writes that an animal about six feet long appeared alongside the boat: “The head was like a dog’s head, the ears pointed and erect, and on the upper and lower lips, on both sides whiskers hung down … The body was longish, round and fat … the skin was covered thickly with hair, grey on the back, reddish white on the belly, but in water it seemed to be all red and cow-colored”
Astounded by this completely new animal, he took a pot shot at it and missed. No doubt horrified at this reception, the poor Sea Ape retreated back into its natural habitat, never to be seen again… yet.
9. A Dead Billionaire
In 1991 the naked, waterlogged body of billionaire media tycoon Robert Maxwell was pulled from the ocean after the crew of his luxury yacht, the Lady Ghislaine reported him missing the previous morning.
One of the richest and most controversial men of his time, Maxwell built the Mirror publishing empire, although after his death his company ran into severe financial and legal trouble.
Unwell, in debt to the tune of billions and facing the prospect of ruin, Maxwell had enemies both from his business ventures and his political leanings. Even closer to home – it was discovered in 2007 that he had been wiretapping his employees to make sure he stayed one step ahead.
But what had happened to him? Three coroners were unable to reach a conclusion to the cause of death, and both murder and suicide were ruled out. He was in his yacht one moment and then floating about the Canary Islands, dead, the next. Was it the perfect crime, or did sirens lure him to his untimely death, deep in the bosom of the heartless ocean.
8. Severed Feet… In SHOES!
This one is revolting.
Imagine a romantic beach stroll along the shores of the picturesque Salish Sea in British Colombia, Canada. Feeling a little frisky you duck down behind some dunes to spend some quality time and oh! Someone left a dirty old running shoe on the soft sand. You throw it away and it feels heavier than it should because…it is filled with a foot.
16 individual foot-in-shoe packages have been found on either the American or Canadian shores of the Salish Sea, only two of them able to be paired up and have both right and left accounted for. There have been some hoaxes, it is true, but that still leaves an unexplained cluster of shod, dismembered feet that have washed up on the sand, to be found by beachcombers.
The odd thing about the feet isn’t so much the feet – it is perfectly feasible for a foot protected by a shoe to become detached from a watersoaked and fish eaten body and remain inside the shoe as the shoe floats along on the ocean currents until it is found. What is so odd is that SO MANY of them are found in such a small area.
7. A Tiny, Drifting Sailboat
Bas Jan Ader was a Dutch artist who was an unsung master of performance art. In 1975 he set off from Cape Cod in the US to sail solo across the Atlantic in the smallest boat ever to have attempted such a voyage – the Ocean Wave, which at 12 ft in length looked more like a bathtub toy than an ocean going vessel.
Ader’s performance in three parts began with students singing sea shanties in his studio the night before his departure, this was followed by more sea shanties as he took his leave. Then his piece was left unfinished as his boat was found near Ireland in 1976. The last that anyone heard of Ader was his voice, thin and reedy, over the Ocean Wave‘s radio three weeks into his journey. His Magnum Opus never finished.
Or was it?
Was Ader killed by a rogue wave, a victim of a fall from his boat or was this perhaps his final performance – to disappear before his curtain call.
6. Friendly Floatees
What is more terrifying than one cute lil rubber ducky? 29,000 cute lil rubber duckies! Still not scared? Read on!
In 1992 a storm at sea caused a mass release of Friendly Floatees from a container washed overboard from a ship in the Pacific ocean. The Floatees were adorable – bright yellow duckies, green froggies, blue turtles and red beavers. Each packaged against a cardboard backing, the sea quickly released these multi coloured demons and they swirled through the pacific ocean in menacing hoards.
Some of the Floatees invaded Hawaiian shores, others floated over the Titanic’s watery grave, laughed, and the froze themselves in pack ice, to turn up in the Atlantic years later.
While menacing and terrifying in word and deed, these little plastic monsters did actually help oceanographers chart currents and learn about how the ocean systems work. So I suppose they weren’t completely evil.
5. The Floating Dead
Sometimes the sea is like a really mean ex who throws gifts you gave them in good faith right back in your face.
While many people know that often those who die at sea are buried at sea, less people realize that being buried at sea is a valid and popular choice for landlubbers too. Anyone can do it, as long as it is all organized legally and the right equipment is used.
Imagine how you would feel if you buried a loved one only to find that their body had been unburied and floated up to the surface to be rediscovered by the coast guard.
Well that is exactly what happened in 2013 after an unnamed woman from the British island of Gurnsey, who was buried at sea, was found floating miles away and had to be buried all over again. Not very comforting considering how much trust we put in the dead staying put and safely buried wherever their final resting place is!
Mummies. If you are like me the idea of a mummy evokes crypt keeper type Egyptian fantasies, rather than middle aged German sailor death ships.
In 2016 the desiccated body of Manfred Fritz Bajorat was found in his boat, Sayo, off the coast of the Philippines four weeks after it was spotted by crew of an American racing yacht and a tip to the American Coast guard was ignored.
A month after this unheeded notice of a yacht with a broken mast was given, the mummified body of the sailor was found, sitting at his table, his head resting on his arm, his body hardened by the salty sea wind.
Bajorat died of a heart attack, alone and possibly reaching for his phone to call for help. Help that could have maybe come before he died. Would action by the coast guard have been to late? We will never know.
3. An Aqua Racehorse
Sometimes the sea is just too alluring for words.
While having his photo taken in 2016, with a jockey on board, the aptly named Rebel Rover, an Australian racehorse, must have heard the sea horses call.
Ditching his jockey, the big thoroughbred took to the ocean. He was found swimming 12 km out to sea and after a lot of, heh, HORSING AROUND, he was secured by his trainer jumping off a rescue boat to lash him to the hull. After spending two hours swimming around by himself you would think the horse would be a little more grateful – but no, after hitting dry land he promptly knocked out his trainer’s father with a stinging headbutt.
2. A Traumatized Orphan Child
In 1961 11-year-old Terri Jo Duperrault was found, exhausted and close to death, floating on a little cork float in the North West Providence Channel. She had been floating for four days with no food or water.
Little Terry Jo was one of two survivors of The Bluebelle, a boat chartered by her father to take her family of five to the Bahamas from Florida. The skipper of the vessel, Julian Harvey, murdered his sixth wife Renee and the rest of the Duperrault family, while Terry Jo cowered below decks. Harvey scuttled the ship and left Terry Jo to drown.
But Terry Jo had other plans. Managing to untie her tiny raft she floated, waiting for the help that she prayed would come, rocked safe by the ocean. It is unthinkable to imagine the torment that the little girl suffered, orphaned and alone, not sure if she would live or die.
1. A Ghost Ship…. With Tables Set For Supper!
In 1872 the American cargo ship, the Mary Celeste was found floating adrift by a passing ship. When boarded, it was discovered that her cargo of alcohol, food and the personal belongings of the crew still on board, as were maps and other navigational equipment that would have been helpful for a crew suddenly deserting a dangerous ship.
But why desert? There was no smell of fumes that might have caused an imminent explosion, there was no sign of a struggle – there were no discharged weapons or body fluids. No clues in the ships log, the only ‘problem’ on board was a dismantled pump and a small amount of water in the hold.
So what happened? Where were the captain, his family and the crew and why was this safe, stocked and seaworthy ship left to the mercies of the sea. By some accounts the exodus from the vessel was so quick that there were plates and old food on the tables in the galley, uneaten and rotting, a feast for ghosts perhaps – the ghosts that sail forever on the heartless sea who will not give up her secrets.