These sailors reveal the most unexpected moments they had while at sea. Content has been edited for clarity purposes.
A Night Of Hard Partying
“I was assigned to the United States Ship Salvor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii as a midshipman in the late 80s. The Salvor was a Navy rescue and salvage ship with a small crew and used mainly to recover damaged ships or scuttle ships past their lifespan to create artificial reefs or gunnery targets.
Anyway, I was 18 and serving my summer duty which included a lot of boring night watches usually between 11PM and five AM. Lots of mindless chit chat, walking around with a flashlight and drinking lots of coffee to stay awake. On one of these nights, about an hour past midnight, we got a call over the radio that a liberty boat used to ferry sailors between the island and larger Navy ships had caught a rogue wave and capsized. As you can imagine, Pearl Harbor was a crowded port and many larger ships would anchor a few miles out and send their crew in on these smaller, more maneuverable boats. They usually held 20 to 30 people but this one was packed with about 40 sailors returning from a night of hard partying and drinking.
The seas were calm that night but getting out of Pearl could be treacherous, especially at night and if the boat crew was unfamiliar with the tides. Apparently the boat got too close to a shallow reef where the waves began to roll. A wave hit the ship broadside and knocked one person overboard. The wave itself wasn’t strong enough to capsize the boat but when the crowd shifted to one side to look for the missing person, a second wave and the imbalance made it tip over and dump everyone onto the reef. Then it got worse because the boat partially filled with water and was now stuck between the reef and the pounding surf. So if you can imagine, it was dark, you were getting thrown repeatedly against jagged coral by a ton of seawater and oh yeah, you were wasted.
It was standard protocol for every ship to assist in a search and rescue and we responded by launching two small craft. I was in one of them manning the searchlight. Our boat was a small 30 footer and it had a large searchlight mounted on a tripod. It reminded me of one you might see on an old movie set.
It took about 20 minutes to get close to the accident and we got to maneuver so we didn’t end up in the same situation. Remember this was before GPS so our helmsman had a general idea of the accident location and was taking a bearing and using the boat’s compass to get us there (old school).
As we approached the scene, I could see the silhouette of the hull but couldn’t hear much over our engines. We cut the engines and tried to home in on anyone in distress. It was eerie because there was very little moonlight so objects went from invisible to brightly illuminated by the search light then lost again in the darkness. I started seeing shoes, just empty tennis shoes and then life vests bobbing up and down in the spotlight but no people. Then we saw parts of the boat. The waves had battered the boat against the reef and started tearing it apart. It looked more like the scene of a plane crash. You could also hear a rhythmic ‘thoom! thoom! thoom!’ spaced about 30 seconds apart as the waves beat the boat against the reef.
Finally, we heard screams and we shined the searchlights to see groups of three and five people clinging together and screaming, ‘Here! Over here!’
As we got closer to pull them into the boat, we realized they weren’t screaming for us to help them. It turns out most sailors on the boat were Navy Divers and a few SEALs. But there were also a few girlfriends picked up earlier that night who shouldn’t have been on the boat. Even wasted, the sailors knew exactly what to do as soon as they hit the water, ditch your shoes and life jacket. In heavy surf, the life jacket just adds to your surface area and makes it harder to swim away from the reef. Some of the girls apparently didn’t know that and were trapped between the reef and the boat.
A few Coast Guard boats and helos showed up about that time and the professionals took over the rescue operation. We stayed on scene for another hour, swinging the searchlights around looking for any stragglers. I believe at least two people died that night, pinned between the reef and the swamped boat. I think a second person may have drowned, unable to swim due to intoxication. It was definitely a night I will remember.”
Operation Able Vigil
“When I was 19, I had just gone to sea for the first time with the United States Navy. A few days after heading to the Gulf of Mexico for a few weeks, we were dispatched to the straights of Florida because Fidel Castro had opened the doors, and people were fleeing Cuba in droves. It was called, ‘Operation Able Vigil.’
One night after standing watch all day over dozens of people who’d been pulled out of the water, I was standing on the three levels of the ship with a chief (it was the only exterior surface of the ship not coverage with refugees), smoking a cig. It was a full bright moon that you could see reflecting on the ocean’s surface. We were talking about how crazy this all was, and looking at all of the other Navy and Coast Guard ships on the horizon doing slow circles looking for people like we were.
Suddenly in the reflection of the moon, we both saw something pass through the reflection. He looked at me, and I nodded that yes. I too had seen something. He took off like a shot to the bridge, and the ship started to circle back towards the thing we’d seen.
It was a person in a life preserver, just floating in the middle of the straights of Florida, hoping someone would see him.
There we were on this two billion dollar missile loaded warship doing slow circles, looking for people in the water. All told my ship saved, and/or transported 1800 people back to Gitmo for processing. Keeping in mind, the ship’s crew was only about 400 people. It left a big impression on 19-year-old me.”
“A few years ago just after 9/11, we were shrimping and trawling in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s a zone around LOOP (The Louisiana Offshore Oil Port) that is off limits. LOOP is basically the hub that takes in all the oil from the rigs in the Gulf Of Mexico.
So, we were just doing our thing and drinking. The captain hadn’t really owned the boat that long and I guess he wasn’t really paying attention because I looked to the left and all of a sudden a boat turned on a ton of lights and I immediately saw a 50 caliber machine weapon pointed at us. Then they started to call us on the radio. I walked inside the wheelhouse and this boat wasn’t on our radar. They gave us a heading and we took it. My buddy walked outside and looked to the other side and it was a submarine, which also wasn’t showing up on the radar.
We got out of the no float zone or whatever it was called and the submarine simple submerged. The other boat turned around and headed back in the other direction.
Scared us so much that we all sobered up a bit (the captain wasn’t drinking).We finished our trip and headed in and were met by the Coast Guard who gave us a warning and the captain a good chewing.
I am not sure how great the radars are on these shrimp boats, but I do know that they pick up those little wells, so how neither of the boats showed up, amazed us.”
“So I was on the Eagle (big pirate ship the United States captured after the second World War) crossing the Atlantic Ocean. I was supposed to go on helm/lookout watch at 11:30 pm, however I slept through my alarm. I woke up at one am and realized I was late. I hopped out of my rack, went topside and tried to head for the lookout group in hopes of hopping on with them and pretending I was there all along.
As I was walking towards the bow (imagine something out of ‘Pirates of the Carribean’ movie), instead of a group of cadets shooting the bull, looking through binoculars, there was just a single person who I didn’t remember being part of the crew, which consisted of just 50 people). He was standing with his back to me staring straight ahead at the full moon, which was right off the bow with a reflection lighting up the water. I walked towards him, when without warning he turned around. I was sure at this point that I’ve never seen him before, but he flashed a creepy smile, held up a pair of binoculars and said, ‘Hello. These are for you!’
It turned out the group that was supposed to be up there was back swapping out and the guy was just a temp who had come for the cruise at the last minute and was up enjoying the moon. But for a few moments, it seemed like I’d wandered into the middle of a horror story in the middle of the ocean and I briefly debated jumping overboard. Luckily I did not.”
“I was in the Navy standing watch in the operations center as we were off the coast of San Diego. It was a very calm clear night. Very smooth water, it was just me and a buddy on watch. I stepped out on the port side of the bridge under the bright moonlight. As my eyes adjusted, I started to see a circle form in the water and just grow and grow, making a perfect circle. I then noticed another and another. My mind tripped and could not figure out what was causing these massive circles to form near our ship.
I went in and grabbed my buddy, then went back out and the circles were still forming. Being a big ship, we were pretty high off the water. So as we watched, I realized what was happening. Porpoises were chasing schools of fish up to the surface of the water and as the fish hit the surface, they started spreading out in perfect circles. We saw the Porpoises break the surface in the middle and dive back down. It was an amazing sight at night.
I seriously thought I was seeing some type of alien activity in the water for a minute there. The ocean at night is a beautiful and scary thing. Everyone should experience it at least once in their life.”
“On my first deployment to the Mediterranean and the Middle East, I was assigned to stand lookout at various times throughout the day. Sometimes watch would go into the next day, and this was after I’d already been working all day so there was hardly any rest in between. As you can imagine, fatigue sets in and takes a toll on everything and every once in a while I’d end up experiencing done very lucid hallucinations.
One night, I was on aft lookout nodding off every few minutes when suddenly, after bringing my head back up, I vividly saw this massive tiger pacing in front of me. I notified the bridge, CIC (combat info center), and the other lookouts and they just laughed it off, much to my dismay, because I was freaking out and didn’t know what to do. The tiger disappeared after a few moments and much reassurance from everyone that it wasn’t real.
Other nights I hallucinated, I reported a battleship sailing alongside and caused a small scare in combat because no one detected it on radar. Most embarrassingly, I reported a yellow moon as an aggressively low-flying hostile aircraft. Many laughs were had.”
“The sea is a vast and seemingly empty place. Many fail to grasp this when asking questions like, ‘How can you just lose an airplane in the ocean!?!’
I found myself, on my ship, somewhere in the vast expanses of the South Pacific Ocean. We had been cautiously avoiding big storms which I knew to be all around us (out further than the eye can see) although our local ocean area was calm and peaceful. I was on watch when I noticed something out there, in the distance, bobbing along that I had never seen before, especially this far from land.
As I got closer, I identified what was clearly a makeshift raft, made from lashed together bamboo, with a snapped mast, and an empty cooler moored to the deck. Upon this raft was not a soul. The chances of coming across a raft, to begin with, are small enough in that part of the ocean. Thinking about the person(s) who once sailed that raft, why they sailed, and how they met their fate. That was what creeped me out.”
“Do Whales Have Funerals?”
“When I was off the coast of Japan in 2007, I watched a whale die. I couldn’t tell the gender, but I remember hearing those faint whale cries that you can sometimes hear at night beneath the surface.
The moon was full and I could see it on top of the water. Then I saw other whales passing around it. Do whales have funerals? Because it felt like a vigil or saying goodbye. You could hear the faint puffs of the blowhole spraying out water in a labored way. I didn’t know if it was hurt or just old. These other whales made a few passes and then they left, and the whale wasn’t spouting air anymore. This was all in a 15 minute period as we cruised passed. I guess the whales may have been there longer, but I felt that they knew that they didn’t want to stay around dead bodies for long.
It was haunting and beautiful at the same time. I don’t think I had ever cried as much as I had that night.”
“I was working on a car carrier four years ago in the Middle East. Our typical route went through pirate waters at times, and so we always picked up four ex-marines as security in Aqaba, Jordan before we went.
One night while we were going through pirate waters off of Yemen, we started to have problems with the main engine. So we stopped and had to drift for a bit to figure out what the problem was. During this time I was working on the stern, which was located in the back end of the vessel. I couldn’t really see anything out in the ocean, because everything was dimly lit on the ship. I don’t know why, but I got bored and turned on the spotlight and there he was, this guy with a weapon in a rusted little boat staring at me about 15 feet from the ship.
I just stared back at him, kind of stunned. I was afraid if I reached for the radio to call one of the marines he’d shoot me (the marines had weapons). So he looked at me and I looked at him and he sort of gave me a nod as if he was telling me ‘well played’ and I gave him one back. Then he slowly rowed his boat back off into the deep pitch-black night. I didn’t know how many others there were. But I did call it in on the radio as soon as I lost sight of him. I still remember his face today, that deep stern concentrated look.”
After Seven Days Of Searching
“My sister’s boyfriend was in the Civil Defense and RNLI (The Royal National Lifeboat Institution) in Ireland. He was telling me recently about a boat that had sunk nearby with five fishermen on board back in February.
They recovered four of the bodies but couldn’t find the last guy. They gave up after eight or nine days of searching but there is this theory that the gases inside a human body will cause it to rise to the surface after seven days and then again after 21 days.
On the 21st day, a few of them went back out during their time off, to see if they could find it. They searched for a few hours and then decided to give up and come back in. As his boat pulled up close to the second boat (this is in the middle of a bay that is around 15 miles across), the man’s body bobbed up to the surface right in the middle of the two boats.”
“I was on a fishing charter boat on Lake Erie at around five am in the morning. The water was scary, calm, and glass-like, and it was so foggy you could not see more than 30 feet of that. We all started hearing this plopping sound like somebody was slapping the water with open hands and it kept getting louder and closer.
At this point, we had all slowly moved to the other side of the boat, not knowing what the heck it was. Even the boat captain was standing there in total silence as we all just stood there and listened to this plopping sound getting closer and closer. Then to the shock of us all, a deer swam by the boat. Yes, a deer. It looked to be a very large buck with at least 10 points on his rack. We were more than 10 miles offshore so it made no sense at all. Can you say freaky?!”
“A few years ago, I was down in the thousand islands area in Southwest Florida, doing some backwater fishing with a buddy and we heard that ‘thump thump’ of a helicopter off in the distance. So we looked up and watched a coast guard chopper trying to catch up to a speed boat. The chopper flew ahead, rotated so its side was facing the front of the boat and just opened up on the engines of the boat with a machine weapon. The boat exploded into fire, I’m guessing it hit a fuel tank. Then the chopper started hovering in a circle of sorts looking for survivors.
At this point, my friend and I were like, ‘Yea we should just get out of here.’
A little later on, we did see what looked like a smaller coast guard ship heading out to that point. I’m guessing it was some sort of illegal smuggling operation out of Cuba. It made for an interesting Saturday afternoon.”
Good Thing He Didn’t Fall Out
“I was sailing a small Sunfish around an island near Florida in shallow water. As I cruised along, suddenly a large section of water directly in front of my bow exploded with a large splash. Immediately afterward my boat rammed into something under the surface and came to a complete stop.
My first thought was, I’ve hit a reef, but suddenly the entire boat was lifted up and spun around 90 degrees, almost dumping me into the water. Then there was another big splash and I saw something zoom away, leaving a wake behind it.
I was left freaked out and shaking. Then I thought to myself, I must have hit a big dolphin. Maybe it was a manatee? Lots of dolphins around here…
So, I finished my sail and went home. When I got to the beach I pulled up the centerboard and found a real surprise. A two-inch chunk had been bitten out of the wood. You could clearly see the marks of three large teeth.
I’m very happy that I didn’t fall out of the boat that day.”
Was It A Torpedo Or A Dolphin?
“It was about two am in the middle of the Atlantic and very dark with no moon. As I was walking up to the bow of our sailboat to inspect the sails, I saw a faint glow in the water a long way off. I stared at the glow a long time before I realized there were actually two glowing objects moving quickly underwater, on a collision course with our boat. Immediately I thought it was some submarine or torpedo, about to ram our boat.
But then the glowing shapes came right alongside the boat, perhaps a foot underwater. They were two ghostly blue dolphins, glowing brightly and so vivid and close in the clear water. I immediately realized the dolphins were being illuminated by bioluminescent plankton, but the sight was surreal. I watched them play in our bow wave for awhile, imagining sailors of the past witnessing these eerie dolphin spirits and how mind-blowing that must have been.”
They Were Met By A Coroner
“My father back in his commercial fishing days noticed that there was a t-shirt in the middle of his net after one tow. After a little investigation, he found that it was not a shirt, but a human torso wearing a shirt. He said he was terrified that he would open the net and a head would roll out onto his feet, but it didn’t happen. His captain radioed ahead and they brought the torso back to the docks, where they were met by the police and a coroner. They were eventually able to identify the body (based on the clothing) as a victim of a plane crash that had occurred fairly recently. My dad said he offered a free lobster to the coroner, who graciously accepted it until he found out that it had been found in the net with the body. After that, he got angry and told him to throw it back.”
“My uncle runs a charter fishing boat, he loves telling the story about how he was out in the ocean on his boat at night, and there was this beautiful woman floating in a raft unconscious. He and my cousin pulled her aboard and she began to regain consciousness and she was really wasted. Apparently, she ended up being on a party boat earlier and everyone just thought she was being too annoying, so to get rid of her they just put her on a raft and sent her off.”