Marine Lightwheels


This peculiar phenomenon was witnessed on the Shelltanker Kermia while sailing somewhere in the Indian Ocean. I happened to be on the bridge with the third mate with the usual mug of coffee. It was a beautiful clear starry night. Almost at first unnoticed but increasing slowly, then faster and faster, large phosphorous rotating spokes emerged from the sea to the water line. The strange thing was that the ship was the center of this phenomenon while the spokes reached as far as the horizon, at least there was no end to it. We remained in the center of the pattern, it moved with the ship at a speed of 15 knots. Slowly the curved spokes turned clockwise around the ship.

We first walked on the starboard wing from the wheelhouse and then to the port wing, but the phenomenon was equally strong on all sides. The Chinese lookout was frightened, even shivering and hid in a corner of the chart room. We were struck by the great symmetry of the whole thing. We were literally speechless and didn’t know what to think about it, let alone that we had an idea of ​​what could be the cause. After an eternity, so it seemed, the spokes dimmed and then disappeared as quickly as they had come. I estimate that the phenomenon lasted about fifteen to twenty minutes. For us the whole thing was not frightening at all, on the contrary, it was a peaceful experience and it was as if all sounds had disappeared, total quietness.

We were still guessing about what we had seen, when the second mate came on watch, but when we told him about our experiences, the fun was soon over. He suggested, very predictable, that we probably had a few too many and that ended the discussion. We abandoned our plan to send a report to the KNMI, the Dutch Weather Institute, for which we were Selected Ship what meant that we had to send in weather data every six hours, to ask them whether they were familiar with this phenomenon and how this could occur. The old man might give the same reaction and we didn’t like that idea so we shared with nobody. About thirty years later and triggered by a news paper article I still contacted KNMI but got zero response.

They are called Marine Lightwheels, Crop Circles of the Sea and in Dutch also Spoke Wheels. The funny thing is that two other Shell Tankers, the Sepia and Dione, reported similar experiences but with totally different patterns. There were no reports of similar sightings made during the sailing period, it started after forced sailing was introduced so the engine driven ships seem to be the catalyst. Two of the Shell Tankers were steam driven, the third by motor so that does not make a difference for the patterns to occur. There are no reports made by smaller ships so the displacement, engine power and propellor dimensions and especially the total ship’s vibrations transmitted into the sea water seem to be of importance somehow. Until today and in spite of all the research, no satisfactory explanation has been found which in itself is curious.


Totally different but stunning patterns as witnessed on the Shell tanker Dione,

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