UFO's And Other Strange Things Seen Aboard Ship

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I’ve seen some strange stuff at sea but never anything like this. What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen on watch?

It doesn’t surprise me that mariners would avoid answering this. Most mariners have seen weird stuff at sea but what’s to gained? You only bring your own credibility into doubt.

To “see” a UFO two things are required, first something unusual has to appear in the sky. That can be called into doubt, that the observer is just bullshiting. Secondly there has to be a perception that it’s not just “something weird” but an actual object. That’s where the person’s judgment can be called into doubt.

Having said that, here’s what happened.

I was second mate on midwatch crossing the Pacific westbound on a dark night. I was watching out the window just to starboard of the center line and the AB watchstander was over on the port side, also watching forward.

This is what I saw. A UFO, maybe 8-10 times the size of ship. It was lit with what looked like running lights and also by what looked like some working lights aft. The running lights were reflecting off the" skin" of the UFO and from the reflected light it appeared to be metallic. It was moving steadily crossing slowly in front of us from stbd to port

So I’m watching this happen and the AB says; “Hey mate. Do you see what I see?” I said “yes, I see it”. We watched it till it moved off to port and disappeared. When it was gone the AB says “I won’t say anything if you don’t”. and I said, “Yeah”.

What’s to be gained? It’s unbelievable.


What do we have to gain? Everything.

I think that is important but it’s only the secondary reason. The primary reason no one is posting is because they (falsely) believe the topic isn’t very important.

But I don’t create threads often and when I do it’s usually about something that is important but overlooked. And this topic is important.

I do belive there is something to be gained, not in the practical application of marine operational skills, but in the art of seamanship. Unfortunately this softer side of our craft is often overlooked and underappreciated.

I read constantly. I complete an average of 2 books a week, and untill I became an author myself, all of the books I read were nonfiction. After writing my book I was invited to join a group of bestselling authors (most of them were also nonfiction writers… all were of acclaim) and what suprised me most about these men of science and fact was how much fiction they read. It didn’t take ore I was confronted by one author (a guy I’ve long admired) about the lack of fiction on my goodreads.com reading list.

I’ve always enjoyed reading fiction but I stopped because what ai enjoy the most is learning. I take a personal satisfaction in learning everything from how to tie a new knot to understanding how geopolitics influences the shipping industry. Call it strange (I admit it is) but I get a real thrill out of those lightbulb moments you get when reading serious books.

The confrontation started with me defending my case. Sure, fiction is enjoyable, but I find great enjoyment in nonfiction as well. The author I admired replied “Yes, so do I, which is why I write nonfiction, the other reason I write about true events is because I am not talnted enough to write fiction.”

He said it boils done to the fact that both fiction and nonfiction teach you about the world around us… both teach you the what and how of the matter BUT those are secondary in importance to the question why!

Take the el faro for example. There will undoubtedly be a book written about her sinking and it will undoubtedly be nonfiction. In reading it you will learn a great deal about the survivability of large vessels in adverse weather conditions yet the most important question won’t get answered at all.

If you want answers to that question you need to turn to fiction and the best book to answer it is Typhoon by Joeseph Conrad. Now THAT book not only gives you a peak into the possible mindset of Davidson and gets us close to answering the “why” but also contains a large amount of how and what! It teaches you about catgonstowage and barometers and watchstanding techniques and a host of other userfull stuff.

And, because it’s enjoyable, you also retain the information much better than had you spent that time reading the weather section of one of the most brilliant but boring books ever published: Bowditch.

What does all this have to do with UFO’s? Well Probably the single most important skill in the Art of seamanship has always been (and continues to be despite the fact it’s rarely ever practiced any more) the telling of good sea stories.

You see, no one will believe you if you tell the UFO story flat, with just the facts, but if you spin it into a yarn, if you embellished it nuggets of both your knowledge as a Master and practical information then the reader would be better off.

Another thing happens when telling good sea stories… there is no expectation for the story to be true - so it won’t get dismissed as B.S. (It’s “just” a story - BUT those of us who have sailed as master - those of us with decades of experience will know that every word of the story is true (and all the best fiction stories are true!) and we will learn how a brave (you have to be brave to tell that story and braver to tell it well!) experienced colleague handles the most unexpected circumstances. And that (plus honing our own yarns) is the art of seamanship at its finest.

But, as I said in the beginning, no one responded because they don’t see the importance of UFO’s or they didn’t see it for what it was (an opening inviting you to tell a good sea story) or simply never thought much about it.

I only know one person who understands this point fully and that’s my friend Dr. Colin Dewey at CalMaritime who I first met when we, to the dismay of most of the attendees, spent 30 minutes on the topic of maritime fiction during a discussin of the future of navigation at a Nautical Institue meeting. He gets it but, looking at the humanities budget at his school, I doubt that the rest of the administration fully understands.

And if you don’t believe - that good fiction is more important than nonfiction - well just remember that this entire post is just a yarn.

P.S. One important caveat is that you need to read good maritime fiction - of which there is very little being published today - you will be fully entertained but will learn little except misinformation and bullsh!t reading bad maritime fiction (e.g. Clive Cussler)


Thanks, Jon! So true, if we can say “true” at all when we’re talking about the stories. On the topic of “yarns” I really recommend Marcus Rediker, Outlaws of the Atlantic. He has a whole chapter on maritime lore and yarning and how important storytelling was/is in transmitting practical and cultural information throughout the Atlantic.


On the topic of “yarns” I really recommend Marcus Rediker, Outlaws of the Atlantic.

It’s now on my list, thanks!

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Back in the late 70’s to early 80’s, I was on a tug up on Lake Champlain and up in the wheel house BS’ing with the mate when we both say some thing about 20-30 feet long just under the surface heading for us.

This thing pass close to a small boat and caused it to rock. It was causing a disturbance on the surface which is what caught our attention.

We both looked at each other and said, “let’s never mention this to anyone”.

A couple of years later, I was shocked to read an article about “Champ” which has been compared to the Loc Ness Monster.

And no we were not drinking or stoned at that time.


Yes, an angel visitation. On the Horizon Reliance. About 10 years ago. He told me about reincarnation and then he punched me, knocked the wind out of me really(perhaps to let me know it was real?). The next day I got an e-mail about a death that I would have been a lot more upset about if it hadn’t happened.

If I ever wrote about it, I would call it “punched by an angel”.

Or who knows, maybe it was just a hallucination due to lack of sleep and 3am dockings.

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I’ve seen several strange light shows that could not be explained over the years, but no close encounters of the third kind.

My first trip out of the GOM when I was a kid was on a seismograph vessel working between Cartwright and St John Newfoundland. We were 40 to 50 miles offshore but the coast line was visible to the eye and appeared to be 5 to 10 miles due to a temperature inversion. I was freaked out and the old CM had a good time jacking with me before he explained the phenomenon.

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Yea, away from all the noise of society more stuff seems to happen

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Once when sailing on the Shell tanker Kermia in the Indian Ocean we observed during nighttime from the bridge an uncommon phenomenon which we later learned had been seen before by others and was named as a ‘marine lightwheel’, a kind of maritime grain circle.

What we saw was a pattern of bright curved spokes slowly turning around our ship in a clock wise direction. The spokes seemed to slowly rise from the depth of the sea while the light intensity increased during this process. We looked at it with awe and in disbelief while our brain frantically searched, but could not find, a logic explanation for this enigmatic spectacle. Another strange thing was that there somehow was total silence. No sounds like the familiar breaking of waves, nor that of the wind and even that of the ship’s engine could be heard. The strange thing was that this phenomenon did not frighten us at all, on the contrary we had a very relaxed feeling as if we were already acquainted with such a thing. The whole performance lasted about 15-20 minutes although it seemed much longer. It did not sink back into the ocean but simply slowly faded.


The second mate noted the whole thing dutifully in the ship’s logbook which remarks later were erased by an angered captain: “You guys been hitting the bottle last night?” We vowed we would not mention it to anybody …

Much later I discovered more, especially an good essay by the British scientist Dr. Peter Herring with the title ‘Phosphorent Wheels: Fact or Fiction’. As it appears already in 1879 a similar sighting took place in the Persian Gulf on board HMS Vulture.

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Years ago on my personal sailboat enroute from Marina del Rey to the Isthmus on Catalina Island with a girlfriend: It was about 3 or 4 am with a planned arrival at sunrise. I had given her the helm and a course to steer. I was tired but I stayed in the cockpit in case she needed me.
We had crossed the San Pedro channel ship traffic lanes without encountering any traffic. All was dark and quiet and my eyes were at half mast when I heard her call out with a funny squeak in her voice.
Ahead of us was a circle of super bright light shining up into the sky from under the surface. It was a perfect circle, 300 to 400 feet in diameter with the edge clearly defined.
She was half panicked demanding to know what the hell was that. Now fully awake, I steered around the perimeter trying to think of an explanation. The circle of light didn’t move or dim.
After we left the weird phenomenon in our wake and the excitement died down, neither one of us ever spoke of it again.
In trying to make sense of it, the only explanation I can think of is a school of luminous sea life but that doesn’t even begin to explain the extreme brightness and perfect shape.
Anyone else encounter a similar phenomenon?

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Early mid '80s we were towing a barge from Seattle to Seward, a few hours west of Cape Spencer in the early morning around 0300, I was in the bridge talking to the mate when a small light appeared on the horizon, nothing on the radar, the mate hailed the light but received no answer so he had me get the captain, both the captain and the mate were trying to get their attention, shinning the searchlight, hailing it but no answer, the light just kept getting larger and brighter. It ended up being a crescent moon coming over the horizon.


the last “official sighting” of the flying dutchman was about 1959, one can probably google it.

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I conversed with a author who was documenting a WW2 radio signal that was heard just a few years ago. Now I can’t recall the author or name of book but being into radio it makes for a facinating “ghost” story.

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And no we were not drinking or stoned at that time.

Thanks for that qualifier. That was a lot of that type of watch standing back in the late 70’s to early 80’s. Good read as are all these stories / confessions.

We saw the same type of what? Contact? Craft? from a USN ship. Picked it up on radar in CIC. It was huge, larger than a carrier and moving at 90-100 knots, impossible speed for something that large, it was akin to an island getting up and moving with speed and purpose.
Dawn was just starting to ease the blackness, about 60 west of Manila and Subic Bay. It stayed just out of clear visual range in that light haze you get in the tropics. Ran out to the bridge wing to try to get a look anyway. Lots of blinking lights and yes, some working lights aft?
Low off the water but off the water, couple of hundred feet up. It moved out and away and just vanished from radar and visual.
No one knew what or how to log this or make a report so no one did and no, there was no call made to the Capt. either. Whole episode maybe three or four minutes.
Yes it was late 70’s to early 80’s and as already stated best by Tugs… sober.

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Not the first time someone’s thought the moon was a contact

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I cruised out of Kittery, Maine for thirty years or so. Almost always turned east…

One night as we were nearing Kittery on the return leg we saw lights in the air to the south. After watching for a while we realized we were seeing the landing lights of aircraft in the landing pattern at Logan airport in Boston, sixty miles to the south. Never before or since.

Object, flying, unidentified.