A Memorable Night at Sea
by Ed Boddaert, Duncan BC
legendary sea monster or Cornish myth ?
It was a pleasant calm evening in the autumn of 1944 as the Ibis sailed out
of Mevagissey harbour, with the other members of the fishing fleet, bound
for pilchard grounds off Fowey Point.The bay was glassy smooth with a slight
swell, I was at my usual position at the helm and Eddie Lakeman was outside
the wheelhouse door, leaning agaist the jamb.
Mevagissey was a busy fishing port in those days, located midway along the
south coast of Cornwall, England. I was thirteen years old and spent much
of my weekends and school holidays on board Ibis, a forty two foot lugger.
Some three years earlier Bill Hannon, the doctor's son and I had gone out
for a day trip on Ibis and from that point on I was "hooked". Rushing home
from school to help unload the catch, mend the gear, clean down and moor,
Ibis became a part of my life. Helping on the weekends, learning how to mend
nets, strip the engines and many other tasks, and "crewing" during the school
Ibis was owned by the Lakeman brothers, Eddie, Archie and Dick. The forth
member of the crew was Percy Hunkin. These gentlemen made me welcome on board
and, as I matured after I had left the village, I came to appreciate how
much patience, caring and acceptance of me had affected my development in
those formative years, the years that my father had been away during the
war. A part time crew member, while Dick was away, was Joe Clark, it was
he who sparked my interest in the stars by turning off the compass light
one night and getting me to steer home by the stars. But I digress ....
With one hand on a spoke of the wheel and my body leaning on the wheelhouse
window, my eyes scanned the waters with an occasional glance at the compass
to check the course. About a quarter of a mile off the starboard bow I spotted
a plume of water like a fountain's jet. I really did not need to be told
what it was but this was my first encounter with a whale and I knew whales
were big! Looking for reassurance I said to Eddie "Did you see that spout
of water ?" "Oh yes" he replied "that's a whale. There are two more out there,
one off the port bow. There, see its tail, it must be at least fifty feet
long". My mind did some fast basic figuring. Ibis forty-two feet, whale fifty
feet, we are probably not much of a match for the whale. I did not learn
until much later that whales are friendly mammals, I had read about Moby
Dick and had quite a different perspective on whales. I pondered this for
a while as I watched the whales breaching and their tails slapping the water.
Eddie did not seem concerned, so relax. As the sun went down and we prepared
to set the nets, thoughts of the whales left me.
After the drift nets are put out a line from the nets is secured to a bow
cleat and we all go below for some supper before starting to haul them back
in, an hour later.
Sometime after ten o'clock we started hauling in the nets. There was hardly
anything there. Conversation turns to whales that we had seen on our way
out and it seems to be the opinion that they have moved the schools of pilchard.
I never did know how the Lakemans knew where to cast their nets. A trick
of the trade. With the last net on board we had but the baskets of pilchard,
a long way from a fish berth full. What now ? Well, after some brief discussion
it was decided that we would go and look for the schools of pilchard.
This announcement puzzled me. How does one look for schools of fish at night!
Percy Hunkin started one of the engines, put it slow ahead, came up from
the engine room and knelt on the deck with his arms on the rail peering into
the black water off the starboard bow.
So we motored slowly on staring down into the water. Suddenly the Ibis heaved
in the water causing me to almost lose my balance. A massive silvery shape
passed amidships from port to starboard. I knew what it was, but a scared
thirteen year old needs some reassurance "What's that" I called out "Oh,
that's one of the whales, come up to scratch it's back on our keel" said
Percy "Good job our keel iron is on tight, it might have scratched itself
and got annoyed!. I retreated from the rail to the foremast amidships. If
that whale was coming back I wanted to be as far away from the side as possible
and near something solid that I could grab hold of.
All was quiet after that, Percy was leaning over the rail looking for pilchard,
Eddie, Archie and Dick were on the starboard side by the wheelhouse. I remained
by the foremast looking over Percy into the black night illuminated only
by the one shielded netroom light, the only light that we could have at sea
during the war.
Suddenly the black sea parted some ten to twelve feet in front of Percy's
face, off the starboard side. A three to four foot diameter object with a
ball like head came straight out of the water and rose to a height of some
twelve feet above the water's surface. The deck that I was standing on was
four feet off the water, I was about five and a half feet and was looking
slightly up at it.
"Cor, hell!" exclaimed Percy as he reeled back from the rail throwing his
hands in front of his face, "what is it ?" I looked back at the others by
the wheelhouse, they were staring at this thing with their mouths open. That
vision still remains with me. Three seasoned seamen staring at this thing
with their mouths open! I turned to look at this "thing", momentarily poised
on the sea. It gave a breathing sound, "Aaggh, Haaggh", before slipping
vertically down the way it had come. A stunned silence for a few seconds
before excited conversation broke out as the four fishermen compared sightings.
A tubular form with globular head seen from the bow and the stern.
Not a whale nor a submarine periscope or snorkel. Whatever it
was, they had never seen nor read about anything like this. I remained
holding onto the foremast feeling cold, clammy and decidedly scared. I
do not remember what we did after that, I think the idea of looking for more
pilchard was abandoned and we returned to harbour.
It was twelve years later, 1956, that I returned to Mevagissey on holiday
with my wife. Ibis was tied up to the west arm of the inner harbour,
the crew was busy about the job of mending gear. I climbed down the
piling to the deck to renew acquaintances, my wife remained on the quay with
the three or four other fishermen who were passing the time of day. After
introducing my wife and chatting about this and that, I turned to Eddie and
said "Bye the way, did you ever see anything of that thing we saw off Fowey
point in 1944?" Eddie turned excitedly to the fishermen on the quay
and said "There you are! He remembers it after all this time and you didn't
No, they had never seen it again but it had been a memorable night at sea.