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15 sailors share the most unusual thing they've experienced while at sea.

15 sailors share the most unusual thing they've experienced while at sea.


There's something about the open sea that conjures our collective imagination.

From the historical tales of people sailing as a primary form of travel, to the massive amount of mystery tied up in ocean life, there's so much about the open waters that draws us in.

And few people regularly convene with the water as much as a professional sailor. Hearing their stories of peace and chaos can give the rest of us a vicarious taste of what life on the boats might feel like.

In a popular Ask Reddit thread, sailors shared the most unusual thing they've experienced while at sea, and it truly runs a range.

1. From Dull-Menu5285:

When the water is dead flat, and the sky is clear, at night, it's really possible to get completely disoriented and fall in. You can't tell where the water begins and the sky ends, so you always keep your hand on the lifeline.

2. From Zebulon_V:

We were sailing (330ft. ship) from the North Sea to west Africa. I was off shift and sleeping. I woke up and for some reason decided to go up to the bridge, which is something I usually never did when I could be sleeping or eating.

It was night, so all the lights were off on the bridge save for a few red ones, and I noticed how bright it was outside. I went over to starboard and the f**king white cliffs of Dover were completely illuminated by a full moon. Just beaming moonlight.

It was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. Of course, the mate on duty was English and was nonchalantly like 'yeah, that's Dover.'

This one isn't me, but a Welsh guy I met in the Caribbean. He had done a few transatlantic trips in a small sailboat so had tons of ocean experience. A big storm caught him, with huge rolling waves.

He decided to heave to ride it out (basically using your sail and the rudder to put the brakes on and give yourself a smoother ride). He was in the cockpit and was riding up one of the bigger waves. The next part is wild.

He swears to god on his grandmother's grave that a giant whale just below the surface cruised up the wave beside him and just stared straight at him.

He describes looking into this animal's huge eyeball, just looking back at him, for what was probably a couple seconds but he said felt like minutes, from a few feet away. He's never lied or really even exaggerated otherwise, so I believe him.

Can you imagine seeing that? Sometimes I really miss being at sea.

3. From FoliageTeamBad:

Last year I went whale watching in BC. The captain spotted a pod of humpbacks and stopped at the lawful distance and we were awed by how magnificent they were.

And then a calf broke out of the pod and came over to check us out with its mom close behind.

For over an hour we were kept hostage by these two whales, one youngster curious to see what was up with the loud monkeys and an enormous momma lurking just below the surface and keeping an eye out for any silly business.

The captain told us we couldn’t leave because he was afraid to turn on the propeller while they were so close. The baby came right up to the boat, I could have reached out and touched it.

At one point it rolled over on its side and looked me dead in the eye for a solid 15 seconds and I couldn’t believe my luck. The whale was so close one unfortunate passenger who was sea sick literally vomited chunks on the poor beast.

There is absolutely a keen sense of intelligence in the eyes of a whale. Some animals you can tell there isn’t much going on besides base instinct but that whale stared into my soul.

On a side note, whale breath is pretty gross and I got sprayed by one of the whales by accident when it blew it’s blowhole, was pretty gross ngl.

4. From MyNameIsRay:

My area occasionally gets phytoplankton blooms. If you're boating at night and sail into a bloom, the wake of your boat will suddenly start glowing blue.

It's pretty darn bright, easily seen with the naked eye, and appears out of nowhere. One minute you're sailing in complete darkness, the next you're in glowing water.

5. From CalEPygous:

I was sailing off the coast of the big island Hawai'i in February. We were mostly interested in fishing since the wind had died down. There were no other boats around that were visible and it was a very calm and peaceful day.

Now often you'll see Humpback whales breaching in Feb and you can also hear them singing if you are underwater. That is cool enough, but this encounter was awesome.

I was baiting a hook, and suddenly on the starboard side of the boat a pod of about 20 melon head whales comes up right beside the boat and they just start staring us down.

I lean over and this one dude moves a little closer and just keeps moving his head so he can eye me up and down. They all just kept staring at us with an expression of 'WTF are these? Hoo interesting, don't look like they can swim at all.'

They eyed us at close quarters for about 5 min and then just took off. The weirdest part of the encounter was the close eye contact I had with the first whale was definitely two individuals sizing each other up. Best part of the whole day.

6. From thecactuswrench:

I was on a run between California and Hawaii, and I was out on deck doing rounds on deck equipment, checking oil levels etc. I saw one of those free-fall lifeboats just hanging out in the distance and was like wtf.

I called the bridge, they said a ship accidentally dropped their lifeboat a few years ago and now it turns up from time to time. Was glad to know no one was on it, but it gave me a brief scare.

7. From Hans_Von_Seemann:

French Navy navigator here. Back in 2018, went underway from Toulon on the high sea patrol ship 'Commandant Ducuing' for a routine patrol.

The sea was very rough out of the roadstead, coming from the west, which was completely contradictory with what our weather briefs were indicating. Captain decided to go ahead nonetheless .

We took a heading towards the east to enter Hyères Bay, when we entered in the pass, s**t went down. I was outside, starboard wing of the bridge to take bearings when the ship took a 35 degrees list on starboard.

If I had held my arm out, it would have been underwater. I held on the compass for dear life, because going overboard in that weather would have probably meant death. Needless to say, I shat myself.

When the ship leveled, my boss went out to check if I was still there, and ordered me to go below to check how bad the damage was to some of our gear. I went, and when I was at the main deck, the ship took a 43 degrees list to starboard.

I was then blessed with the horrific sight of a washing machine that was strapped in a room by the hull on portside punch a hole through the bulkhead and go straight to starboard WITHOUT touching the deck.

Also, a lot of the firefighting equipment (axes, hoses, pumps...) was just flying all over the place, with guys from the security department desperately trying to catch it and fasten it. At that point, we had entered the bay and had better weather.

We had lost electricity in the bridge and CIC, so the captain decided to wait in the bay for the weather to calm down. When it did the next day, we pulled back into port for repairs.

This little escapade resulted in two guys having broken limbs, the electrical network of the bridge and CIC beeing badly damaged (the guys that were supposed to strap down sh*t didn't do it correctly and got punished) and for me, a reminder of my mortality.

On a more positive note, I once saw a stork land on our 100mm turret after a sandstorm off Libya, and stay there for several hours.

Also, we had a couple of sperm whales with a calf swimming alongside, for almost a day off Ivory Coast. When you see that kind of stuff, it doesn't matter if you are 3 months in or 20 years in. You feel like a kid again.

8. From ConstantTheory255:

Lots of crazy little things, but I was on a ship that lost a man overboard in the Atlantic. Reports were that a lifesaver was thrown after he fell in, the lookout said he saw a swell overtake him as he was going toward the life saver...and that was it.

We searched for hours, never seeing a single lights in the water...dark shaped swimming past them. Makes you realize how small we are in nature. Still think about it to this day.

9. From BassEvers:

Flying fish timed a wave right and jumped out the water and through an open hatch directly into the galley. Freeboard was like 7 metres. The chefs shat themselves haha.

10. From Smh_nz:

I was gently sailing down the northeast cost of New Zealand heading into Auckland at about 2-3 am. I was on watch and the other crew member was asleep below.

It was a pitch black night, no moon and the sea was very still so as soon as you look overboard all you saw was black! Eventually you saw stars but it was impossible to distinguish sea from sky.

As I was keeping a watch I saw what I thought was a shooting star just MUCH bigger! It came again and again until there were about 30 of these shining glittering trails shooting around the boat.

It was very disconcerting and it took me a few minutes to click what was happening. We had sailed into a patch of luminescence while dolphins were swimming around the boat planing on both it and our wake.

I hadn't noticed them due to it being so dark! For something so simple it was a very moving almost spiritual experience and it will remain one of my all time most fondest memories!

11. From baldntattedoldman:

Being in the middle of nowhere and seeing a star go streaking straight across the sky and when I said “wow”, the aft watch said wait a half hour, sure as shit there was again in the same spot. It was a satellite on a geosynchronous orbit!

12. From Key-Article6622:

Picking up a small (28') sailboat in Egg Harbor, NJ, delivering to Havre de Grace, Md. We get out into the ocean (intercoastal waterway is in the ocean down most of the coast of NJ). Wind dies dead and night is falling.

We motored all the way to Cape May in the dark and actually had to veer to port twice because we were going so perfect by the charts we would have hit 2 byoys.

Hit Cape May after the sun came up, but the fog was so thick we had to anchor for a couple hours because the entrance there is narrow and hazardous, can't risk it in someone else's boat.

While anchored we hear this loud motor approaching us, but visibility is maybe 30 or 40 feet. We start blaring an air horn every 15 seconds. Suddenly this cruiser, probably 40' comes through the fog right at us! Must be going 15 or 20 naughts.

He pulled up and veered around us with maybe 5' to spare. Scared the crap out of us. Got into Delaware Bay and finally a good tailwind and we're off!

Then we look back and the wind is the leading edge of a strong squall, heavy rain, lightning and thunder. Water gets choppy as hell. We're probably listing over 20 degrees in this wind.

Made it to the entrance to the C & D Canal just as the rain caught us. Wind is too strong to sail through the canal, so back to motoring. Motored all the way to the Susquehanna Flats, but it's getting dark.

The channel through the flats is maybe 20' wide and weaves through 2' of water all around, no lighted channel markers, so drop anchor again til dawn. What should have been a 3 day trip with an overnight in Cape May became a 5 day trip.

13. From Stred2001:

The first time you see a large sea turtle is kinda strange they look like floating boulders. But the sea for as strange as it is, is an amazing place as well seeing a flying fish or looking in the water and seeing fish as far as you can see is incredible.

I saw this quote on one of these once: “The sea gives and takes in equal measure”

14. From Daggertooth71:

St Elmo's fire. Worked on a 90ft fishing boat one summer off the coast of British Columbia. One calm and starry night, I went on deck to have a smoke, and I saw faint greenish-blue flames coming off the very top of the radio antenna.

I excitedly ran below to tell my coworkers, and they laughed at me for being such a noob.

Another thing, not so unusual but really cool to see and just slightly terrifying: I was on a rowboat that I borrowed from a neighbor, which I was using to catch rockfish off the west coast of Bowen Island.

One beautiful afternoon I rowed out and cast my line when a full-grown Orca whale swam right underneath the, now seemingly way too small, rowboat, clear as day and so close that I thought for sure its dorsal fin would capsize me.

It was both terrifying and beautiful.

15. From MistaCreepz:

I was in the US Navy onboard the USS Tarawa (LHA-1) from 2002-2006. Some unusual things I experienced were the Shellback ceremonies.

Basically, a sailor who has never crossed the equator is considered a 'slimy wog' and those who have crossed the equator were considered 'Shellbacks.'

It's a huge thing that usually takes all afternoon where people dress up as King Neptune and his court and induct the new guys/girls into the fraternity.

It's all light-hearted and goofy now but back in the day it crossed into hazing territory. I got to do it twice because I became a golden shellback when we crossed the international dateline.

Other than that I worked night watch generally and standing topside in the middle of the Persian gulf at night was one of my favorite things, the amount of stars you could see in the sky was nuts and just listening to the water was soothing.

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