A tale of bulging eyes, tentacles and enormous jaws.
It is a soft sort of day, with the mountains climbing out of the sea into a thick mat of low cloud. The wind is steady, about force three. Up with the mizzen, then the main, and unroll the jib. Forward to drop the mooring pennant. Hold the jib aback while the boat's nose swings off the wind. Then aft to the wheel and trim.
This is a seven-ton ketch, thirty feet long, heavy as a barge. The sails fill. The lee side goes down a little, but not far enough to spill the tea, and the wake burbles as we surge over the smooth grey carpet of the Sound. You can steer with a single finger, or no fingers at all: the joy of a mizzen. The log steadies on four and a half knots.
The eye travels up the rig and down the deck. Everything is secured for sea, and there is nothing between us and the horizon. The mind is free to wander to a friend in New Zealand. He was sailing his ketch about a thousand miles south of the Cape of Good Hope when he felt a check to the boat's way, and noticed an odd thickening of one of his shrouds. He trotted forward to investigate, and found to his horror that the thickening was a tentacle. The tentacle, in fact, of a giant squid, the rest of which, bulging eyes and hideous beak and a lot more tentacles, was writhing around at the waterline.
Another tentacle slapped aboard and writhed up to the spreaders, where it tied itself into a sort of clove hitch. My friend's heart was beating like a hammer. He did not want this kind of company on his boat, but given the power of those plate-sized suckers there was not much he could do about it.
It was at this point that something else crashed into the boat with an impact that knocked him off his feet. He landed on the side-deck and found himself looking under the guardrails at a row of gigantic teeth, next to which was an eye the size of a saucer. The teeth and the eye, he realised, of a sperm whale.
On the port side of the boat, the squid's weight was pulling the nose of the boat down. On the starboard side were the whale's enormous jaws. My friend concluded that he was in big trouble. But as it turned out it was the squid that was in trouble. Diving under the boat, the whale bit off a couple of the creature's tentacles, then crunched its body. The squid let go, and my friend watched the whale and its lunch disappear into the deep.
On the one hand, this is a story hard to believe. On the other, my friend is a bluewater sailor notorious for his truthfulness. Mulling this over, I let the ketch waft me into the Sound, wedged into a corner of the cockpit, feeling the little eddies coming up the rudder and into the wheel. Less is known about the deep sea than about the surface of the moon. In this cruising life, there is always something to think about.
I jumped a foot in the air. Just ahead of the bow, something huge and black had broken the surface: the back of a gigantic creature. The back rolled on, it seemed forever. Then at its extreme back end there was a little hooked black fin, and it was gone, flying into the kingdom of the deep: a common or garden minke whale. There are no giant squid in the Inner Sound, or the North Sea, or the Solent. Or anyway none that anyone has seen.
On we sailed towards the horizon, traversing the mysterious kingdom of the deep.
Sam Llewellyn, editor The Marine Quarterly
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