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Thursday, July 6, 2017

Sea Monsters and Shipwrecks



In his 1977 book Sea Monsters: A Collection of Eyewitness Accounts, James B. Sweeney relates a few tales from divers who say they encountered strange creatures under the sea.
My copy of Sea Monsters - one of the first
cryptid books I ever read

The first story is from a man named John WIlliams. He was a diver who, in the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece, had the fright of his life.

Sweeney writes that during one dive in 1970, Williams "signaled frantically to be pulled to the surface. When he was hauled aboard and his helmet removed, he announced, 'I quit.'"

After several hours, the crew got Williams to tell them what had happened. He said:

"My descent was alongside a cliff. It went straight down. At the bottom lay the wreck we were after. There was a hole in her side big enough to drive a bloody lorry through. THis was where the gold was. So I walks in, dragging my pipe and line with me. Something warned me to stop. It was sort of an instinctive feeling that I was in the presence of some sort of an enemy.
"Then I looks straight ahead. My heart came near to stopping. A large pair of eyes were watching me. These eyes are each maybe twelve inches big. They seemed to be full of hate and anger. As I watched, the lids were raised and lowered, curtain-like, half over the eyes. I felt myself being hypnotized by the force of those big eyes. Then the eyes moved, as though the beast were coming closer. That broke the spell. I backed out and surfaced." 

Sweeney then relates another story of a different diver, who also encountered a sea monster in a shipwreck.

The diver was at a wreck in the Baltic Sea in 1971, at a depth with almost no light at all. He felt his way through the sunken ocean liner to the purser's office. The diver knew that was where the gold was. He was moving through a narrow passageway when he touched something that felt alive. He put out a hand and "it came in contact with round, firm flesh. The flesh felt human. It had no scales and there was a certain warmth about it."

Sweeney continues:

"However, the ship had been on the bottom for over a year. No human being could still be alive. Carefully, he tried to get around whatever its was that blocked his passage. It was too big. Half in anger at finding this unknown thing between him and $4 million in gold, he raised a lead-booted foot and kicked. There was a smash, a rush, and something knocked the diver flat. 'It was as if a freight train ran over me,' said diver Barney Burwood. 'Then this thing fouled my lines, snatched me out of the passageway, whipped me clear of the ship, and banged me to the floor of the ocean."

Burwood signalled to be pulled up, but since he was at a great depth it had to be done slowly. Thirty minutes later he was at the surface. Everyone wanted to know what happened, and he told them.

And Burwood wasn't the only person to encounter the monster. While he was being pulled up, the captain explained: "A mighty big sea monster of some sort shot to the surface. This brute had a head that looked like something with a pig's snout, was sort of formed like a snake, and was fringed with either hair or seaweed." But that was not all.

The captain continued: "What worried us was the fact it kept circling around for thirty or more minutes. We fired a few rifle shots at it and after a bit it disappeared. There was no knowing if it had gone back after you, or what."

And those are not the only encounters with sea serpents in shipwrecks that Sweeney includes in his book. In fact, he includes two more as well.

In 1972, he says (oddly these have all taken place, so far, one year after the previous report), a "young diver named Hans Holzer told of a somewhat similar experience in the Bay of Bengal." Holzer said: "It was with a monstrous sea animal I'd never seen before. A real beast. It had the face and head of what looked like a wart hog. It just had to be the ugliest animal in the world. Anyhow, I'm down under, cutting an opening into the vault of a sunken passenger liner, when the bulkhead gave way and crashed in on me."

Holzer was in complete darkness until he managed to find his underwater cutting torch. He lit up the flame and "That's when I saw this beast. It was caught between two plates of steel that had shifted. These plates held it tight. Just as if it were caught in a vice."

The animal was described as having "a massive head that tapered into a long snout. At the end of the snout war two upthrust tusks. At the top of the head were a pair of piglike eyes and small horns."

Holzer continued: "There was about ten feet of that animal showing. And every inch was pure fury. It was rip-snorting mad at being hung up and tried to snap at me and my torch."

It was at this time that Holzer realized that the monster was blocking the way he had entered from. How would he get out of there? He decided to "give it a taste of that lighted torch." He had to be careful to not let the monster knock it out of his hand or he'd be in the dark, as in literally. "I'd be like a bowl of porridge in the monster's jaws [in the dark]," he said.

"So the two of us entered a fencing match. I'd inch toward the opening. That ugly beast would lunge. I'd poke the flame at it. Then I'd inch forward a couple of more yards. Once or twice that serpent, or whatever it was, got a taste of my torch. That made it a little more cautious. Finally, after what seemed like hours, but was really only minutes, I made my escape."

When Holzer got back to the surface and told the crew what had happened, they wanted to go back down to catch the monster. The captain, though, would not allow it. "We're here to bring up gold, not a sea monster," he said. The captain sent down an underwater demolitions specialist with explosives to kill the monster. "One bang, and there wasn't enough of that beast left to stuff a sausage," Holzer said. Now, if one bang was enough to do that to the monster, wouldn't it probably destroy the wreck they were trying to get the gold from too?

The last story Sweeney includes is similar to that one. In 1940, a diver named Pappy Gewinn had to go in a sunken German U-Boat in the Scottish Sea. While in the wreck, he ran into "the biggest sea serpent [he'd] ever seen." He said "it had a head like a bulldog and mean-looking eyes. From what I could see of it, there were gills behind the head and maybe about twenty feet of flat body beyond that."

He slammed a hatch shut to lock the monster up, and grabbed the dead captain of the ship and returned to the surface. "When I told them about the sea serpent," he said, "It was decided to let the dead crew remain where they were until the boat was raised and the bodies could be recovered without fear of the serpent."

Facing an underwater sea monster!


What are we to make of these accounts? Sweeney's book is special to me because it was one of the first books on any cryptids I ever read (probably one of the first three), but he does not include any bibliography to where he got most of his information. So I do not know where these reports of encounters with shipwreck sea serpents came from, unless he talked to them himself.

But are the reports true? I don't know. It seems a bit odd to me that the first three take place in three consecutive years. It almost seems a little to convenient that they took place in that order. He also doesn't say what happened to diver Barney Burwood after he was "whipped clear of the ship and banged to the floor of the ocean" when his sea monster charged at him. I think that might have some effects on the diver! And what did Hans Holzers' pig-headed sea monster do? All he says is that he went at it with his torch a few times and then "made my escape." He does not say what the monster, which was wedged in the passageway he needed to go through, did.

To sum things up, I find all of these reports quite suspect.

This post is part 6 of an ongoing series of posts examining sea serpent reports spanning centuries and the globe:

"Mini-Globster" in California
An Encounter with the Casco Bay Sea Serpent
Makara and Moha-Moha
Bernard Heuvelmans vs. Henry Lee
"A Sort of Odd Marine Dimetrodon"

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