By Jack Sheedy
While the moon is waxing in the western sky after sunset (yesterday a sliver appeared to the lower right of beaming Venus – this evening it will appear to the upper left of that planet), the Christmas season is waning as we eat our way through the first days of January.
Speaking of January, here are some more sea creature stories to help celebrate the Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Days of Christmas, beginning with a sighting in January of 1936:
For the Eighth Day of Christmas
In our 1999 book, Cape Cod Companion, we mention in a chapter titled Sea Serpents Over the Centuries that in January 1936 a coastguardsman walking the beach in Orleans witnessed what he imagined were sea serpents offshore. From a distance he was able to notice these creatures’ mouths had 200 teeth and had tongues which resembled fish tails.
This coastguardsman also discovered the remains of some serpent along the shore, which was later examined by experts who identified it as a dolphin. A similar find by coastguardsmen in 1939 of a sea creature washed up along a Provincetown beach turned out to be a basking shark.
For the Ninth Day of Christmas
Other 20th century sea serpent sightings include two off Martha’s Vineyard. One took place off Menemsha, located on the western end of the island, and was witnessed by the crew of a Fairhaven fishing boat. The creature or sea serpent possessed “claw-like flippers” which it used to actually push aside the approaching vessel, according to the crew’s testimony. The creature was described as having a cow’s head with “eyes the size of dinner plates.”
Another sighting made by the crew of a fishing boat took place in March 1940 off Nomans Land, which is an island situated to the southwest of Martha’s Vineyard. This creature was fifty feet long as measured using the boat for reference, with a “lizard-like body” and a head that resembled that of a turtle. The serpent also had flippers and its tail ended in a triangular tip. The captain of the boat described the creature as looking “like something very old.”
For the Tenth Day of Christmas
In our book Cape Odd, we have a story of a Woods Hole fisherman by the name of Charlie Healy who in the summer of 1878 caught what was described as a pretty big shark. Healy hauled the shark onto his boat and was prepared to dispatch the creature with a club when the beast bit him on the arm and refused to let go. The fisherman eventually passed out, either from loss of blood, pain, shock, or a combination of all three.
What happened next is anyone's guess. Some time elapsed. The shark released his grip on Healy, apparently not liking his taste, and made its escape. Another fisherman happened by and found Healy in his boat, unconscious and bleeding. The fisherman mended his colleague's wounds and Healy lived to fish another day.
For the Eleventh Day of Christmas
In September 1936 a Hyannis fisherman in a skiff sailing in Nantucket Sound between Great Island off West Yarmouth and the railroad wharf at Hyannis saw what appeared to be a large skate or stingray, larger than his boat, which was about nine feet in length. He felt it was not a shark as being a fisherman he was familiar with the variety of sharks in local waters.
Similarly, during the summer of 1983 I was sailing off West Dennis in a Sunfish with three college-age friends. If you consider four 21-year old men in a circa 13-foot Sunfish, the mathematics add up to a number of legs hanging over the sides and into the water.
As we were heading back in, about mid-afternoon – after helping a party in a small motorboat repair their broken propeller for which we were thanked with a six-pack of beer – I noticed a shadow in the water off to our starboard side. At first I assumed it was the shadow of our sail. It was roughly triangular in shape and it was at least half the length of the boat. I then realized it was not the sail's shadow, as this shadow was moving and eventually passed under the boat. I yelled. Everyone scrambled to get their legs out of the water. In a moment it was gone. It all happened so quickly.
Based on the shape of its body, and the vague impressions of a tail trailing after it, I’m guessing it was a skate or stingray, similar to the one seen by the Hyannis fisherman in 1936.
Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!
Jack Sheedy is co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.