Fear for sailors is a giant octopus – and has been for centuries

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A giant calamari afloat

‘When I was in Oregon, I was told there were several places along the coast where people were warned not to bathe, on account of octopods. In 1877, and Indian woman, who went bathing in one of these places, in total disregard of the advice of her friends, and was suddenly observed to sink. The next day her body was seem from a boat lying on the bottom of the sea in the embrace of a big octopus that was engaged in sucking every particle of blood out of her.’

Ben Crawshaw’s terrifying dream about a giant octopus (see the videos to understand this one!) reminded me of this rambling and scary chapter about this particular kind of sea-beast found in Elliott O’Donnell’s book Strange Sea Mysteries published a hundred or more years ago. These nightmares have been stalking sailors for many centuries, and no doubt will do so for centuries to come…

I hope reading this won’t make the dreams any worse Ben!

Cephalopoda 235 Cephalopoda 236 Cephalopoda 237

Cephalopoda 238 Cephalopoda 239 Cephalopoda 240

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4 thoughts on “Fear for sailors is a giant octopus – and has been for centuries”

  1. Chilling stuff Gav. Maybe the less imaginative, more pragmatic sailors can go to sea with no fear. But for the more flighty ones, like me, overcoming deep seated fear will always be an issue.


    1. I think a touch of fear is essential – it's part of the excitement, it keeps you on your toes, it's also part of what makes the small boat sailor in some ways different to other people, and it's also part of what small boat sailors have in common.

      You'd have to be almost entirely without imagination to have no fear at all when sailing on the sea – but reading this stuff I can't help thinking that some of the people who cooked up the stories Elliott repeats in his book may have had a little more imagination than was strictly good for them.

      Big cephalopoda exist, or so I gather from the Wikipedia, but thankfully I don't think they're common in the Mediterranean.


  2. Yes, I've read that they're out there but I think any cefalopod in the Mediterranean would be hard put to grow to 40cm before it ended up in somebody's pot.

    I think that nowadays the giant cefalopod has somewhat been displaced as a scary sea monster by the shark. Thanks to Jaws etc. However, as a symbol for deep, lurking, unshiftable fear the giant octopus, capable of dragging a whole ship and crew under, wins outright.

  3. Gav I will never go to sea again in anything less than 70,000 tons…laughing but enjoying…(seen some large fish etc myself in the Caribbean as a boy… 200lb Groupers & 5 ft greenback turtles)


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