Despite all that man has learned of our planet, the sea remains a thing of great power and mystery. It is the source of all life, feeding and nurturing our cultures across countless generations, yet in one moment it can drag us into its midnight depths, never to be seen again – like the Emeraude Ferry.
Aye, the spirit of the oceans has left its mark on those of us who live by it. Just to speak of its boundless wonders is to taste the tang of the damp air, to summon the spirits of those hoary, peg-legged mariners who have trod the salty boards in times before us, sailing far from port in search of adventure, gold and duty-free Prosecco. Many bad men, and a few good, have ended up in Davy Jones’ locker or run through at the point of a sword. It saddens me to think of it, as sometimes it was my sword, but now I’m old and must tell my tales for the entertainment of landlubbing readers of Galley Magazine. Let’s raise a glass to the sweet memory of my favourite cabin boy, whilst I tell you stormy legends bold and true. Like the storyteller at the Children’s Library I will do requests, but by Nelson’s Eye if you dare ask where I’ve buried my treasure I’ll toss you overboard and drown you like a bilge rat.
The Black Dog of the Bay
The beaches of our Island, fair by day, are haunted by a dread beast that is said to travel under cover of darkness. They call it “the black dog”, and it is seldom seen, except by those that quake in fear to remember the sight, for it is said that this dog runs so fast that in one night it can cover every beach in the Island, as well as the parks, woodlands and many areas of St Helier. Its phantom mark? Countless small plastic bags, hung from trees and filled with ghostly droppings, that each man swears must absolutely not belong to his pet. Some say that the black dog can even take human form, driving around in a van that produces multiple other dogs, all the better to lay steaming traps in any long grass owned by the National Trust. I hope never to gaze upon it with my sole remaining eye.
The Phantom Lifeboat
It is a sailor’s greatest terror, to be alone and adrift in the cold ocean, but I swear by the gunner’s daughter that I’d rather sink like a rusty cannonball than be rescued by the phantom lifeboat of the Jersey seas. They say that many years ago, there were two groups of brave mariners who came to blows over who would have the prestige of rescuing fair maidens in trouble, and whilst they were set to arguing, a third lifeboat set sail from St Helier one dark and stormy night. This dread lifeboat is not crewed by men, but by the accursed skeletons of those who took sides in the lifeboat battle despite never having been to sea. They are doomed to spend their lives crossing the waves, making shrill arguments on social media and shaking a donation bucket that can never be full. By Neptune, I would saw off my one good leg before I’d accept a car sticker from this ghostly crew.
The Siren of St Mary
Crews throughout history have returned to port with fabulous tales of sweet ocean nymphs, beauties who have lured the unwary navigator to sail towards rocks and their doom. Oftentimes, these damsels are revealed as foul hags or half-fish beasts when seen up close – although believe you me, a seafarer can still be tempted when he’s lonely and far from the arms of his sweetheart. The sailing men of St Mary have more excuse than many, due to the prevalence of female bearding and webbed feet within their parish, so it’s no surprise that they tell stories of a “saucy mermaid” that swims to Greve de Lecq and summons them with its beautiful call. After taking a sailor in her arms and making sweet love to him, this mermaid is revealed as little more than a pile of rotten seaweed containing three Lucozade bottles and a discarded French shoe. Nonetheless, countless men from St Mary have failed to break the curse and tried to take the shoe as their legal bride. It makes me weep, like the memory of the scurvy gumrot that removed all my natural teeth.
The Noirmont Kraken
Nautical legend speaks of an ancient race of men, so fierce and strong that they fought the gods of the sea and made off with the treasure of Poseidon himself. In revenge the ocean god unleashed his dread minion, the mighty Kraken, which throughout history emerges from the salty fathoms to drag innocent sailors to a damp grave. Some say that even today it lurks about our Southern coast, eager to thwart the plans of men by wielding magic to disrupt food deliveries and splash people on the cycle path. Although it’s been a fair while since we lost a clipper with all hands, its evil presence is still felt. Nothing pleases Poseidon more than to ensure that, should you try and board the ferry with a monstrous hangover, you will be surrounded by a hundred noisy children on a day trip to St Malo. It is his watery curse, and I thank the stars that the worst I’ve suffered from this malign aquatic spirit is a terrible storm in which a falling yardarm sheared off all my fingers.
The Sunken Parish of Atlantis
Land-dwellers will sometimes gaze through a telescope and wonder why the distant, abominable rocks of the Minquiers and Ecréhous seem to bear signs of human habitation, yet Jersey society has defied its normal rules and so they are ruled by an eerie absence of coffee shops or glass-fronted office buildings. Are they haunted by wraiths, inhabited by vicious flesh-eating seabirds, or indeed the resting place of a dread pirate and his crew, who will relentlessly pursue any who attempt to make off with a single gemstone from his mighty treasure? All of these are true, but the real reason for their abandonment is that these offshore reefs bear witness to a time when our Island was much larger, for they are the remnants of the sunken “thirteenth Parish” – left as a warning that future generations will not be tempted to meddle with forces beyond their comprehension. This Parish was once thriving and prosperous, with very reasonable foncier rates, but the Parish assembly grew bold and reckless and spawned some unknown disaster – perhaps letting the supermarket open on Sundays or moving dog licence applications online. The gods were furious, and the thirteenth parish was dragged beneath the pitiless waves with the loss of over 600 cows. It serves as a warning to us all, just as the spots where my hair and beard used to grow warn against leaning over a bucket of burning pitch with a mouthful of smuggled brandy.