Friday, June 17, 2011

Peeking at Ivan's SITU files: The Santa Clara encounter.

While turning the pages of Ivan's sea serpent observations notebook [as we have been doing here for a while], I ran into a small stapled stack [about seven items, depending upon how you'd like to counts the "bits"] of references to the "Santa Clara incident" of 1947. It upon perusal deserves its own little posting. If you're an expert on this stuff, you probably know all about this case. But I'll try to add a little "added value". If you haven't read about this one before, I think that you, as was I, will be impressed with the case's quality.

It's nice to see a newsclipping in its original form and from the exact "moment" of the encounter itself. This always gives me an irrational feeling of the story being better grounded than simply hearing it out of a "modern" mouth. One of the frequent and rewarding things about these Sanderson notebooks is that Ivan will have an original newsclip here and there.

The one above tells the story in typical news item brevity. It's actually not a bad re-telling. The following is the incident as I synthesize it from Ivan's "stack" of references. As with most of our astounding encounters, it was not as long, nor as elaborate as we would like ... just seeming to be very real.

The Grace Lines ship Santa Clara was 118 miles due east of Cape Lookout [which is around the general area of Cape Hatteras in the Carolinas] and had just passed beyond the Gulf Stream prior to turning and heading for Cartagena Colombia. "The sea was calm like a sheet of glass". [Folks, I get a creepy feeling every time I read that line in these cases. I know that such a thing can occur naturally, but this still reeks of something similar to the OZ Factor in other anomalistic events and particularly High Strangeness UFO cases. Anyway....]. A ship's officer noticed a terrific disturbance in the water. A "snakelike" head, described as shaped exactly like an "adder", reared up out of the sea. [ you will note below that the original telegram described the animal as having an eel-like head; in all the later interviews the thing is described like an adder; well, pick and choose]. This "snake's" head was slightly elongated [five feet long and 2 1/2 feet wide] and slightly flattened [two feet top to bottom]. The neck was two feet in diameter gradually thickening to three feet for the body. The body was "clean": no fins, no hair, no protuberances. Just a great dark gray-brown, smooth, slick "snake".

The officer yelled something unprintable and two more crew came to watch and finally a third got a glimpse as the thing was left behind. The creature was thrashing, writhing in its coils, as they looked on. The water around it was stained with red as if from the thing's blood. Only 35-40 feet of the body could be seen [despite a later comment by the captain, who didn't see it, they never saw a "tail"]. The crew members speculated that the Santa Clara had ploughed through the animal, either severing it completely, or at least severely damaging it. They refused to speculate on whether they were ever seeing the entire length of the thing but seemed to believe that they probably had not.

While still sailing, the incident was placed into the ship's log. Somewhat amazingly, but very welcome, the incident was also telegraphed to the Hydrographic Bureau in Washington DC. Later the witnesses were given copies of their telegraph message and showed them to reporters. A simulation of the message was printed by one writer who saw it, and is posted here alongside. All such story elements are, as you know well, important. In evaluating any anomalistic claim, the same two general criteria which apply to UFO cases apply everywhere: the case must have strong "Credibility", and the case must have significant "Strangeness".

The Credibility factor in this case seems practically off the scale. We have multiple witnesses, at least two of whom were interviewed several times in close proximity to the time of the incident. The ship's Captain stood right up for his men unwaveringly, and prepared his own statement. The immediate log entry attests to the real-ness with which the incident was taken [as it is a $500 fine to falsify logs]. And the sending of a telegraph message to "higher oceanic authority" pretty much cinches it. Plus, we have another small tidbit.

Ivan Sanderson himself may have visited one of the witnesses and talked to him personally [or perhaps just on the phone]. This is a speculation, but it would explain Ivan having John Axelson's address written on an old envelope, and a difficult-to-read scratched out set of annotations about the case on a sheet of paper within. Ivan was certainly close enough to Axelson's residence to have done so.

It was suggested by someone that everybody here made the whole thing up. We know that this is the last resort of the emotionally-challenged. If such an terrorized individual can come up with nothing to back such a claim up, well, let that person "float downstream" to meet the Great Serpent in the next phase of existence [that was an enigmatic way of saying something else].

If "credibility" seems not much of an issue, what about "strangeness"? This description seems plenty "strange" to me. To begin with: the witnesses said that they observed this thing, when closest, at about twenty foot distance [at least that was the first witness' view], and then onwards to about 60 feet. Close enough I would say to give a lot of credence to details. If fairly accurate, then what explains a thirty-some foot "sea adder"? [remembering that this length is a probable underestimate].

Some character at the New York Zoological Society immediately tried to return to his peaceful world by declaring it an Oarfish. Well, I like Oarfish. Oarfish are great. They just don't happen to look [at all] like 35 foot long dark-skinned sea adders.

The Russians ultimately jumped in with the idea that this was a "giant marine eel". Well, if you can get the head shape correct with that, then I'm listening. This theory became "hot" due to the discovery by a Danish biologist, Dr, Antoni Bruun, who had collected a six-foot eel larval form in the South Atlantic in 1930. That, at least, is apparently a fact. Bruun, and the Russians, reasoned that if a normal-sized eel larva was two to three inches long, and grew into a three to four foot mature eel, what would a six foot eel larva elongate into? Using a not-outrageous "rule" often observed in biology [that animals within a genus group will have freakily similar developmental patterns from species to species], they "guesstimated" a possible sixty to seventy foot eel. Hmmm...I guess that I could go for that as an operant hypothesis [among others], maybe even a "leading" hypothesis.

Whatever this thing was/is, the case seems a very good one. Maybe we have a good ol' flesh-&-blood "new" biological "thing" like Ivan would have preferred. Maybe that "Sea as smooth as Glass" [even in the Atlantic] was telling a different and even stranger tale. I'm "all-in" for the ride on this one either way. Until, of course, one of you informs me of why I shouldn't be.

Addendum: another coincidence. In the next mixed box of SITU material, there turned out to be a stack of ripped Sanderson published pieces [TRUE, Argosy, et al]. In that stack was a small magazine called The Lookout. It services the Seaman's Church Institute of New York. There in 1964, Ivan wrote about sea monsters. In that article he featured the Santa Clara case [without naming it or the key witnesses, who he said were mercilessly harassed by the media with mockery]. It turns out that Ivan himself was the key early interviewer of the witnesses, having been asked by one of the wireservices to do so. He actually went aboard the Santa Clara while it was in dock at New York for his interviews. There he interviewed four witnesses, separately and as a group. As to their stories: "They jibed to the last detail despite the fact that any four people observing anything usually vary considerably in their statements." Ivan, quite angry as to how these men had been treated, and finding no evidence for accusations like drunkenness or lying, fumed: " The ship had rammed a very large animal of unknown and unidentified type off the eastern North American coast; period! "

Having read this here, I realize that he must have written about this in one of his books; but not having a library here in Wheeling, this will do.


  1. My imagination conjures images of a curtain like the streamers of Aurora Borealis. It's as if the reality on which the vessel sailed passed through the curtains and was briefly patched into a variant reality.

    Perhaps, like the cat, they entered a 'Schrodinger Zone' whereby two realities could conceivably exist simultaneously?

    Glassy seas and sea serpents shouldn't exist and yet in our mind's eye we can put ourselves on the Santa Clara. It calls to mind Coleridge's, ' idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean.'

    This is one of those accounts that might still be getting mulled over in the months to come. I'm still puzzling over the Virgin Mary sighting and have the most outlandish notion.

  2. I don't know about the Santa Clara case in particular [i.e. if it's the best example], but there's a feeling of "translocation" or "separation" about some of these anomalistic incidents, which carries a creepy "otherness" about them. Spatial dislocations, portals, crossing a threshold, a "partial presence", ... this sort of thing seems to happen, rarely in any credible form admittedly but not utterly rarely, at scales from whole "trips down the highway" to intense localized encounters, to a quick miniature "intrusion". Not all of these things seem to have any particular intelligence nor "intent" in them. Some seem like mere accidents of the mush of reality; some, however, seem quite provocative. One wonders if one could ever find a more controllable means of bridging such whatever-needs-to-be-bridged? Then one wonders if that's smart.

  3. I'll disagree a bit about the eerieness of a 'glassy sea', I used to have a small boat and on rare occasions the Pacific off of San Diego was dead calm (no wind, warm temperatures seemed to be the common factor). I'd call it 'dreamlike' but not supernatural (and excellent for boating!). Regarding the animal, googled pictures of oarfish show a lot of dark blue specimens, and the one in your picture does have a somewhat snake-like head. It would be the logical choice, and could be discounted only if a witness specifically said "what we saw was not an oarfish". Lengths to 50 feet, worldwide distribution - it does fit the bill. Wikipedia has a drawing of one found in Bermuda, a straight shot from North Carolina.

  4. you're welcome to disagree; I do it myself all the time --- often with my own ideas.

    One thing: "supernatural" did not come into this posting. And, I hope that you did not use the term in a deprecatory/dismissive way. That would clash with much of what this blog is all about [when the topic admits of it].

  5. no such intent at all, and it goes without saying that I enjoy this blog very much. Your mention that "such a thing can occur naturally" seemed to leave open the ever-so-slight implication that although it "can" occur naturally perhaps there are alternate explanations. I've been on the ocean when it was so flat and calm you'd swear you could walk on it - no bobbing waves, nothing moving, perhaps "eerie" is the right word after all.

  6. Thanks, James. Your thoughts are most welcome. I have to watch certain things more closely than I'd like because some folks mistake the nature of this site and the internet in general. As I've said too many times, the site is my home and museum. People are welcome to come in and look and ask serious respectful questions, and give thoughtful comments in a spirit of neighborliness. That level of friendly community-oriented exchange is sadly rarer in our world. My "bias" is that there is a spiritual aspect to many things, and I am sorry if some can't relate to that prejudice. But it's who I am, so what can we do about it? But, as said first: I am happy for your comments. Oarfish and calm seas are perfectly good natural parts of our world, and explain a lot of things.



Blog Archive