The Ancient Mariner

The night was as hot and humid as a Turkish bath, and dark as the inside of an ink bottle. The wizened pier rocked in the incoming tide, the only light a faint glow coming from the harbor ¾ of a mile away. The three men on the pier were fishing for whatever was biting and enjoying a few cold adult beverages. Then from the blackness came a distant sound PHHHSTTTT, PHHSSSST, Two of the men looked to the third and asked him what was making that sound, they asked him as he knew more about animal and sea life then they did. Again, came the eerie PHHHHSSST, PSSSTTTTT, sounding like some sort of broken down, ill conditioned, steam valves about to blow. The men stared into the darkness looking for source of the sound, however the dim light showed almost nothing. Then about 30 feet out from the pier they saw her………

Sometime between 1740 and 1750 she wriggled free of the sand of her nest and looked out at her bright, brilliant, soon to be new home, the Atlantic Ocean. She and her siblings had already eluded the numerous raccoons, opossums, skunks, and foxes that had dug up many of the other nests on this beach and eaten the eggs. Now though they faced the most dangerous gauntlet of all, 50 yards of open beach between her and the relative safety of the ocean. She and her siblings would need to dodge the gulls to get in the water and then once in the water they would need to avoid the sharks and other denizens of the deep looking for easy meal. She started crawling and flapping her way to the water, a brother on one said was picked up and hauled away by a large gull, a siter on the other side fell victim to a roving raccoon. She could see legions of her kind trying to reach the water. She was lucky and slipped beneath the surface just in time to miss being a gull victim herself. Once in the surf she slipped deep to avoid the waiting jaws of the sharks and other fishes.
Over the next twenty-five to thirty years, she travelled the coast of Eastern America, from Cape Cod down to the Florida keys. While she was touring the ocean blue, those American Colonies were engaging the French in a little thing call the French and Indian War. During which time, a young lad by the name of George Washington was making a name for himself.

About the time The Continental Congress was signing The Declaration of Independence she was hauling herself up on a beach to take part in ritual of her species. She used her hind flippers to dig a large deep hole in the sand, above the high tide line. Once she had it deep enough she began to deposit her eggs, tears flooded her eyes as she laid her brood. She cried as all the mothers of her species do when they lay their eggs, no one has ever found the reason for the tears. Perhaps they know that only 7% of those eggs will hatch and reach the sea.

While war raged on she pass British Mano War’s French sloops, privateers, and smugglers on her tour of the coast. The war ended but she likely never knew. She returned again and again to the beach to bear her broods.

It was nearly a century later during the Civil War, when she saw the first iron clad ships sailing on her home, The giant metal monsters making enough noise to driver her far off shore for years to surf ion the Gulf Stream. One month she might be a Yankee, the next month a rebel, she held no conviction either way. She danced on the tides and ran the currents, eating, living, breeding, and brooding her species.
Eighty years or so later she found her home full of the metal monsters, going back and forth from America to England and back. She also had her first run ins with sleek metal undersea boats, the dreaded U-Boats of the German Wolf Packs as they hunted for prey among the metal monsters on the surface. She wasn’t sure what was happening, but her home was full of new and disturbing things. Long years passed before her home was once again quiet. She returned to the beach of her birth many more times over the years that followed.

Two more major wars were fought and finished on the surface world, but she never knew about them as the metal ships were long ago outdated and replaced by aircraft. She was alive during the fall of Saigon as well as the Iran Hostage Crisis. She evaded nets, and long line fishermen, as well as shell poachers in the Caribbean. She had been around when the Russians launched Spunik and John Glen walked on the moon.
How many miles she had swum in her life are seemingly incalculable. Thousands of trip of trips up and down the East Coast of the United States, in the Caribbean, and likely the Chesapeake Bay as well. During her lifetime nations had risen and fallen, wars waged, won and lost, and technology had gone from wooden boats, to rockets to the moons.

As the men peered into the inky blackness, they saw her and were amazed at what they saw. She loomed from the darkness looking like some antediluvian monster, water vapor rose from her nostrils in the PHHSTTT sound they had heard earlier. She passed by them at thirty feet, and they took in her immense size and proportions.

I know because I was one of those men, the on the other asked to identify the sound. My friends Keith Barone and Arnold Favinger were with me that steamy summer night so long ago. We all agree the head was bigger around then a wash tub, her eyes were as big as black saucers, each flipper we saw was foot in length or more and as wide as our chest, and the great shell was as big as my Mothers dining room table, seven to eight feet long and over three feet wide.

She fades into the distance; we could still hear her PHHSTTTT occasionally. I told the guys that we had seen the biggest Loggerhead Sea Turtle in existence. I had read many books and magazines, as well as watched innumerable documentaries and had never seen even a picture of a turtle that was near the size of the ancient “Queen of the Deep” we had seen.
The next day as we approached the dock to do some fishing at high tide, we saw a U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service truck by the dock. A man was standing along side the truck and holding what looked to be a large TV antenna, while another man was watching a monitor.

“What are you trying to track?” I asked them. “Oh, nothing important” they replied. “Couldn’t be that giant Loggerhead, could it?” I asked with a grin. “Uhm, yeah that’s what we are tracking, How did you know?’ they asked us. “We were fishing out here last night when it swan by. It was enormous ‘ I told them. “How old is it estimated to be?” I asked them. “Well, we can’t say exactly, though as near as we can guess we estimated her to be 230-250 years old (this was in 1991)” was the reply.

I know that it seems impossible to believe that she (female turtle grow longer and live longer than males) was that old. I am not so sure, she was at least 3 times bigger than the biggest Loggerhead Turtles I had seen in pictures or in documentaries, so that tells me she was extremely old. The giant tortoises of the Galapagos Islands have been known to approach 300 years, so my loggerhead is a possibility.

I hope she still swims into Chincoteague Bay on certain summer nights to lay her eggs. I hope her offspring will follow her tracks for two and a half more centuries to come.

(The sighting and the USFW discussion are as real and accurate as I and one of the other observers remember it. The journeys and experiences of the mariner are well open to interpretation smile )

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure

Theodore Roosevelt