So here’s a story from my younger years (much younger), the events happened when I was about eight years old so perhaps my memory has become distorted over the passing of many long years since but this is how I remember the events which took place at the time (Clare says I’m lucky the remember where I left my mug of tea these days!): -
I don’t come from a ' great outdoors ' background, more your typical working class family where my mother ran the home and my father worked all the hours god sent at the local cement factory to provide for my sister, brother and yours truly. His one pleasure, when not working in dust, was the training and racing of greyhounds and through these we travelled all over the North of England. The one family holiday was the annual fortnight in a caravan on the isle of Anglesey (Ynys Mon in welsh) in
North Wales in a site over looking Traeth Bychan (little beach). Whilst here my brother and I were usually left to our own devices, my brother being four years older usually taking the lead in our adventures. These usually consisted of fishing, rock pool exploration, piracy and general not letting our parents discover the various troubles that we seemed to amass (well they’d only have worried wouldn’t they?).
It was on one of the fishing adventures that this story takes place. We had in our possession a small, plywood built, dinghy I recall being of a type called a Goblin. The boat had been rescued by father on the previous year’s holiday during some unseasonal storms. Over the winter he carefully repaired the damaged side, manufactured a new mast and had my
Nan run up a set of sails. So now armed with the ability not just to fish from the rocks my brother and I set forth that summer to plumb the depths of the bay off Traeth Bychan. We'd had a couple of half successful outings that summer holiday with a fare number of flatties (plaice), a couple of codling and three unattended lobster pots (minus any lobster though) as well as the usual beach debris of various shells, skimming pebbles obviously made somewhere like Germany because they were the perfect shape and weight for our small hands, and a couple of shark or ray eggs, which I was told were mermaids purses which, to an impressionable eight year old was just pure magic. The holiday was drawing to its inevitable end when I overheard a couple of holiday anglers talking about conger eel. Well my eyes must have been as big as saucers as I stood rooted to the spot listening to tales of this underwater serpent with its evil dark purple color, the mighty muscles which made it such a fight to land and its jaws filled with row upon row of flesh shredding teeth. A fish to be respected they said, a fish that would test any fisherman’s metal. Mmmmm well now its funny how an idea takes hold of a young mind, now to catch a fish like that would let me, mmm let me, oh I didn't know what it would let me do but I did know that I had to catch this monster. I must have spoken out aloud or maybe it was just the feral gleam that was shining in my eyes but the two fishermen had stopped talking and were looking straight at me "you fish" I was asked, I don't think that I spoke, just nodded dumbly in answer, "well then try for this monster at dusk" the other said smiling, "if you do fish that is" the first man added then they turned back to stowing their boat with the little urchin clearly forgotten.
But the seed had been sown, off I flew to find Peter, oh yes that's my brothers name, to fill his head with this wonderful notion of beaching a real sea monster. Problem was that Peter was quite a stubborn child in that if he had not thought of a plan then obviously the plan was not worth a pinch of salt because he was the eldest so he was the brightest (yeah right o). I’d learnt that a little gentle persuasion was sometimes needed for him to come around to one of my ideas, even one as brilliant and as adventurous as this. So after cleaning the sand off our clothes, wiping his bloody nose, telling on him for the bite marks in my leg (and arm, the jesse) and having to wash the dishes for fighting again oh and getting a clip off Pops for telling tales, bite marks or not! There was still an impasse, not his idea! I had one last ace to play him with "scared" I said with no little venom (well I’d washed most of the dishes) as I pushed him into some gorse. So the next day after doing dishes again, this time on my own (bless his patchwork legs) we coerced Pops into taking the Goblin to the beach. "It’s a little late" he said "tides’ in just as the lights failing, make sure you’re beached and stowed before then and I’ll be waiting for you on this side of the bay". The thing about Traeth Bychan is that at full tide the sea comes right into the base of the cliffs leaving just a small area of beach at each end of the bay, one with the launching slipway where our camp site adjoined and the other leading to a little more exclusive site (they had wooden holiday homes and proper toilets, not a communal block) not that this has any effect on the tale, just thought that I’d bulk the story up a bit by describing the area a little. We were off, Ahab and Starbuck in search of their monster (little did we know then what waited for us), our harpoons sharpened, ok just a rusty gaff that had obviously not been wanted by the bloke we'd past walking up the beach to get his boat trailer (told you before - piracy) our bait bucket full of fresh lug worm and a couple whole of mackerel, we even had a couple of new weights and wire traces with shiny new hooks for the bottom end, bought by Pops, probably because of the guilt off giving me that undeserved slap, well I did blub loads. But what on earth could have possibly been better than this? Two adventurers skimming across the world’s deepest ocean at a phenomenal rate of knots powered by their 1.5hp Seagull outboard.
About ten minutes later the intrepid fishermen had reached their destination of the furthest reaches of the known oceans, the other side of the bay. We dropped anchor and started tackling up. Now I did say that this happened an eon ago and is based on a younger memory but I tell you now that I’ve never since seen a patch of water as flat as the bay at Traeth this night. The saying as calm as a mill pond comes to mind but once the small wake made by that little dinghy had died away the sea’s surface was like a sheet of deep turquoise glass with only the gentlest of sounds as the tiny waves slipped onto the beach. It was like the quiet in the film Moby Dick before that knurled, crooked jawed, white leviathan breached from the depths taking Ahab and his crew to Davy Jones’s locker (not that you get many sperm whales off Ynys Mon that is). The moment was not lost upon the two adventure’s as the noiseless air covered them like a blanket, “the mackerel are mine, you can have the lug" spat out Peter, obviously he hadn't got over his nose been bled the day before. Without Pops on hand to settle the possible argument, and the fact that I was yet to learn to swim (to my shame this wasn't to happen for a couple of decades ) I took the obvious course of action, "that’s fine, everybody knows lug's a killer bait for eel" I said greedily reaching for the bucket.
We lowered our offerings to the sea gods, Peter's bait with one of the two shiny new weights that we had in our spartan selection, and a spark plug holding my flapping piece of mackerel to the sandy bottom (told you I was smart). we were prepared for the inevitable hours of waiting it was going to take to trap our monster and wrestle it from the depths, when after a couple of minutes Pete’s rod gave a tell tale twitch. Wide eyed and frozen we stared at the fiberglass beast tamer hardly daring to breath, again it twitched this time bouncing slightly in the rowlock where it rested, spurred by this latest movement Pete lunged at the rod striking so hard we both ended up on our back sides, "its on, its on" he yelled winding in like demon and sure enough a few minutes later our first monster lay flapping in the bottom of the goblin, "can you eat dogfish?" I asked innocently, "You will in a minute smarty bum" came back the retort. And that’s the way the afternoon drifted by, with each and every twitch of the rods, visions of bauble eyed monsters leapt to my thoughts, of bloody fanged creatures tearing at the side of the boat and wasn't it time that we had a butty and opened the flask of coffee yet? I reached over to nudge Pete on the back to pass the butty box, fare dues he jumped out of his skin; the tension obviously was eating at him as well. "Scared" I mumbled into my spam butty, "You were right about the lug" he quipped (2 dogfish and 3 flatties to my 1 doggy, sometimes being smart is a curse) at this we both started laughing and giggling our feud now forgotten. "Monsters" we yelled "sea dragons" we cried, we were nearly choking our selves with mirth (and relief). "Alright, flatties it is then, give us some strips of them mackerel here and we'll try the baits together", ok he may have had some good ideas after all I’ll admit grudgingly. The afternoon drifted to evening with several flatties in the bilges, no score keeping, and two content explorers stinking of bait and fish guts, full of spam butties and coffee and feeling like brothers again.
And with the evening light slowly fading something else came into Traeth, it was not the cold that had started nipping at our faces nor the few gulls that watched with dark, greedy eyes from the flat surface surrounding us, hoping for some more fish entrails, it was not even the whisper of the slightest of breezes which had stirred around the bay ,or even the beginning of twilight shadows dancing on the steep cliff faces that evening for all these things were on the sea’s surface or in the air and what came into Traeth was not above the sea. "I’m cold" I whined "and the suns going down", it was time to go, we started to stow our tackle Pete putting it away whilst I pulled up the little anchor on its sodden, slimy rope (yep, second again) I glanced across the bay at Smart’s harbor hoping perhaps to spot Pops waiting on the walls for us to head in, Pete glanced over as well "one day that yacht will be mine" he said pointing at the only boat to big to berth within the harbor breakwater, it was about a twenty eight foot pleasure yacht but to us in our little Goblin it was the Queen Mary. "we could live on that forever and sail to Australia on that" he mused, he was right, with that yacht we'd be the lords of the seven seas, with our scurvy crew to do our bidding ha ha, we sat and stared each dreaming and coming up with new ways we would use our Queen Mary. I must have still been drifting with these dreams when a sharp nudge and a breathless whisper from my brother brought my mind swiftly back into focus; “what’s that in front of the harbor?” he hissed through gritted teeth. I followed the line of his shaking arm; my eyes must have been on stalks as I strained to understand what we were looking at.
Across the other side of the bay, what only could be described as a mound of water was moving at an angle towards the anchored yacht. From where we sat mesmerized it was impossible to tell how large this disturbance was or even how fast it was traveling? To our young eyes though it seem both huge and fast as it made it’s way deliberately towards the yacht. There was something wrong with the movement that held us spellbound like a brace of rabbits caught in the glare of headlights. It wasn’t that something disturbed the surface or that something moved in the bay, we’d both seen large grey seals moving through the water as well as huge shoals of mackerel chasing whitebait against the rocks in our adventures but nothing that we’d witnessed before bore any resemblance to this. Also the sound, there was none to be heard from our vantage point although maybe we were to far away for all but the loudest of splashes to be heard. The mound, for want of a better description carried on until we were sure that whatever it was below the surface must surely ram the sitting duck of the yacht, but no, as the mound came to the side of the vessel near its stern the whole boat just lifted over it as if riding a large wave and gently settled into a slowing rocking motion. From across the bay we could hear the gentle noise of what must have been a small bell on board sounding out and bearing witness that the yacht was indeed moving back and too. Then there was nothing, no wave, no sound apart from the wavelets on the beach now nearing the rocks as the tide carried on rising regardless of anything else even the watching gulls were subdued. We looked at each both unwilling to admit our fear. “Maybe it was a dolphin?” Pete ventured, “Yeah must have been a dolphin”, I agreed “er lets make for the sailing club”. Pete turned to the ever reliable Seagull motor, wrapped the starting chord around the drum and pulled heavily, nothing! “Bugger” he said under his breath then glanced up hoping that I hadn’t heard to hold him hostage to Pops. “Try again, and hurry up” I blustered hoping that he didn’t hear how nervous I was feeling. Again he wraps the chord, more deliberately this time and his pull is hard and sure, splutter, turn, choke then nothing, again and again he tries with no burst of the noisy 2 stroke ever showing signs of happening. “Come on stop messing around” I was nearly crying by now “it won’t bloody start, will it” he yelled turning towards me his eyes wild with frustration. It was then; just over his shoulder I saw it. The water between us and the beach was rising slowly up into a mound of blackness.
Its funny how certain things stick in your memory over the years, it wasn’t the height or size of that body of water (although now if I had to but a size on it, it wasn’t hardly as high as the stern of the dinghy and only a couple of yards round) but the fact there was no wake like that of a boat moving across the surface, no ripples across it and no turbulence behind it, just a mound of water moving towards us. I grabbed the oars and started flailing like a demented humming bird at the water not making much if any headway for my efforts. Pete jerked around to see what it was that I was now screaming at and promptly dropped the starter chord into the bottom of the dinghy. The panic was enhanced by the deepening dusk as well the cloud of seagulls now wheeling over our heads, perhaps they sensed something tastier than fish guts? Both of us now were screaming at each other, at the ever nearer mound, at the useless motor, at everything. But then for the briefest of moments everything stopped, both of us froze for the smallest fraction of a second looking at nothing else but the terror etched deep within each others eyes. And that’s all it took, that one moment when to those young lads everything was lost, no tomorrow, no fighting, no laughing, nothing left but the terror of the unknown, that’s all it took. “Row properly you ponce” Pete ordered his calm voice belying his youthful fear, grabbing both oars as one I heaved with every last ounce of strength I had, once, twice again and again the little Goblin started cutting through the glass surface with each measured stroke I could feel the sea slipping past us. There was no panic left, just the oars, looking past Pete the light now made the oncoming mound look inky black as it continued to surge towards us less than twenty yards away. “one oar” my brother yelled, easing off on the port oar I dug the other two handed into darkening water, swiftly the little Goblin spun around and I lost sight of the terror behind for a moment, “both oars” Pete was now screaming, the rusty gaff held aloft in his shaking hands, straining with all that I had I glance up the mound that was now angled towards us, whatever it was it wasn’t just some random wave cause by freak currents, it had changed direction to intercept us! It was upon us, eyes now tightly closed I dug the oars one last time, Pete’s screams (or were they mine) filling my senses. The little dinghy lifted up and over the dome of water, as I felt it tipping back downwards my oars tore at the water and then with a jolt that numbed my whole arm the starboard oar felt like it had smashed into rocks, and then it was gone from my grasp.
I opened my eyes to see Pete belly down in the bottom of the dinghy covered in tangle of bread crusts, discarded bait, tackle and gutted fish, I chanced a glace to the water’s surface, on our right side the lost oar bobbed on the surface a few feet away, the gulls were alighting on the water again, of the mound there was not the slightest of signs to show that it had ever been there, only the slightest rippling caused by the now freshening offshore breeze. Pete had pulled himself from the dregs of the bottom of the dinghy, starter chord in his hand, a grin on his face but with tears flowing down his white cheeks. “Don’t cry little brother” he said turning to the outboard, reaching down he turned the fuel tap 90 degrees, “that’s why it would start” he mumbled to himself. He wrapped the chord slowly around and with one swift pull the ever reliable motor spluttered into life. I wasn’t even aware of my own tears as he turned our little pirate boat back towards the sanctuary of the yacht club on the further beach across the bay, the lost oar receding into the gloom as neither of us dared to reach out of the dinghy for it.
Making our way across the now black water seemed to be taking an endless eon of time compared to the fleeting outward voyage of discovery we had started off on a few hours ago. With both of us now too scared and tired to speak we watched the approaching beach with a growing sense of relief. Instead of easing off on the throttle as we came to the beach so that we could perform our practiced act of me jumping into waist deep water and holding the boat whilst Pete would retrieve the trailer to slide under it, Pete drove the boat out of the surf and onto the pebbled ground of safety not caring of the damage done to the carefully painted keel. We both leapt out over the bow not daring for one moment to allow any part of us touch the now demonized water. “What the bloody hell do you think you’re doing, haven’t I shown you pair have to look after anything?” Father’s voiced boomed from the yacht club door, falling over ourselves in our haste to reach him, both yelling and sobbing at the same time trying to describe the events that had overtook us that evening, we must looked like two bedraggled waifs cast ashore by the vengeful sea.
Later, in the warmth and safety of the gas lit caravan mum and dad listened patently whilst we gathered our thoughts and tried to recount our adventure (minus my brothers Anglo Saxon language!), in-between mouthfuls of crusty bread and oxtail soup. The events that had surrounded us that evening seemed somehow unreal but the image of that mound of water was burnt into our memories even to this day. Even with hindsight and more years experience of being outdoors than I care to admit, I have still never come up with a completely satisfactory explanation for the events on the warm summer’s evening. There have been one or two suggestions;- a freak wave, a dolphin, even a basking shark or as someone suggested the ghosts of HMS Thetis, a submarine which had the distinction of sinking twice during its short service, the first time the recovered ship was beached at Traeth Bychan. But deep down I’d still like to know what kept me from venturing out on the sea for nearly a decade after, but I don’t think that I’ll ever truly know. Maybe some mysteries are better unsolved; they certainly leave life more interesting.