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Shadows on the Sea: The Maritime Mysteries of Britain

From the publisher’s website: Sink into the depths … The great oceans of the world have long been considered alien environments said to harbour strange creatures and unfathomable mysteries. This new book from full-time monster hunter Neil Arnold examines the maritime-rich heritage surrounding the coastline of Britain and the mysterious activity said to take place there. Shadows on the Sea explores eerie stories of phantom ships upon frothing waves, sailor’s stories, fishermen’s tales and impossible monsters said to hide within the inky depths, not forgetting weird tales of USOs – unidentified submarine-type objects – and other mysterious lights witnessed out at sea. Compiling hundreds of stories and many eyewitness accounts, from the spine-chilling to the utterly bizarre, this volume is an exploration of the unknown that takes the reader on a voyage through strange tales and roaring seas.

First Author: 
Neil Arnold
Reviewed for SPR by: 
Tom Ruffles
SPR Review: 

Neil Arnold, author of another History Press title in their Shadows series, Shadows in the Sky: The Haunted Airways of Britain,  has turned his attention to strange phenomena in, on, over and near the seas in this part of the world.  His research has been extensive, and the book is packed with information which will be of interest to the psychical researcher, folklorist, cryptozoologist, and anyone with an interest in Forteana.

Chapters cover ghosts with a maritime link, particularly those of sailors; phantom ships; unidentified objects that appear to be connected to open water; mysterious lights; monsters; even mermaids, and general weirdness emanating from the briney.  This is a broad range of topics and Arnold acknowledges that he can only give a taster of the material available, even though he restricts himself to the waters around Britain.  Some stories are covered in depth, others are given just a few sentences.  The result is a certain choppiness as we move quickly from one item to another.

While there is a general reading list at the end, sources for the accounts are usually not given, which is a shame as it would have been useful to have had the opportunity to look at these.  How much trust one can place in the Tiswas Book of Ghastly Ghosts is a matter of speculation, and Elliott O’Donnell crops up occasionally with no sense that he is a most unreliable author.

This book complements Shadows in the Sky nicely as they are both concerned with the liminal, where the familiar shades off into things that we can only roughly chart, or not chart at all.  As Arnold acknowledges, there are some undoubted fisherman’s yarns here and a few that were possibly invented by smugglers keen to deter casual visitors (you couldn’t do that nowadays because you would attract ghosthunters instead).  Others may have some kernel of truth buried within, but have been stretched out of all proportion over the years.  Yet there is often the feeling that sometimes truth itself is outlandish, and we would be unwise to reflexively dismiss a tale simply because it seems improbable to our limited understanding.

Seafarers are traditionally considered to be superstitious, and on this evidence they have good reason to be.  The seas which surround us are profound indeed, and there are surely many surprises awaiting us as we continue to explore our planet’s watery depths.  Who can tell what lies beneath?

Reference Information: 
Shadows on the Sea. The History Press, April 2013. ISBN-13: 978-0752487724