The Most Amazing Thing I Have Ever Seen

I have described this scene to dozens of people over the last 50 years. No pictures of it. My pocket-sized Minox camera used 8mm film. It would not have done this scene justice even if I could have found the presence of mind to go get it. Hopefully, this memoir will remind us how nature can surprise with not only awe-inspiring beauty and majesty but take us somewhere beyond as well.

The photo is by James Smeaton via (


Awakening to the smooth roar of an aircraft carrier sailing across a flat, reflective, almost motionless ocean was jarring. For the past three days, the giant ship had been struggling through violent waves that belied no current nor wind direction. Churning gray sea against swirling gray sky. A cold, wet hell.

That was the Bering Sea. Today we glide across a cloudless North Pacific as it lives up to its name.

After dressing, I report to the shop and start the coffee maker. My friend, John, follows me into the office a minute later.

“Coffee,” he grunts.

“In a sec,” I reply while opening the porthole next to my desk.

He says something else, but I can’t respond. My brain is busy trying to reconcile what my eyes are seeing with any similar event from my past.

The view is beyond imagination. From my vantage to the distant horizon, thousands of Portuguese men-of-war dot the serene, indigo water. Illuminated by the morning sun, their translucent, crystal blue sails have been transformed into a vast, surreal, and stunningly beautiful starfield in the sea.

Part of me wants to remain here, spellbound as if in an opiate haze. Camaraderie will not let me.

“Look at this,” I say, trying to speak loudly enough for the entire shop to hear. What comes out is a reverent whisper.

John, standing nearby, hears me and approaches the porthole. His ginger beard appears magenta in the morning light as his face becomes slack with childlike wonder.

I walk back into the shop, now filled with sleepy young men. Finding my voice, I beseech them, “You have to see this!”

They groan, of course. Sailors always grumble when blissful inertia is interrupted. Yet, intrigued by the excitement in my voice, most of them follow me up to the flight deck.

We join hundreds of mesmerized shipmates, and with them, look out upon 180 degrees of jeweled ocean.

Inconceivable in the yammering steel confines of this floating city, nobody is talking. Not a whisper, lest we break the fragile grace of this moment.