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 and wind. The churning gray sea and swirling gray sky conjuring 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.

“Brewing,” 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. There is none, not even in a dream.

The view is beyond imagination. From my vantage to the distant horizon, a hundred thousand or more Portuguese men-of-war dot the vivid 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 out to the hangar deck.

My astonished crew mates stop and stare out to the open sea beyond the 80′ wide elevator. Then, someone whispers, “flight deck.”

No discussion. We zoom up the ladders and join hundreds of our mesmerized shipmates.

Gazing upon 180 degrees of jeweled ocean, most of the men aboard this vessel become one agog.

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.