Saint Brendan’s Fair Isle

The story of a floating island made of rock, a raft larger in area than the New Jersey, would have been dismissed as a sailor’s sea-yarn if you heard it in a smoke-filled public house in Cornwall from some tattooed sea-dog named Ishmael or Queequeg from Nantucket or Rokovoko.

And yet here it is:

From The Australian by way of Live Science by way of Mark Shea’s Catholic and Enjoying It:

AN undersea volcanic eruption has created a raft of porous volcanic rock in the Pacific Ocean that’s larger than the surface area of Israel, but navy officers say the phenomenon is not a danger to shipping.

Pumice is a porous grey-coloured form of volcanic rock formed when lava and water are mixed. Most pumice is light enough to float on water. The area of floating pumice is 250 nautical miles (463km) in length and 30 nautical miles wide (55km), and covers 25,465 square kilometres.

Spotted by a Royal New Zealand Air Force Orion, the raft was located about 85 nautical miles west to southwest of Raoul Island and investigated by the HMNZS Canterbury, the New Zealand Defence Force says.

Raoul Island is part of the Kermadec Islands and is 1100km northeast of New Zealand.

Lieutenant Tim Oscar, a Royal Australian Navy officer on the vessel, said on Friday it was “the weirdest thing I’ve seen in 18 years at sea”.

“The lookout reported a shadow on the ocean ahead of us so I ordered the ship’s spotlight to be trained on the area.

“As far ahead as I could observe was a raft of pumice moving up and down with the swell,” he said.

The rock appeared to be sitting above the surface of the waves and when lit up looked like the edge of an ice shelf.

“I knew the pumice was lightweight and posed no danger to the ship. Nonetheless it was quite daunting to be moving toward it at 14 knots.

“As we moved through the raft of pumice we used the spotlights to try and find the edge – but it extended as far as we could see.”

The cause is so far unknown.

My comment: For those of you who do not catch the reference Saint Brendan the Navigator and his crew of monks during their sea voyages to find the lost paradise of Eden once camped on the back of a Kraken or Aspidochelone named Jasconius to celebrate Easter Mass.

As is the case with all sailors from Sinbad onward, making a campfire on the back of the beast woke it in wrath to submerge, forcing holy sailors to flee for their ship before the wave overwhelmed them.

Brendon also discovered an island of many clear streams and woods bright with birds where the sun never set, and another island where the fog never lifted, encountered a sea-dragon, and so on; and his exploits made into an Irish song:

When I was a lad on the Emerald Isle
I heard many stories both lovely and wild
About the great dragons and monsters that be
That swallow the ships when they sail on the sea
Though I was an artist with canvas and paints
I sailed with St. Brendan and his jolly saints
We told the good people good-bye for a while

We sailed for St. Brendan’s Fair Isle, Fair Isle
We sailed for St. Brendan’s Fair Isle

We’d been on the ocean for ninety four days
We came to the spot where the sea was ablaze
Those demons from Hades were dancing with glee
And burning the sailors alive on the sea
Then St. Brendan walked on the blistering waves
He threw all the demons right back to their caves
And all of the saints wore a heavenly smile

One night while the brethren were lying asleep
A great dragon came up from under the deep
He thundered and lightened and made a great din
He awakened St. Brendan and all of his men
The dragon came up with his mouth opened wide
We threw in a cross and the dragon died
We skinned him and cooked and feasted awhile

At last we came unto a beautiful land
We all went ashore and we walked on the sand
We took our long bows and killed a Zebu
We roasted it up and had hot barbecue
And after awhile we were singing a song
We noticed the island was moving along
We ate and we drank and we rode in high style

Now Brendan said boys it is much to my wish
We ride on the back of the world’s biggest fish
Hold fast to the rope that is pulling the ship
We’ll need it someday if this fish take a dip
We sailed every ocean we sailed every sea
We sailed every spot that a sailor could be
In forty four days we sailed ten million miles

Whether the reality of an island of rock floating in the sea is stranger than the sailor’s stories, I leave for wiser heads than mine to decide.

But let us be warned not to dismiss as too fantastic any fantastic tale merely because it is fantastic. After all, by the law of averages, a thing that could not happen but once in a million trials, could indeed happen on the first as easily on as on the millionth.

The world is stranger than we know.