A boy and his grandfather sail on a boat nearby a small village that holds a secret.
T he small coastal village of Port Olton was my favorite place to spend summer days as a child. It’s where my grandparents lived. Around it are sloping cliffs and woodlands full of tall old trees that seemed to stretch on forever. There’s always something new to explore out there.
By the beach, there is a stone breakwater that protects the harbor from the sea during rough weather. The sea carries many interesting things to the shore. Once I picked up a rusty case that had a copper crucifix inside. Most of the time though, I would only find bits of corroded iron and glass bottles.
One Sunday, my grandfather asked me to bring some lunch down to the harbor and to meet him by his boat. He was a fisherman, and he knew the waters around his home very well having lived there since he was a boy.
The walk to the harbor was down a steep, narrow street surrounded by cottages and small shops. I followed the twisting cobbled path all the way down until the street opened out to the harbor. Rows of wooden fishing boats with colorful hulls and hand-painted signs greeted me. Each boat had its own name. I read them as I walked past — Sea Kelpie, Daughter of Neptune, Ceroane. I had no clue what they meant. My grandmother once told me the boat names come from folk tales and superstitions. Some believe they give good luck to the boat and the crew.
I got lost in my own thoughts and then I heard my grandfather’s voice.
“Are you still asleep?” He bellowed somewhere off to my right.
I turned to see his grinning face.
“I thought you were gonna fall in,” he said, pointing a weathered hand towards the water on the far side of the harbor wall.
“I hope you didn’t forget your dinner,” he said, as I followed him up the short plank onto the creaking deck. My grandfather’s boat had an unusual name also. It’s called Father Time.
When I asked him about the name years earlier, he chuckled. He said, “It’s because the passage of time isn’t affected by the sea.”
I loved to travel on his boat with him. He usually let me steer. He would sing or tell me stories about the nearby ports and islands, and the people who lived there.
I took out the food while he untied the boat. We drank warm tea and ate sandwiches, as we headed away from the harbor and out to sea.
It was a very calm day and the seagulls were screaming above us. Though it was warm on land, the cool sea breeze made me glad I had worn my thick jumper and fleece hat.
After we traveled for a while, I’m not sure how far, I looked back to see the old church tower by the harbor. It was a tiny speck and the coast was fading into a blur.
My grandfather stopped the boat. I could see him trying to get his bearings.
He walked over to the edge of the boat and looked down into the water and nodded. He beckoned me over and pointed downward. I looked over the edge of the boat , the water was black below us. I could see the reflection of our faces. Then, as the sun shone down, I saw it.
It was as if someone pulled the floor from beneath us and I felt very dizzy. I looked down through the crystal clear water. Only a few meters below us, there was a castle tower. As we floated, I saw as clear as day the rough turrets had carved stone creatures adorning them.
My grandfather noticed the look of disbelief on my face and laughed. I couldn’t believe what I saw. It was incredible, but the eerie sight of this huge ruin deep beneath the sea creeped me out.
There were long strands of dark purple seaweed attached to the flat rooftop of the tower. They reached upward towards the light and waved in the calm current. Between the seaweed I could see a few tiny fish and the occasional glimmer of light.
Although the top of the tower was visible in the afternoon sunlight, I couldn’t see anything below it. The water grew murky and turned too dark further down.
“What is it doing here?” I asked my grandfather.
“Don’t know exactly,” he said, shaking his head.
“But they think this used to be all land underneath us. It would have been a natural harbor here, cut by the waves. And the castle would have sat looking out over the sea.”
“How long ago?” I asked.
“Oh, hundreds of years ago,” he said. “The sea provided a lot of food for people in those days. This castle would have been in a good spot for them to fish and easy to defend against an attack”.
I stared down into the shimmering water as he continued.
“Sometime about four or five hundred years ago, a huge wave came. It buried all this land and destroyed everything between here and Olton. The water receded again but the big wave changed the shape of the coastline around here. Since then, the sea rose and covered all this, which probably was farmland and the castle with it.”
“How big was the wave?” I asked, wondering if I could even imagine it.
“Pretty big I reckon,” he said. “No one knows, but years ago when I was a kid, they found the hull of an old boat buried in the field next to the church in Olton. An historian came from some university and said it was centuries old. He said it was most likely carried up there by the giant wave.”
“How long have you known about it?” I asked
“Since I was a boy,” my grandfather said. “All the fishermen around here know about it. There’s a tradition. You drop a coin down as you pass over the top. It’s meant to give good luck.”
“Here,” he said, handing me a dull copper penny from his pocket.
“It’s had its fair share of money from me over the years,” he said with a chuckle.
I dropped the coin over the edge causing ripples in the water. This made me feel a little dizzy again as I saw the castle bend and distort through the disturbed lens of the clear sea. I watched the coin fall down through the water and land on the castle’s stone roof. It gave me an eerie feeling like I was disturbing something I shouldn’t be, something very old.
My grandfather sat down and poured himself some tea into an old tin cup. And he began his story.
“A long time ago, perhaps about 35 years now, I was out here fishing alone. It was early morning and quite rough. A big wave rocked the boat sideways. I slipped on the wet deck and fell overboard.
“I couldn’t climb back up and I must have swam back and forth next to the boat for about half an hour. It was bitterly cold and I was panicking. I thought I was gonna drown. Then, I heard a bump. It’s like the other side of the boat smacked up against something. I swam round thinking it might be another boat but …”
My grandfather trailed off. Then, he looked at me with a serious look that was so unlike him.
“It was this castle,” he said. “It was sticking out of the water. Only about a foot, but it was enough that I could climb on top of it and back onto the boat.”
“That was lucky,” I said with a grin.
“But you know what,” he said. “You know what the really weird thing is?”
He paused for a moment and his whiskery face appeared deep in thought.
“I’ve never seen it above the water before or since that day,” he said. He turned to face me with his serious eyes and nodded.
I stood and looked at him for a few seconds. He gave me a little wink and then pretended to throw me over the boat edge. “Do you want to have a closer look before we leave?”
“All right then let’s go home,” he said and started the motor. “My flask is nearly empty.”
As we headed back home across the bay, the sun was sinking behind us. I took the occasional glance to the spot where the castle had been. I tried to take a picture in my mind of that actual spot, but the water looked the same from a distance. A seagull distracted my sight, as it circled around something that seemed to stick a bit above the water.
We never went back to see the castle again. Though I wouldn’t have admitted it to my grandfather, I found it too spooky to return.
I am sure that it is still there, sleeping deep beneath the calm sea. Collecting the coins of the passing fishermen in exchange for a little luck, when they need it most.