Interestingly enough, there is now a web-site that runs a constant web-cam on Loch Ness, so you can go and do your own monster hunting, which is a good deal of fun. Loch Ness, as has been mentioned above, is also a fabulously beautiful place, so even if you don't believe in the monster, like DissMeister, then you can at least go and see how nice it all is.

The web-site is set up to cover a chap called Steve Feltham, who seems to be an all round good guy. In 1991, he gave up his job and bought a van and a good deal of photographic stuff; now he lives on the side of the Loch (near Dores, if you're interested, on the south side: you can go and visit him and buy a pottery monster or a copy of the BBC Video Diary that he did - all funds to the upkeep of the project), and trains all his equipment on the loch. The web-site is great, and the guy's a star.

The web-site address is www.nessie-sery.co.uk

Oh. The link is broken. Well - there used to be a link, then. And, presumably, there might be one again. If not, another little bit of web-oddness bites the dust. If it's not corporate, people just don't want to know. (Sigh)

The October 1, 1999 release of their fourth album, Loch Ness Monster, shows the Flying Fish Sailors at the top of their game. The music and vocals are everything their fans have come to expect from these modern-day minstrels. They return to several themes from their previous albums, such as cannibalism, crawdads, and the indestructible returning cat, and run off in several new directions, including UFOs, moving vans, and famous monsters (oh, my!).

  • "Loch Ness Monster" (Greg Henkel and Jim Henkel)

    The album opens with the wonderfully dark ode to the creature lurking beneath the murky waters of Loch Ness. Here the beast is less the benign and almost dopey plesiosaur used to sell trinkets to tourists and much more the accursed beast with "Huge red eye, long sharp tooth / slicing knives, ragged spines" which will drag you from the banks and tear you to pieces despite your screams and struggles. Nessie, indeed.

  • "Irish Rover" (traditional)

    An old favorite, it tells the tale of the ill-fated voyage of the Irish Rover, sailing from Cork to New York. After seven years at sea, the measles wiped out the crew and she ran aground in the fog, leaving a single survivor to tell the tale. Greg Henkel replaced the second verse, which introduces the crew, with one describing the Flying Fish Sailors themselves:

    There was fighting Jay Lee, none more surly than he
    There was Jimbe from County Montrose
    There was mighty Mitch Lawyer, stood seven feet tall
    There was Joseph Linbeck and his nose
    There was Bouzouki Jim playing a mandolin
    And Greg Henkel prone to falling over
    And this crew of the doomed played a Flying Fish tune
    As we sailed on the Irish Rover!
  • "The Flupandemic" (Greg Henkel)

    Only the Flying Fish sailors could come up with an up-beat and happy song about the world-wide flu epidemic that killed millions in the first part of the twentieth century. They sing gleefully about the deaths of soldiers and nurses and postmen and families from America to England to the far corners of the world all secumbing to the pandemic.

  • "The Good Ship Calabar" (traditional)

    Also known as "The Calabar" and "The Cruise of the Calabar," this fast and funny song tells of the adventures of the one horse-power (literally) coal barge The Calabar. In this version, the narrator is an old Lisbon tar, but other regional variations include Irish or British. Everything that can go wrong does, and the crew falls overboard to be rescued by a local farmer. It's enough to convince anyone to give up sailing and "go by the bloody train."

  • "The Cat Came Back" (traditional)

    Another rendition of the Harry S. Miller song about old Mr. Johnson's yellow tom cat. While the words are the same as the version on the Flying Fish Sailors' debut album, there are subtle differences in the arrangement that show the evolution of the band. They are much more playful in this version, especially with the inclusion of background vocals at the transitions between verse and chorus.

  • "The Wharton UFO" (Greg Henkel)

    Wharton, Texas, is just about the last place on Earth an alien would want its spacecraft to crash, as they learn when a good ol' boy comes upon their wreck. After they abduct him and begin their various probings and measurements, he loses his "temper for those three foot bastards with their big black almond-shaped eyes," and turns the tables on them. Rumor has it they can still be seen mowing his lawn and teleporting him beers on his front porch down in Wharton.

  • "Fire Maringo" (traditional)

    A traditional cotton screwing shanty from a time when, with the approach of winter, Irish crews would desert their Western Packet ships to head south to work in the cotton stowing ports like Mobile or New Orleans.

  • "The Rivers of Texas" (traditional circa 1900)

    A soft traditional American folk song listing and describing the rivers of Texas, but always returns to the Brazos, where the singer's heart was broken.

  • "Crawdad Man" (lyrics by Greg Henkel)

    Sung to the tune of the "Spider-Man" theme by Paul Francis Webster and J. Robert Harris, Crawdad Man takes the Flying Fish Sailors back their roots to examine their favorite crustacean, the crawdad. Now he's a superhero, lending a gamma ray-enhanced leg ("cause he can't lend a hand") to those in need. This is most likely the only song you'll find that contains the word cheliped (the legs with large grasping claws on a crawfish) in its lyrics.

  • "Ode to the Lima Bean" (lyrics by Cynthia Ballard, music by Greg Henkel)

    Children around the world should be overjoyed to discover that far from being "healthy" and "good for you," the lima bean is the worst scourge known to man. As this ode explains, it is responsible for everything from Original Sin and the explusion from Eden to the extinction of the dinosaurs and the Black Plague.

  • "Haul U-Haul Haul" (Greg Henkel)

    There have been long-haul shanties and halyard shanties, shanties for pretty much any activity aboard a sailing ship. Now, in the spirit of their mowing shanty Mow Johnny Mow, the Flying Fish Sailors present another shanty adapted to the modern day: the moving shanty. The song tells of the horrors of moving yourself with a 27-foot truck from the best known rental company. The lesson learned in the end: "Well the next time I move I'll just buy new furniture."

    Lest you think the band is advising against the use of a particular truck rental company: "Greg says that it should be noted that he has personally rented U-Haul® equipment on many occasions, and that in his experience, it has proven to be extremely reliable."

  • "King of the Cannibal Islands" (traditional)

    The Flying Fish Sailors return to the theme of cannibalism with this playful song that's right up their alley. A crew sailing for Botany Bay is cast away in the Cannibal Islands, where they manage to get along quite well with the King; one of them even marries his daughter, the Princess Wishy-Wa.

  • "Roswell" (Greg Henkel and Jim Henkel)

    Roswell, New Mexico. Icon of the joint obsessions with UFOs and conspiracy theories. This song tells the tale of a witness to the crashed spacecraft on the farm outside of Roswell. He explains everything he's seen and knows to be true despite the warnings of men with steel hats and the men in black with wires coming out of their heads. And in the end, though he dares not return, he still longs for "enigmatical," "problematical" Roswell.

  • "American Woman" (Randy Bachman, Burton Cummings, Gary Peterson, Michael Kale)

    The Flying Fish Sailors add their own sound to this classic by The Guess Who. The result is rather reminiscent of "Weird Al" Yankovic's "Ukranian Woman" parody.

  • "Loch Ness Monster" (heavy metal version)

    The album closes with a bonus track. Though the words are the same, this version of Loch Ness Monster shows that the band has a broader range that extends into modern musical styles. The darker, dirge-like tune and lyrics fit particularly well with the deep electric riffs that are a hallmark of today's metal.


Sources:
Flying Fish Sailors website - www.flyingfishsailors.com
Liner notes for Loch Ness Monster
http://www.iol.ie/~didly-didly/warp5.html

If a person is going to have heard just a few tall stories in their life – chances are that one of them will be about The Loch Ness Monster. A 'monster' that is so famous and so well known that it has even been given an affectionate nickname – Nessie, and has become the main focal point for global cryptozoological studies. Like all old tales, there isn’t really any proof that the hero of the story ever existed, yet no one seems to be able to dispel the myth and many people continue to believe – perhaps not hook, line and sinker, but at least that there is some element of truth hidden inside the mystery.

Loch Ness is one of Scotland’s many lochs, but not only that, it is also the largest area of fresh water in all of the British Isles. Being about 24 miles long, over 800 feet deep in many places and containing many underwater caves, it would seem that if a large monster was going to live and hide somewhere, Loch Ness would be a pretty good choice.

A long, long time ago…

The area of Scotland in which the loch is located was inhabited by the Picts, a group of people who had a very close relationship with the land and its animals. It is from their rock carvings – now about 2000 years old – that we get our first mention of this so called monster.

Many carvings made by these people have been found in the surrounding areas, all of which depict animals that can still be found there today or are to known to lived there at that time. However there is one reoccurring image that doesn’t look like anything that should have been there at that time. When zoologists tried to describe it in modern terms, they talked of it as looking like a 'swimming elephant'.

All over Scotland, going way back to those long ago times, the story of the water kelpie has existed. All large bodies of water have been said to be inhabited by these animals – large beasts with flippers, long necks and humped backs – that lure children into the water and eventually down to the depths. Many scholars say that these 'swimming elephants' drawn by the Picts are merely a representation of this myth. However, their proximity to Loch Ness combined with the other strange goings-on there have lead some to believe they are carvings specifically of Nessie.

The first eye-witness account of the monster at Loch Ness is provided to us by Saint Columba in 565. Legend has it that he was walking past the loch on one of his travels when he saw a large beast about to attack a man who was swimming. By calling upon God he managed to persuade the animal to retreat and leave the man unharmed. After that encounter, historical records reveal some 20 other stories from the loch, that all took place before the arrival of the 20th century. All of these accounts are somewhat mythical, and often contain the standard water kelpie claims, priests and miracles.

The modern legend

All those early stories were really confined to Scotland and were not widely believed or thought to be anything that unusual. From the beginning of the 20th century, more accurate records have been kept, and every now and again a story would be heard about fishermen who had seen a disturbance in the lake, or a child who had seen a kelpie swimming in the waters. However, come 1933 and suddenly the stories of the loch were thrust into the spotlight and the legend as we know it today was born.

It was in that year that the first road that ran parallel with the edge of the loch was completed. That same April, a local couple appeared at the offices of The Inverness Courier with quite a story. Apparently, they had been driving along the new road when they had spotted 'an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface.' Despite there being no evidence other than the couple’s words, the editor of the newspaper ran the story with 'Monster' as the headline to describe the animal.

Obviously, this is the kind of item that piques people’s interest and it wasn't long before the public were clambering for more 'Loch Ness Monster' tales. The story really hit its stride a few months later when another couple reported that they had seen the animal on land, lumbering across the very same road. Newspapers from all over Britain rushed to send correspondents to the loch, curious people turned up to see if they could get their own sighting of this incredible beast and entrepreneurial locals began to cash in on the buzz.

During this time, a photograph was sent to The Daily Mail that was the clearest picture of the monster anyone had ever seen. Showing a small head and long neck emerging from the water, it appeared at the time to be almost conclusive evidence that Nessie was alive and well. The photo was run, and became the quintessential image of what 'she' supposedly looked like. It became known as 'The Surgeons Photo' as it had been taken by a very well respected doctor, and so was seen as something that would be above a hoax. Even today, if you see one photo of The Loch Ness Monster, it will probably be this classic pose.

Everyone wanted a piece of the story, and the area become an even hotter location when a circus offered a £20 000 reward for this monster. At first, this offer was only really taken up by hunters, boy scouts and fisherman until in December, The Daily Mail hired a famous big game hunter, Marmaduke Wetherell, to track down and capture the beast once and for all. It was not long before he claimed to have found large footprints on the shore which 'must have come from an animal at least 20 feet long'. Plaster casts were made and sent to The Natural History Museum in London for a verdict. With this new evidence, still more monster-hunters gathered on the shore in hopes of claiming the prize for themselves.

But it was not to be. Just a few weeks later, The Natural History Museum revealed that the footprints were those of a hippopotamus – probably made with a stuffed foot pressed into the ground with a pole. The fever that had built up so quickly dissipated just as fast, with many people being upset at being drawn in by such a hoax. It was never found out if Wetherell himself planted the footprints or whether he too was a victim of the hoax.

As well as putting the public off, the furore also discouraged serious investigation by zoologists and other scientists. And for the next 30 years, although there were still many, many reports of sightings at the loch, and even numerous photographs, no one really seemed that interested in the matter. Professionals usually stated that rather than being hoaxes, the sightings were more likely optical illusions – floating vegetation, wakes from boats, tree stumps, otters etc. – basically, people seeing what they wanted to see.

In the late 1950’s, a local doctor by the name of Constance Whyte decided to try and lend some credibility to the stories. She began to collect together all the eye-witness accounts of sightings and drawings people had made of what they saw. All the stories were remarkably similar, with people describing the animal as being grey in colour, having a serpentine head, long neck, humped back, diamond shaped flippers and often a long tail as well. Eventually, just before the turn of the decade, she published all the findings in a book – More Than a Legend.

The age of technology

In 1960, inspired by Dr. Whyte’s book, Tim Dinsdale arrived at the loch and filmed what was supposedly the first footage of Nessie swimming in the loch. So convinced was he by what he’d seen that he gave up his career and moved out the loch. By the next year, together with a small group of other enthusiastic people, he had formed The Loch Ness Investigation Bureau. The aim of which was to lend further proof of Nessie and to discover more about the loch and the monster myth.

These activities were instrumental in bringing the stories to the public consciousness once more – but this time with a more seriousness aura, rather than the farce that had taken place in the 30’s. And so, over the next decade, four scientific expeditions were launched by some of the most respected institutions in Britain – the BBC, the University of Cambridge, the University of Oxford and the University of Birmingham.

In an effort to settle the matter and to uphold their scientific reputations, the expeditions focused on the use of technologies that were new and not available to amateurs such as the members of The Loch Ness Investigation Bureau. This meant sonar. At that time, sonar was basically a military technology, and its use in such a venture was highly unusual, so of course the level of anticipation was high. However, none of the expeditions proved or disproved anything. They all located what appeared to be quite large objects moving under the water, which would then disappear abruptly – nothing more.

Interest remained high, and in the early 70's the Americans became involved. Boston's Academy of Applied Science was eager to test out some new technology – and Loch Ness seemed like the perfect opportunity. The technology was also based on sonar, but combined it with the use of underwater photography. The idea was that, rather than using the ordinary sonar, a newer, more sophisticated type, called side scan sonar, would be used. The signal would originate from a point near the shore and scan the entire body of water. An underwater camera and a strobe light would be placed underneath it. Then, every 45 seconds, the light and camera would go off, which when combined with the sonar readings would hopefully provide clearer pictures than ever before.

After many expeditions with no results, there was eventually some success. At the same time that the sonar was tracking a large moving object, the camera and strobe produced pictures of what appeared to be a huge fin or flipper, and later, one that looked somewhat like a long neck and head. With the support of the MIT professors who had pioneered the technology and Sir Peter Scott, a highly respected British naturalist, the Boston based team presented their evidence to the House of Commons in London. Sir Scott even gave Nessie a Latin name - Nessiteras rhombopteryx – so that she could be officially added to Britain’s list of protected animals.

That this was being taken so seriously was all that was needed to confirm in many people's minds that Nessie did in fact exist. But of course the nay-sayers were not far behind. Most claim that the sonar’s images are nothing more than suggestions and that the photos were so indistinctive that they only looked like anything at all, let alone flippers or faces, after serious enhancement. After all the effort, the somewhat flimsy evidence was pretty much chucked out on its ear.

Counter to what he may have been hoping, Sir Scott’s claim that he could identify the animal only served to further people's cynicism. He claimed that by combining the sonar images, photographic evidence and eye witness accounts one could conclude that the monster was in fact a plesiosaur. That this was a reptile that died out with the dinosaurs over 65 million years ago, and was only known to live in tropical sea waters, not the frigid fresh water of a Scottish loch, was too much for both the public and zoologists to believe.

The last 20 years

Despite the fact that previous efforts had yielded no significant results, expeditions continued. In 1987, Operation Deep Scan was launched. It was the largest single effort to find Nessie and included 20 boats and submarines decked out with sonar equipment. The idea was to scan the whole loch with 'a curtain of sound', such that nothing could go undetected. Once again, some large, unexplained, underwater targets were found.

In the early 90’s Project Urquhart began. This was a large collaborative deal, designed not so much for monster-hunting, but rather to try and learn as much as possible about the loch's biology, ecology and geography. Due to this, and all the extensive sonar scans done previously, Loch Ness has become one of the worlds most well understood and mapped geographical features. The most interesting result of this particular project was the discovery of a few large underwater caves which - due to the geography of the area – many suspect could lead to whole networks of caverns. And this would naturally be the perfect place for a large, prehistoric beast to hide! One again, nothing proved for certain.

All this inconclusive evidence has, of course, not amounted to a whole lot. There are many respected, scientific professionals who do believe that there is some sort of large, aquatic animal in the loch – others dismiss it off hand. Likewise, there are members of the public who believe in it wholeheartedly, and others who think of it as nothing more than a tourist trap or a story that belongs with the fairies and UFOs.

Ever since the 30’s photos have appeared, claiming to show Nessie in her natural environment. However, as technology has improved, most of these photos have been proved as fakes – even the famous Surgeons Photo from 1934. Others are probably nothing more than trees that look like an elegant neck to the wishful eye. Searching the web will bring you hundreds of Nessie pictures, some that are pretty convincing and others that could be just about anything. Never the less, the amateur groups still convene at the loch and take careful notes of sightings, and every few years a new expedition goes into the water with equipment designed to uncover the truth.

Recently, in 2003, the BBC was involved in a hunt that included the use of 600 separate sonar beams and satellite navigation technology to scan the loch for pockets of air that would supposedly show the animal's lungs. They gained unprecedented knowledge about the physicality of the loch, but saw no evidence of a large animal. Yet even some members of the team believe that it is possible for a plesiosaur type creature to live there, despite the story being run with the headline BBC 'proves' Nessie does not exist.

With the birth of the web, one can now find many sites dedicated to both proving and refuting the Nessie stories. There is even one with a 24 hour web cam set up, so you can become a monster-hunter from the comfort of your favourite armchair. It may seem strange that after so many years and so much effort there is still no widely accepted answer as to whether or not the beast exists – but it is in human nature to wonder at the hidden depths and unknowns in our world and to believe in things we cannot always prove. We see what we want to see, and make of things what we will – yet the truth still has the capacity to surprise us.


    Resources:
  • NOVA's "The Beast of Loch Ness" - PBS Airdate: January 12, 1999
  • List of modern sightings - http://www.crystalinks.com/loch_ness.html
  • BBC 'proves' Nessie does not exist - http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3096839.stm
  • http://www.scotland-calling.com/loch-ness-monster.htm

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