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I Saw "Champ" PDF Print E-mail
Swift
Written by Jeff Wagg   

waveThis happened a few weeks ago, and I've been pretty quiet about it... but I had an actual sighting of the legendary sea monster "Champ." I was on a 19' sailboat heading out for a sunset cruise when I saw a something  similar to the what's in the photograph to the right.

He, she, or it was about 20 feet from me in Mallet's Bay, Vermont. I saw it, and it was real. 

For those of you unfamiliar with "Champ," the term refers to the "monster" or "living fossil" that lives in the waters of Lake Champlain in New York and Vermont. The creature has been "sighted" hundreds of times, and was reportedly known to indigenous peoples long before Samuel de Champlain recorded his own monster sighting, though he was probably describing a sturgeon.

It seems to me that every large body of water has "sightings," but for the first time, I'd had my own, and I can no longer deny that there's something in the lake. 

I thought of taking a picture, but all I had with me was my iPhone and I was sure the image wouldn't come out. The photograph above is similar to what I saw.

A curious thing: I didn't know I was seeing Champ. I've been researching cryptozoology most of my life, and as such, I've read many different explanations for what these monster sightings could be. Sandra Mansi's famous photograph was likely a log in the water. The Montauk Monster was a partially decomposed raccoon. The Maine chupacabra was a mangy chow chow. My context is that of science, and I don't automatically leap to "monster" when I see things I can't explain.

As in the photograph, which was taken by Brigid Hovarth at a completely different lake, I was observing a dark shape rising above the water. It moved only slightly, like a swimming snake, but it could also have been fins or humps rising above the surface. I watched it for a good 15 seconds, all the while thinking to myself: "Huh, that's what a standing wave looks like. No wonder people think it's a monster."

Mallet's Bay is just south of Burlington, VT, and it's an extremely busy boating area. Boats come and go, leaving wakes that disturb the surface for minutes after the boat has left. These wakes collide with each other producing interesting harmonics and reverberations. When conditions are right, a standing wave is produced where a wave simply stands above the surface and stays there for dozens of seconds, feeding on the energy of colliding wakes.

I saw a standing wave.

Because my context was set on "science" rather than "monster," I didn't consider "sea monster" as a possible explanation for what I was observing. It was only on the ride home hours later that I realized I had seen exactly what many others had seen, only I chose to call it "wave" while they chose to call it "sea monster." Why shouldn't I be allowed to crow about my discovery as well?

Context controls perception. As I've said many times, believing is seeing. Our brains create patterns and try to fit data into those patterns. My patterns are science-based, but had I been younger and fresh from reading a book on sea monsters, I might have been convinced that I was seeing Champ.

I live on a much larger lake now: Lake Michigan. And yes, there are reports of monsters and even ghosts in this lake as well. Should I see any, I'll be sure to let you know.