The most harrowing passage in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues under
the Sea involves a school of giant squid with a hankering for
French cuisine. The long, nasty blobs seize the submarine
Nautilus by wrapping around the propeller blades. When the sub
surfaces and the hatch opens, Captain Nemo and crew fight off the
sea monsters with hatchets and harpoons. Alas, a squid snatches a
French sailor and hoists him aloft like a feather. Just as the
submariners come to the rescue, the squid squirts black ink into
their eyes and returns, with its human casse-croute, to the ocean
The 19th-century novelist would have been endlessly amused by the
logbook of the Geronimo, a 21st-century trimaran attempting to
break the record for the fastest round-the-world voyage by a
wind-powered vessel. While near the Strait of Gibraltar on Jan.
12, the Geronimo slowed mysteriously from 24 knots to 11. "I felt
strange vibrations," radioed skipper Olivier de Kersauson, whose
yacht is one of two vying for this year's--what else?--Jules
Verne Trophy. "They were very strong. We took down the sails and
got out the [flashlights]."
Watch captain Didier Ragot peered at the boat's belly through a
trapdoor and spotted a 30-foot Architeuthis dux jammed between the
rudder blade and the hull. Reported De Kersauson: "It was really
pulling the boat hard."
Unlike Captain Nemo, the 58-year-old Frenchman didn't do squat
with the squid. "When we came to a stop, the tentacles stopped
gripping us," he said. "I don't know what we would have done if
it hadn't let go. We weren't going to attack it with our
If the galleys of the Geronimo had been properly stocked, De
Kersauson says, he might have asked his sous-chef to slice up the
squid before dipping it in batter and tossing it in a wok. Of
course, the rings would have been the size of Michelins.
At least one of Geronimo's rivals is treating this close
encounter with the jumbo calamari as just another fish story.
"When you're sailing at 20 knots and you hit something, the
rudder would break," said Ellen MacArthur of the British
But Dr. Clyde Roper is willing to give the sucker an even break.
"It could've become entangled with a rudder without doing
damage," says the Smithsonian Institute's renowned teuthologist
(squid expert). "Even at 500 pounds its body would be soft and
Roper does, however, find fault with De Kersauson's grasp of
gastronomy. Giant squid, he thinks, may not suit the French
palate. "I've sampled a specimen," Roper says, "and the taste was
very bitter, like ammonia." Still, he concedes, if a giant squid
were soaked in baking soda and rubbed down with perhaps 50,000
gloves of garlic, "you could probably choke it down."
COLOR PHOTO: FRED TANNEAU/AFP FIT FOR A BEAST Geronimo (top) met a much kinder fate than Nemo'ssub.
B/W PHOTO: BETTMANN/CORBIS [See caption above]