I guess I should have been scared, but honestly, I never was. It happened last July as we were heading north. We were about 50 miles offshore, about equal with Boston, and I was alone on watch. Having enjoyed the sunset, I settled back comfortably, scanning the horizon, waiting for the darkness that would soon encircle us. A gentle sea and vast sky was all that was in view. No land, no ships, no nothing. Then something large moved in the water just ahead of us.
I called below breathlessly to Larry, "Get up here quick! I think it's a whale." . . . "At least, it better be a whale", I remember muttering more softly to myself.
Larry clambered up top and turned his head to the direction in which my eyes were glued. He was just in time to witness a magnificent 35-foot whale completely surface, a mere 100 feet in front of us. I turned hard to starboard to avoid a collision. The whale then made a quick and graceful move that completely and totally both silenced and awed Larry and I. This huge mammal rose straight toward the heavens, with only it's tail left touching the water, then crashed back down on it's side, spraying water all over us.
"Unbelievable!" Larry finally uttered, breaking the timeless silence. We were both overwhelmed. That single breach by this whale would have sufficed to last us a lifetime of memories, but the whale had more showing off to do for us before letting us pass by. For the next 20 minutes, he dove and flipped his tail at us. He rested on the surface and did that water-spouting thing. But most memorably, he breached another six times, with each leap seemingly getting higher and higher out of the water. Finally, as dusk fell completely, the whale must have sensed that he no longer had an audience, and gently slid away in the darkness.
It doesn't seem to matter. We can be miles offshore or we can be tucked away in
Blue heron on dock post
a secluded anchorage. We can be tied up in a marina or just sitting in a boat yard. One constant we have found everywhere in our cruising life is that we are perpetually being entertained by creatures great and small, and this time we don't mean our cats. I guess back when we were working all the time there was just so much time spent indoors, at work or at home, or driving quickly from place to place, worrying about work or about home, that we missed a lot of what the outdoors has to offer. The speed of travel in a cruising boat couldn't be better suited to spotting various creatures of the wild and is of a pace that truly allows you to blend in and enjoy.
Enthused by our sighting of the whale, we later that summer sailed out to Mt. Desert Island in Maine, a popular whale watching spot, to try to recreate some of the magic. But nature doesn't work that way. We sailed around the tiny, desolate island for several hours, and saw only what we believe might have been the flip of one tail. That day we had to be satisfied with the ample beauty of the lonely lighthouse that graces the island.
Maine certainly didn't disappoint us with the rest of her wildlife, though. We made several sightings of Bald Eagles and played regularly with the miniature sized Bottle-Nosed Dolphins. We marveled at the hundreds of playful seals perched on rocky ledges, and soon learned their system of alerting each other as we tried to approach closer by dinghy. They'd all rock their chubby little bodies off their perches and gracefully disappear under water. But, if you hung around long enough, one by one, up would bob their little heads, whiskers dripping and eyes popping, as they looked around to see if you were still bothering them.
Seal resting on lobsterman's floating platform
Closer to the Canadian border, we sailed 10 miles offshore to remote Machias Seal Island, the southernmost nesting grounds of the rare Puffin birds. As we approached the island, these odd little, short bodied, large headed birds started flying straight toward us and flew around the boat. This island also features Razorbill Auks, Arctic & Common Terns and Petrels. They were all truly a unique sight.
On the trip south again we captured the beauty of deer in the early mist at sunrise, as they cautiously approached the waters edge of the Alligator Pungo Canal.
White tailed deer along the Alligator Pungo Canal
We watched raccoons swim across small rivers in the Carolinas, then observed as they meticulously rinsed their food, held cleverly with their two little front paws. We enjoyed the multitudes of ducks, Loons, and Cranes that seemed to be constantly with us, singing their songs. Then as we hit the barrier islands in South Carolina and Georgia, sightings of wild horses took us back to a time well before civilization.
One evening while anchored in northern Florida, we watched an alligator slowly and craftily stalking its prey, an unsuspecting fluffy white egret, for what seemed like an hour or more. Suddenly, there was a frenzy of boiling water as he made his attack, and we knew dinner had been served. Just the other day while I was working on the aft deck of Serengeti, I had this feeling I was being watched. I looked up and 15 feet behind the boat, not moving an inch, was a large alligator head with one eye absolutely glued on me. Talk about an eerie feeling.
While refitting Serengeti, we've gotten to play daily with a whole slew of manatees. From little 3 foot babies to mammoth 15 footers with barnacles
Spot, the manatee, takes a drink from a leaking water hose
growing on their backs, these funny faced, gentle giants are completely tame and constantly looking for a leaking hose where they can spend hours getting their fill of fresh water. Sadly, we've given them all names like Slash, Spot and Pi, to correspond with the propeller marks on their backs.
One time on a wild downwind ride out to the Dry Tortugas, we were hitting 13 knots in speed, and just out-surfing large waves that seemed as if they may crash over our transom. We were somewhat nervously watching each of these waves, when suddenly, right at the top of a wave-a height well above deck level-was a school of big fish swam right at us and staring us straight in the eyes. That certainly calmed those waves for us. If fish could pay social visits in the crest of a wave like that, it certainly shouldn't be a problem for a big boat like us.
Our encounters with nature have been as thrilling as the whale's breathtaking leaps, as simple as a lone sea turtle popping its head up and saying hello as we pass by, or as touching as helping a flying fish back in the water after landing on our deck. The birds are a constant companion, and the dolphins present just often enough to make each visit special. The wildlife has made the rough seas seem less threatening and the calm waters more beautiful with their graceful reflections. Long passages are more entertaining, and early mornings much easier to get up for.
As I write this, there is a handsome osprey sitting proudly on the top of our mast, screeching at me to include him in the story. "OK, buddy", I yell back at him. "You made the story. Now, get off my mast and leave our wind instruments alone!"