I saw an article on Yahoo! about blue whale sightings off the coast of California. I didn’t even know there were enough blue whales alive on the planet that an ordinary whale watching boat could spot them. Excited about the possibility of seeing one myself, I booked a reservation on Captain Dave’s Dolphin and Whale Safari and off we went to Dana Point. Orion and Asher were pretty excited but Elkin is afraid of sharks and wasn’t sure she’d like the boat.
Captain Tom was late getting back from the first tour. Yesterday the tours had seen two whales and the day before they saw twelve. This morning they didn’t see any. I worried about it. I wondered if seeing a blue whale was going to be impossible no matter what Yahoo! had said.
The boat was a Catamaran. It was pretty small for a whale watching boat. I felt up-close and comfortable with the water. I reminded myself that Elkin couldn’t swim and kept a hand on her the whole time. Those wire railings wouldn’t keep her from falling off the boat. The kids went up to the bow almost immediately and were rocked and thrilled by the waves. They stood on a tarp mesh net that spans the space between the two hulls on the boat and watched the water rushing under their feet. It felt a lot like sailing with my grandfather Sundays when I was growing up only the sound was different. My grandfather used to kill the motor outside of the marina and the sound changed distinctly to wind and lapping water. I remember the motion and the sound and the smell and the warmth of the sun on my skin. I remember the air in the cabin. I remember the corner seat I used to sit in by the door. I remember the sound of the sails being unfurled, the men stepping over me to hold and tie the ropes. We weren’t on a mission then. We were on a cruise. We weren’t going anywhere we were just sailing. Sailing on Sunday afternoons. I would sit on the bow sometimes when I wanted to feel the boat ride the waves. I’d sit in the corner when I was tired or told to. I’d lie in the bunks downstairs when I wanted to listen to the water and not the people. But today was different. Today no wind could drive us out far or fast enough to see the ocean mammals and still get back to Tour #3 on time so the motor drove us the whole way. Within minutes of leaving the harbor Orion exclaimed that it wouldn’t matter if he saw a whale. He was having the time of his life. I could tell from the joy in his face that his grandfather was a part of him. It was the first time that he’d ever been on a boat in the ocean but he looked as if he’d come home. It reminded me of horses. There’s something ancient in me that responds to them that I don’t understand. For Orion, and my grandfather, it is the sea.
It wasn’t long before Captain Tom told us over the loudspeaker that he’d spotted some dolphins ahead. The trouble was that he’d also spotted a whale in a different direction. If we saw one we’d miss the other. He made a decision. We’d go for the dolphins. They were a sure-sighting. The whale was at least a thirty minute ride away and it was a hard to say how far she’d get before we got to her.
So as we looked out across the water slowly but surely I saw what looked like dancing water far far away and I pointed and shouted to the kids who couldn’t see what I was pointing towards. We got closer and closer and soon it was like little white waves perking out here and there and then closer and closer until you could make out their grey backs plunging in and out of the waves and then closer and closer until they swam beside us- under us- around and in front of us. There were at least one hundred beautiful laughing wonderful dolphins just spinning and swimming and lunging around us! It was like a miracle, I tell you, a downright miracle. I felt them laughing and playing like my kids who were also laughing and playing and pointing. They climbed down into the glass bottom hull and watched the dolphins beside them and they climbed back up to the bow and laid on the net where they were literally inches from their slippery backs. It was just beautiful to watch until Captain Tom said that that was it we’d have to hurry now if we wanted to see that whale on the horizon. We’d have to leave the pod behind so hold on and prepare to get wet and anyone up front go to the rear because we’d have to charge-
And that’s what we did, we charged through the sea away from those dolphins and though I was sad to see them go I was excited to see the whale. Even sitting here now I can still feel the great turning of the boat and the speed and the spray that shook behind us and as predicted the children got soaked- splashed and sprayed by the banging of the boat on those rolling waves. They laughed even harder enjoying it even more being as wet and slippery and fast as those dolphins.
I expected a long ride, a long long ride out to a maybe whale but it really wasn’t that long (or did I lose respect for time?) before he said there was another captain ahead, a captain researcher, that is, a world famous captain researcher for blue whales, we’d say hello later but for now, look around, look around he said, who knows where she may surface but I’ve seen her go under…and with that he killed the motor and I was immediately transported quite fully back to my grandfather’s boat- not just in smell and spray and sun but now in sound, too, with only the lapping of the waves and the silence of all around me. We looked everywhere into that great blue water, waiting, hoping, and searching for an ancient mammal to appear as the captain kept count. He’d shout, “Five minutes!” then quiet and “Six Minutes!” etc. and “If she doesn’t appear we’ll have to head back, I’m sorry folks, I’ve got to be on time– ” and just then, “THERE she is!” someone else shouted, and there indeed, just straight in front of me not ten feet away was a great blue whale. A real and mighty great blue whale, bigger than me, bigger than our boat, bigger than any animal I’d ever seen and Captain Tom said, yes, that was a blue whale, a baby blue whale, still nursing, he said and that captain researcher must be with his mother just beyond. But no time to stay, we watched his greatness rise and fall just a few times before he dove away under the waves and the blue reflection of him disappeared from our sight.
But no loss felt, only gratitude for the God who put such greatness to be shared on our planet and then and then, Thar she blows! again! Another great whale was spotted just in front of us, a minke whale, I was told, smallest of the baleens, but bigger that any creature I’d ever seen. She swam beside us, “bow riding” Captain Tom called it, as if, as if she were a passenger on our journey as well.
And if that wasn’t enough, there were the sea lions cozied up on the buoy who literally waved us in, Sea World style, and a warm gooey brownie at the dock. What a day-I asked the kids what they liked the best, for Orion it was the sea, for Asher it was the dolphins, for Elkin it was the whale, and for me, it was all of it, the moment, the memory and the mammals- oh my!