Whale escort to Monterey

September 27, 2017 — What a glorious day of sailing and wildlife watching. We decided to sleep in until 9 am since the wind wasn’t forecast to pick up until the afternoon (and we had a late night with our new friends on the boat next to us).

I went for a run down Santa Cruz beach. When I got back Allison and I enjoyed a cup of coffee and I whipped up some bacon and eggs. Hard to complain.

We spent a couple hours getting shipshape and took advantage of dockside benefits by filling our water tanks and spraying down the deck.

Winds were still near dead, blowing at 2–3 knots when we left Santa Cruz. After 20 minutes we started motor sailing and soon cut the engine all together as the winds picked up to 10 knots out of the west.

Allison saw them first, the telltale spouts of whales on the horizon. We observed in awe from a distance. We estimated they were 1/2 nm off our starboard bow. As we sailed toward them we started counting. Three! Six! I think there’s twelve whales!

This photo does not do the whale sightings justice.

Definitely more whales in one place that I’d ever seen. And as we approached, they seemed to sense us and start to play (and showoff). One even did a full breach, rocketing its full body weight (a fully grown humpback can be up to 75,000 pounds) 2/3 of the way out of the water before crashing back below the surface.

Inspiring and — admittedly — somewhat nerve racking as Allison and I joked about the YouTube video we saw of the whale accidentally breaching onto a sail boat…

We thought the whale sightings were over and I headed down below to troubleshoot an issue with our VHF. Then Allison let out a small yelp and exclaimed, “Nick, they’re here, they’re right here!”

I popped my head up the companion way and saw the massive back of a humpback less than fifty feet off our stern. One thing I never full appreciated is the noise they make when they come up for breadth. It’s like a trumpet, kind of like what you’d expect a giant elephant to make. It’s a sound that inspires awe.

We attempt to capture the magic on phone cameras.

I fired up the diesel and left it in neutral. We didn’t intend to flee, but had heard that whales sometimes can’t “see” sailboats ghosting along and so started her up as a courtesy to our visiting whales to let them know we were there. (Will have to do some research to understand the validity of this theory.)

(As an aside, somehow our engine starter has decided to work again even though our replacement panel doesn’t arrive in Monterey until tomorrow… Either I jostled a loose connection together when I jumped the diesel on Monday or the Cruising Gods are fucking with us. Probably the latter.)

Shortly after this intense and amazing sighting we spotted large fins cutting through the water off our bow. Orcas!?!? Doesn’t quite look right. More humpback whales?!?! Not the right body. Dolphins?!? Way too big and they had rounded heads, not the profile of a dolphin.

Well, turns out they were dolphins. Risso’s Dolphins. Also known as Monk Dolphins. Apparently rarely seen or studied as they are hard to track and primary feed on squid 600 feet below the surface. At least three of them zoomed and skittered across the water, playfully smacking their tails as they meandered (or hunted?) in apparent glee.

Our pleasant and magical sail continued all the way into Monterey Harbor where we dropped the hook and enjoyed a specular dinner. Here’s the gist, if you’re curious about cruising meals.

Anchored in Monterey Harbor.

Allison broke out two cans of Amie’s curried lentil soup and spiced it up with arrowroot powder and turmeric to thicken and flavor it. She also sautéed cod in coconut oil and lime. (In this case, it was frozen cod from Costco as we haven’t yet broken out our fishing gear.) It was all served over Tandoory rice, which we heated up by boiling the packet in hot water for a few minutes — very convenient.

Needless to say, it was delicious.

As I write this, I’m sipping a glass of wine, listening to the Classical station on Pandora as dusk turns to night over Monterey. What a trip.

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