Whenever I am out on the water, I am expecting to see whales. Logically, I know I’m not likely to see any, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping that one might turn up – because of course they only appear when they want to be seen.
Since the day we left Vancouver, we have been hearing reports of whales on the VHF radio. We typically stay tuned into channel 16, the Coast Guard station (both in case we should need to call for help, and in case we hear of a nearby boater who needs assistance), and it is not uncommon to hear reports of whales on this station. “Careful if you’re leaving Departure Bay because there is a pod of orcas just outside”, or “Boat X, slow down because you are heading right towards a whale!” Inevitably, we are never anywhere close to where the whales are.
As of Saturday, however, we have been where the whales are!
Sailing up Malasipina Strait from Pender Harbour to Lund, we sailed by two Humpback whales. The most common way that we “find” whales is by spotting their blows – a big puff of spray that pops up above the water. Sometimes the blow is only a little puff above the water, and sometimes it appears to be several metres high (which means you can see them from really far away!). These two whales seemed to be on the move – one big and one small, they were just swimming along, surfacing (and blowing) at fairly regular intervals. Eventually, they stopped to feed and we motored on past to keep on with our journey.
On Sunday, we had even more whale sightings – one whale swimming on his own, maybe half a mile away, and then a couple more that were quite a bit farther off. These whales were spotted in the least desirable way – first you see the gathering of whale watching boats, and then you find the whale.
Towards the end of the day, as the winds died and the boat speed dwindled to only a knot or two (most of which was thanks to the favourable current), we decided to turn on the engine and motorsail into the Rebecca Spit anchorage (meaning we still had the mainsail flying, even with the motor on). I was standing at the helm, trying to avoid hitting a log, and suddenly two big humpbacks leapt out of the water ahead of me! As I babbled incoherently to Mike about what I had just seen (my standard reaction) I popped the engine into neutral to evaluate how far from the boat they were and whether we needed to alter course to get out of their way. The whales were moving away from us, so we shut off the engine and just drifted, tacking with the mainsail when necessary to stay in the right direction.
The two whales (and possibly a third) were pretty active – after that first big jump, they spent a lot of time slapping the water with their fins, and making a few more jumps. I had always believed that they did this as part of feeding- so the slapping would stun their prey – but a little internet research suggests that it’s actually a means of communication with other whales. Which is not surprising – when you are downwind from a whale, you can hear the blows, slaps, and breaches long after the whale is out of sight (benefits of a silent sailboat!)
As we watched, several whale watching boats appeared, and the whales moved closer to Cortes Island, and farther away from us. I could sit and watch them all day, but we finally decided to head to the anchorage. Hopefully this is just the first of many more whale sightings!