Thursday, August 28, 2014

Rockin' and a rollin'...

Good whale reports today: residents to the south, transients to the north.  Reports on the sea conditions weren't so favorable: 2 to 3 foot and building.

Decisions... go south, where the conditions are getting lumpier, but the whales are closer.  OR, go north, where the conditions aren't as bad, but you have to go further.  I could almost be a politician - I put off a decision until I was heading out of the harbor.

The whales to the south were moving north... the whales to the north were moving south.  Conditions to the south were getting lumpier still, but the tide would be changing soon.  I assumed the flood tide would move the southern whales faster north.  Yeah, we're going north.

Like that proverbial chess game, except each group of whales was playing checkers or Parcheesi... but they sure as heck weren't being predictable.  The southern group turned back south on the flood tide.  Really??  The transients to the north split up - half went north and half went south.  The group of transients going south were going to be our best bet.  Conditions where we would find them were reported to be 2 foot waves and building.  I heard boats further south reporting even snottier conditions... and that's what would be heading our way.

I checked on the guests, let them know that the conditions would be "sporting"... that's my euphemism for "hope you can all keep your lunch down."  They seemed excited.  Riiiiiiight!

As we neared the whales, I could see the waves ahead of us building... "2 foot," my ass... definite 3's and more.  The flybridge on this boat puts high over the water... think about what a metronome looks like: the boat is the bottom of that, and I am sitting on the part that swings back and forth.

A cheer from the group on the boat rang out as the whales surfaced in a good group formation.  I almost let out a cheer, because they were moving almost into the waves... it is VERY uncomfortable to be in rough conditions when the waves are on the beam.  3 foot built to 4... 4 foot built to 5.  I asked the first mate to let me know how the guests were doing: "They're having fun!  Wow, it sure isn't fun up here!"

I braced for the first time we came down a steep wave and buried the bow... up to the bow rail!  Another cheer from the group on the boat!  Damn, these people are champs!  Another group surfacing with the whales, and another bow stuff - I was keeping just enough forward speed to maintain steerage so we didn't broach between the waves.  I asked the first mate if we were taking any water over the coaming... "Yes, but it is going out as fast as it comes in - and they're still having fun and enjoying the whales."  (The boat has large scuppers across the stern.)

And then, almost as fast as it built, the waves started to diminish!  Three foot waves, normally something I try to avoid with this boat, were easily manageable.  Another couple minutes and it was down to 2 foot... this was almost easy (by comparison).

And there were whales.  And happy guests.

No, I don't have any photos.  I had one hand on the wheel and the other on the shifter and throttle.  Both feet widely braced.  In the past, I have described conditions like that as: being strapped to a mechanical bull for 3 hours.  That's not really accurate... there is no "strap" - you have to hold on tight!

We stayed with the whales for almost an hour.  Then, we ran through Mosquito Pass, and by Roche Harbor.  There was a HUGE yacht anchored out... with a helicopter on the aft deck.  If we are playing "Who Has The Biggest Yacht?" game, this guy wins.  From my high vantage point on the flybridge, I still had to look up to see the lowest portholes in their hull.  Yeah, HUGE.

We looked at other wildlife on the way back to Friday Harbor.  I came down from the helm and got a round of applause.  One guy asked me, "When do you decide to call it quits with the waves and weather?"

"I go by what the guests can handle.  I've turned around to find calmer conditions in waves that weren't as rough as today.  You folks are great!"

Everyone was smiling.  Yep, another good (but lumpy) day on the water.

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