Sunday, August 14, 2016

Whales in the fog...

Yesterday, I mentioned to Joan that I hadn't seen the deer in the yard in a couple days.  She said, "Oh, I took some photos last night before you got home..."

And this morning: an even smaller fawn going for some blackberries...

When Joan was ready to leave for work, we saw that the fog had rolled in...

For her, it means: juggling reservations, if the seaplanes can't get out of Seattle or into Friday Harbor.  For me, it means: trying to find whales with limited visibility.

I left for Roche about a half hour after she drove into Friday Harbor - it was a cool scooter ride to Roche, in the fog.  Until a few miles before getting to Roche Harbor, where it was "clear and a million": a pilot term meaning no overcast and great visibility.  Looks like Kenmore will be flying seaplanes into Roche Harbor, then shuttling people to Friday Harbor.

I was there early - time to get a hot breakfast at the cafe before prepping the boat.  Checking reports, I saw that the Vancouver boats were cancelling trips for the morning - rough conditions in the Strait of Georgia.  Victoria boats were reporting 3 to 5 foot chop and fog.  Hard to imagine that with clear sunny skies in Roche Harbor.

We were a bit late getting out - some of our guests came on the ferry into Friday Harbor, and it was running late.  I wasn't leaving without them, because my first mate got pressed into service driving our shuttle.

I visited with the guests who were on time while we waited for the others to arrive.  Of course, one family that came on our shuttle had to use the bathroom before getting on our boat... I was beginning to think they stopped for breakfast, too.

Only 20 minutes late, we shoved off from the dock.  In the sunshine.  Once out of the harbor, I got a report that there were whales south of us, moving north... in thick fog.  One of those, "I think we can see them..." reports.  After going through Mosquito Pass, we turned south in Haro Strait - I could see a wall of fog ahead of us.  I got another position report, but no one had visual contact with the whales... I turned on radar and got the fog horn ready.

When we punch into the fog, it was, indeed, thick.  I could hear another fog horn in the distance, off shore from us.  A big return on the radar let me know it was probably a freighter in the shipping lane.  I slowed while we squinted into the fog.  I could see some smaller radar returns ahead of us.  "Got 'em!  One o'clock, inshore from us!"

Guests started clapping.  The chop in harrow was building... might be a better idea to hold on with at least one hand!  Less than 1/4 mile off the shoreline, our visibility was around 200 yards.  I reported the position, and saw the radar returns move a bit faster towards us.  More whales...

And, looking behind us, more boats...

Driving in the fog isn't my favorite thing to do, but seeing the whales in the fog is quite an experience.  Heck, even finding them in the fog is something else.  The original report came from someone onshore who could hear the blows... whatever works.

As we moved north, the fog started to lift, then got thicker again.  About 45 minutes later, it began to dissipate, and all of a sudden we were in sunny skies again.  The chop built to 2 1/2 to 3 feet.  This boat is solid and heavy - a good ride in less than great conditions.  The guests were all enjoying the views... I was busy working the throttle and wheel to give us the smoothest ride.  Yeah, "smoothest" is not the best descriptive term for the conditions.

We were getting great behavior: multiple breaches and spy hops (my favorite); tail slaps.  I had my hands full at the helm, so no photos.  Looking south, you could still see the wall of fog...

For the record, I was glad to be on this side of the fog.  ;-)

Our guests today got to have a variety of experiences: calm water, rough water, clear sky, light fog, thick fog, and a very special whale viewing.

Also for the record, I enjoyed the variety on the boat today, too.  Even better: today is my "Friday"... looking forward to our days off.

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