A dream comes true

25 July 2008

sam golf van biskaje

25 July 2008

On the Gulf of Biscay
It is noon. My watch at the helm has started, and I just turned off the engine because the wind has picked up. I chat a bit with two guests named Esther, and quietly take a sip of my coffee. I have enjoyed my last two weeks on board, and look forward to our time on the Bay of Biscay. Esther B. and I conclude that it is a good day for whale watching: no waves, good sun and we’re in the right area. In the past year I’ve seen many of these beautiful animals: humpback whales, killer whales, sperm whales, fin whales, you name it. But when sailing along the coast of Brazil, we witnessed the birth of a small whale, it was more than I could behold. For the first time in my life I felt the urge to jump into the water …
From the ship you mostly see the well-known “Blow”, then a part of the back, and if you’re lucky also the dorsal fin and the tail. In Antarctica I saw for the first time the eyes and the mouth of these great giants. They look at you with such a peaceful look, that you totally cannot imagine that these beauties are still so massively hunted.

In Antarctica, therefore I have often been on the brink of the water to dive in to drive just as with them, to show myself, and my respect to express them … feeling humble because I no longer look down on them, but right into their eyes … literally get on the same level as they … Anyway, the realization that the water temperature was at around minus 10, slightly held me back …
When in the Azores, a group of sperm whales remained quiet near the boat, it seemed to do no harm. Still, they are hunters with teeth that devour an 18 meter long giant squid… How could they not see me as something to eat? No, better not …

But then today I was behind the wheel, looking out over the sea … Esther B. stood on the starboard side, Esther G. to port, and then came the first surge right. Esther B.’s face said… “WHALE !!!!!! To starboard, less than 20 meters from the boat !!!!!!!! “Hup everyone out of bed, dress quickly as well…this is something most people have never seen!”
I changed tack, so we went through the wind and the boat nicely came “about.” The Leviathan had us well in his sights, and found us interesting. We have observed that whales usually spend no longer than 5 to 10 minutes near the boat before swimming on again. But this one nicely resurfaced on the other side of the boat, and we were able to view his manoeuverings.
After an hour and a few hundred photos later, we got the feeling that this whale was “people watching!” … The lovable beast, clearly a finwhale (larger whale species mainly eat krill) bided his time nearer and nearer to us. He hung quietly in one place to watch us aloofly. I could no longer restrain myself and rushed down to get my wetsuit, my flippers and goggles were ready … Someone threw out a long floating line over the water and the bathing stairs were lowered.

Now it was happening: the whale came from starboard quietly, and crossed the boat at the front of the ship. I jumped into the water and tried as quickly as I could to come in his line. But alas … the beast was too fast, or I too slow. In any case I had missed him. Back to the boat, which now floated on at 0.5 knots, flippers and goggles back on deck, with great effort I hoisted myself up. From here I had better views. The boat crossed 2.5 meters above the water, just as I was there watching that whale. Fifteen minutes later he came close again; slowly he swam some 40 meters from the rear of the ship to the front. The people on the boat I was instructed to remain facing the beast; it was my only clue. The whale approached even closer: 30 meters. I lowered myself into the water and swam as fast as I could right angles to the ship. Once again I looked back to follow the instructions of the crew; I was still sitting on the right line and was 20 meters from the ship …

Then it happened: First, I saw a white flipper at about seven meters away from me …
My heart pounded in my throat and adrenaline shot through my body … The beast for me became clearer, I began to see his head … I was about 10 meters and visibility was the whale approached to about 3 meters … All at once his smile, which was followed by his eye: we looked each other straight and he clearly showed that I was new to him … The gloss was beautiful; I was mad with joy and awe … He looked at me again well and then whizzed past me … With the strength of its tail I felt the suction of his approximately 16-meter-long body and he was gone. Shortly I doubted whether I had to swim after him, but knowing that the animal is about 30 km / h … and I, well, a lot less, I swam back to the boat already was again 50 meters from me . Just I took the line in the water and draw inspiration from me. My heart was pounding in my throat, trembling with adrenaline, I can now claim to be one of the few people who has swum with whale …
This one was for the record books. WOW!….

Sam

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