Monday, March 26, 2012

All Creatures Great and Small

"Rani, there is a blue whale out here!Come and have a look!"

I was down below watching a freighter move across my radar screen. This one had confounded us by being so slow. We were sailing at less than 2 knots and had watched the ship's direction closely after an unrewarded hail on the VHF.

Barely containing my excitement, I hopped into the cockpit and was instantly rewarded by the sight of the largest whale we had ever seen up this close. Uncaring about what sort of signal we may be sending to the freighter, Chris changed Ladybug's course to greet the whale. I was worried about getting too close but the birthday boy wasn't listening!

As it neared, I grabbed my videocam to record the magic but, within seconds, the camera stopped working - it had run out of memory! Murphy winked as I shook my head in disbelief. A blue whale and I had no video footage?!!

The whale, with it's hippo-like head and short dorsal fin reminded me of the sperm whales we had seen up in the northern Sea of Cortez last year. But it was much larger than any we had ever seen, between 50-60 feet long. It passed within 150 feet of our beam. The wind was not co-operating for following it's track, so Chris turned on the motor. Bad move. The whale dived immediately. We turned off the engine and resumed our course to the south.

We later identified this magnificent creature as a fin, not a blue, from the forward angle of the water spout when it breathed.

Most of Saturday, we averaged 3.5-4 Knots in the light NW airs. After lunch we hoisted the staysail to give us a little more speed but the difference was miniscule, between 0.25-0.5 Knots.

At night, the wind filled in a bit more and we deliberately slowed down to avoid running into Isla Clarion in the dark.

We approached this remote Mexican island with the rising sun on Sunday, accompanied by dolphins and boobies. If this was a sign, we were going to have an amazing experience snorkeling and hiking. Or so we thought.

Blood red rocks, grassy looking ridges and steep striated cliffs with surf pounding below them looked forbidding and inviting at the same time.

As we rounded it's eastern tip into Sulphur Bay, fierce wind came rushing off the mountains and we had to turn off to reduce the weather helm.

The Mexican Navy ( Armada ) hailed us on channel 16 frantically while we were both on deck, Chris trying to control the helm and I video-taping the coast. When we finally heard the radio and answered their call, I started speaking into the wrong microphone and wondered why they could not hear me! They asked us to prepare for an inspection and I asked their advice on a safe anchoring position and depth in the bay. Honestly speaking I would have carried on if it had been my decision. The 8 foot swell breaking on the beach,the rusting remains of a wrecked ship, surf roaring in all directions and evil looking rocks to port and starboard did not make this an inviting anchorage. I was also concerned for the safety of the inspection team trying to launch their panga in these ferocious conditions and called on the VHF to advise we would carry on sailing if it would be best for all of us. But there was no answer. Looking through binoculars,it seemed as if all the crew were coming down the ramp to their launch.

My heart was palpitating as I steered towards the wreck, Ladybug rising and falling on the back of massive swells. Chris prepared to drop the anchor. We released 150 feet of 5/16" chain in a 42 foot depth and backed down till it set in the rocky bottom. I could not wait to leave!!

Seven men, some in army fatigues and a few in civilian clothes, all carrying M16's, came out to Ladybug after an exciting launch from their concrete ramp. Five came on board while two relaxed in the panga, occasionally fending it off from smashing into Ladybug. The man taking notes spoke good English and looked at our boat papers and passports. They asked us for an exit paper from our last port of call but we did not have any as we left from Los Frailes. They asked us if we had any diving gear or if we liked fishing but we did not, so there was no need for a permit. They asked us about fire extinguishers and life vests and were satisfied with our equipment. One guy came down below to verify this and also see the boat in general.

We offered everyone biscuits and a glass of Jamaica juice ( it's not rum, but juice from the hibiscus flower and a popular drink in Mexico - reduces cholesterol according to one of our guests ).

All in all it was a pleasant interaction. There are 12 men stationed here, usually staying on for several weeks, and a supply ship arrives every 20 days. Life is good as there is not much to do. The day before, a a sports fishing charter had arrived with 26 people on board, so that must have given them a little more work than us.

There was no safe place to land in our row boat, so we departed after a few hours of rolling in the swell and watching the men ride the surf back to their launch. All of them had to jump out into waist deep water to get the panga back safely and then everyone pulled it up the steep ramp using wooden rollers underneath.

I remarked to Chris " We at least deserve a whale sighting for all the effort we spent here ". And there it was - the sleek black back of a humpback less than 200 feet from Ladybug. Magic restored.

Other than these giants we saw lots of seabirds, Magnificent Frigate Birds, Red footed white morph and Brown Boobies, a Tropic Bird and two types of petrels - Leach's Storm Petrel and a small Wedge Rumped Storm Petrel. The sea is certainly rich in life here but we were glad to be sailing away...

At 1430 Zulu today, our position was 17 26 N 115 53 W. We had sailed 106 miles in the previous 24 hours despite stopping at Isla Clarion. Wind and swells have been mainly from the north and northeast, wind in the range of 8-10 Knots.

1 comment:

Controlled Jibe said...

Wow! I've just found your blog and this post just blew me away! You had me from, "There's a blue whale out here!" much less the dolphins, boobies and boarding from the Mexican Navy! Oh my - I love it!

Katie and Mark'