Monster Waves and Baby Whales

So, Jim and I are getting somewhat experienced at this ocean kayaking with its  flat water, beautiful sunshine and ideal conditions. Every day so far has, miraculously, been perfect weather. Everyone is saying it. This weather is awesome, the water is amazing, the paddling is fabulous. And we’ve done it for four days now. We’re experienced.

But today, it’s much more typical North Island weather. Rainy. Chilly. And above all, windy.

Now that might not seem like a big deal, but to a kayaker on the ocean, wind is everything. And to fair weather, novice kayakers who grew up on the prairies and think Lake Winnipeg is the biggest body of water on the planet, wind is a major consideration. Even a slight wind makes us check the position of the flag on its pole at the kayak office, check the bushes to see if they’re swaying, check the online weather reports and then run down to the blackboard on the dock where the weather conditions are displayed to double- check again. Hmm, should we or shouldn’t we? Well, up until today, we didn’t.

But today, after a couple of days off the water, we’re saying, “Hey, time to try it. If we don’t like it, we can just turn around. No problem. Let’s go.”

And so we’re off. No problem in the marina. No problem just out of the marina. However, around the first corner….

Pow. Wind. Tide. Current. Deadheads everywhere. And waves. Everywhere you looked, waves. Or, as they call them here, swells. Big ones.

But, with a true adventurous spirit (some people who know better might call it something different), we continue out onto the big water. To our amazement, the boat handles it well and so do we. The swells get bigger as time goes on and we move out of the harbour, but we’re doing it. The wind is strong, the paddling isn’t easy, but it is ……thrilling. The boat dips into a swell, gets the front covered in water, rises up out of the swell and rides on top. Small whitecaps  appear, something we have thus far avoided completely, but now we’re taking  them in stride and riding them like cowboys. Wow, is this fun! We’re doing it and having a ball. Hallelujah!

And so in this manner, we make it to the small islands. Up and down, paddle hard, splash up over the front of the boat, more up and down. Suddenly it stops, all becomes quiet, and we are in the channel between the islands. That had been fun, but this was a relief.

We pull over to some rocks for lunch and get out our salmon sandwiches. SALMON sandwiches. And THE rocks where the bear had been a few days before. Again, I almost get a sore neck turning around after each bite. But, lunch remains calm and safe and after a short break, we’re off again. Not having had enough wind and waves, no, swells, we carry on a bit further down the shoreline battling the wind and riding the water.

Turning around finally to head for home, now in a smattering of rain as well as wind, we notice that the tourist whale watching boat has somehow gotten out in the Strait quite near without us having heard it. Hmmm. The whale boat only stops when there are whales around. This one has definitely stopped right in the middle of the Johnstone Strait. Looking around, we see the distinctive quick bright flashes of dolphins. Another sign we’ve learned to read. Dolphins are orca food. Therefore, where are the orcas?

Just as we are saying that, there they are. It doesn’t seem to matter that there is wind and rain and waves and swells, there’s the whales. Lots of them. This time, there has to be about twenty of them out there in the center of the big water; it seems they are everywhere. All of them are fairly far away from us but, because we have all our rain gear on and because we’re out there anyway, we decide to stop paddling and start watching.

So far, pretty standard. Still a thrill, but nothing we haven’t seen over the last few days. Just then, two more boats show up to watch the show, and what did they do but make the orcas move closer to us. Just as we see that happening, we realize that there are, close by, at least two smaller-than-usual whales splashing more than normal and a bigger one close to them. As they continued to splash and seemingly play in the water, the bigger animal actually breaches, not once but twice, right in front of us! Now this is more interesting than it sounds because it means the whale seemingly makes a huge jump, clears the water with a part or most of its body and lands back with a tremendous splash. As you can imagine, from our point of view, this was really something. And the one that was breaching was now very close. Wow, what a sight!

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In the meantime, the two little (only a ton or so each) ones are getting closer and closer. Jim says behind me, ‘They’re coming right at us. They’re playing and not paying attention to what’s in front of them”. And sure enough, that’s exactly what is happening. They are coming closer every second, not in a straight line exactly, but with enough flipping around that they are maintaining a course right for us. We can even hear them making sounds (this usually only happens when boats put a machine called a “hydrophone” in the water which picks up the whale vocalizations) to each other, very high-pitched squeals and shrieks which are absolutely astounding. Even as they are moving in our direction, the other big one behind them breaches again with an incredible display of white belly and huge head.

The babies come so close to us that I get a real case of nerves and actually put the camera (waterproof) down in a puddle of saltwater that’s on our protective skirt on my lap. I do that so I can start to hang onto the sides of the boat with both hands and I call out to Jim, ‘Hang on!” Just as I am holding on tight and bracing my feet against the wooden slats on the sides of the boat, again, the whales disappear. Twenty feet away from us….and they disappear. I swirl my head around to look behind us and unbelievably, there they are, moving away. They had gone  UNDER THE BOAT in perfect sequence and rose up on the other side still totally in sync. Unbelievable. And then they are gone.

Well, by this time, it is seriously pouring and we are soaked everywhere where we have let our hoods down or sleeves ride up. Our glasses are full of water drops, my hair (not Jim’s) is drenched, and we are beginning to get quite a chill. Doesn’t matter. It’s worth it. We start to paddle home, leaving the frolicking whales to their fun. Not as much fun as we’ve had though.  Once again, what a day.

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13 thoughts on “Monster Waves and Baby Whales

  1. Yes, definitely enjoy looking at the pictures! When you blog, I almost feel that I’m there with you. I think you should invent a new word…whale-bonding. Don’t think you can ever get tired of seeing whales up close. (Here’s a hot tip…always paddle into the wind on your way out 🙂

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    1. Yes, Roberta, they are. I’ve just recently learned that they have such good radar that they will never hit you or anything like that. Their squeals were amazing – talking to each other right while they went around us. Thanks for reading.

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