Sunday, July 8, 2012

Whale Watching...Life Watching...

“We clear the harbor and the wind catches her sails and my beautiful ship leans over ever so gracefully, and her elegant bow cuts cleanly into the increasing chop of the waves. I take a deep breath and my chest expands and my heart starts thumping so strongly I fear the others might see it beat through the cloth of my jacket. I face the wind and my lips peel back from my teeth in a grin of pure joy.”  ~ L.A. Meyer

I have always loved the ocean, especially the New England coastline. Beaches, lighthouses, sand, boats, and scenic views are just the beginning of my love affair with the ocean. Add to that the sound of waves crashing the rugged shoreline as well as the smell of the salt water penetrating my nostrils and I am in a state of complete contentment. Pure joy even.

Up until last year, I was always more a spectator of the New England coastline and it's vast Atlantic Ocean rather than a participant. I would walk beaches scouring for shells and tour lighthouses but with the exception of two ferry trips, I was never actually on the ocean. Then last year Chuck and I spent an afternoon on a tugboat as part of the MS Harborfest event benefiting the Multiple Sclerosis Society and I was hooked. I found a new love in Portland, Maine. A love of piers, fishing vessels, lobster traps, and even the somewhat foul smell of a fishing port.

We had been wanting to go on a whale watch together since we started dating almost two years ago. Chuck had been several times before and I had never been. I am not quite sure why. I think part of it was that I always shied away from going on boats due to issues with motion sickness and also just never really having the opportunity to be on a boat. However this year we were finally able to make the time to schedule it and it worked out that I was finally well enough to brave the adventure.

So yesterday we made the trip to Gloucester, Massachusetts, about two hours from our home, to go on a whale watch with a company called 7 Seas Whale Watch. I was beyond excited mostly because it was an experience I had never had before and also because I got to be on the ocean again. Apparently I come from a long line of fisherman on my dad's side of the family and when I did a genealogy research many years ago, Gloucester was one of the areas that some of my distant relatives had worked and lived in. Maybe it is in the blood!

Nothing though could have prepared me for the experience I had yesterday and how profoundly it affected me.

After taking a good dose of Dramamine for motion sickness, we got on the boat. Everyone else getting on board seemed so intent on getting a seat and staying put. By the time we got on, there were no seats left except inside the cabin and I didn't see the point of staying in there! My first thought was that it was going to be difficult to stand with my physical issues as the trip was supposed to be almost four hours long. But then I decided it was going to all work out somehow for the best. So instead, we settled ourselves by standing at the bow of the boat, which is the very tip of the front of the boat. The width was enough room for Chuck and I to stand together side by side with nobody in front of us and nobody to the sides of us. There was a double railing so it gave me the ability to switch positions often by leaning and supporting myself on the rail. I figured eventually there would be an open seat somewhere out of the deck.

Absolute best decision.

Why? Because when the boat started moving, we had the best view ever. I knew at that point that there was no way I would be moving from that spot unless I was on the verge of collapse. The boat had such a low profile (meaning close to the water) that it felt like we were right on the water. And with the boat traveling at speeds of up to about 20mph, being at the bow was incredible. Wind rushing through my hair and body and having an unobstructed view of the vast Atlantic Ocean was priceless.

At first, we slowly moved out of Gloucester Harbor which is just a treat in itself. Breathtaking scenery of lighthouses, fishing vessels, old buildings, and even a harbor seal! Then as we moved out of the harbor, the temperature dropped and what was stretched in front of me was the beautiful vastness of the Atlantic Ocean. An occasional fishing or sailboat was all we saw at first and then we saw nothing but blue water as far as the horizon where it met the sky.

And it just got better.

Since we were at the very front of the boat, I spotted the first whale. I could see in front of that horizon water shooting up from the surface. Water from the blowhole of a whale. A creature that I had never seen before in its home. A creature free to roam its land freely, untouched by the modern world that we live in.

As we got closer to the whale watching spot, the boat slowed down and eventually stopped. It is a surreal feeling being in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean at a standstill. No other vessels around (at that point) and people on the boat waiting in silence; waiting to see the great creature we had come to observe.

And then they came, not one but two whales. Two humpback whales diving in and out of the vast ocean working as a pair while they were feeding. Such an incredible sight. Such a natural sight. A sight that left me with tears welling up in my eyes. Why, I am not sure.

From what we were told by the naturalist narrating our tour, the area we were in, Stellwagon Bank, is a large feeding area for the whales, USA Today has listed this area off the coast of Gloucester as one of the world's top ten whale watching sites.

I can see why.

Apparently we happened to hit an unusual day for our whale watch. There was an abundance of whales to watch and it was amazing how close the captain of our boat could get us to these magnificent creatures. Humpbacks, Finbacks, and Minke whales were on the agenda for yesterday. Sometimes we would see one, sometimes two working in tandem to gather their food to store up for the winter when they would then migrate down to the Caribbean where there is no food available for them. We got to see a calf, which is a baby whale. At one point, we could see several whales with the water shooting out of their blowholes in the distance. There had to be at least four gathered together.

Another treat was that we saw schools of Atlantic White-sided Dolphins, which is an unusual sight in July. Normally they grace the water of the Atlantic in the spring and fall. Sometimes we saw two swimming at a time; sometimes four. Sometimes swimming alone and more incredibly, sometimes flanking the sides of a humpback whale as he/she travelled the waters. At one point, our boat drove along the dolphins as they perfectly synchronized their swimming in pairs alongside our boat.

Nature in perfect harmony.

Life in perfect harmony.

After staying out in the whale's feeding area for what seemed like an infinite amount of time, our vessel made its way back to Gloucester Harbor. This time I found a seat but still I was at the front of the boat. My senses felt pleasurably assaulted once again. The sound of the ocean water rushing away from the sides of the boat sounded like music. The smell of the salt water still in the air.

Sometimes spiritual experiences come when you least expect them. I have to say, I was due for a spiritual experience; one that made me feel like I was more connected with God and with myself. I am not sure exactly how it happened. Maybe it was because of my spot on the boat, up there in the front. It helped me to feel like Chuck and I were the only ones on that boat. Like we were almost right on the water with those creatures. Maybe because like I mentioned earlier, we were in a place untouched by our modern world with all of it's distractions. A place of beauty.

One thing I do know for sure: we were in God's country. For me, a place free of doctors and medical tests. Free of insurance and disability companies. Free of technology. Free of other people's drama. Free of stress, disappointments, and expectations. A peaceful place.

In other words, a little piece of heaven.
Right here on earth.

Photos Courtesy of Chuck Myers


  1. So glad you both enjoyed with your description was obviously a wonderful experience

  2. Chris, that was simply beautiful.