Saturday, November 29, 2008

Close Encounters of the Large Kind - Part I

On our way off shore we were headed southwest. The southern wind bringing in a low was keeping us a little more west. We passed about twenty miles south of San Clemente Island and then five to ten miles southeast of Cortes Bank. Cortes Bank is an interesting underwater mountain chain where the sea floor rises several thousand feet in only a few miles.

I first learned about the Bank when I saw the surfing movie, Step into Liquid. A group of the best big wave surfers arranged to shoot the bank during one of the largest storms of the decade. Swells came thousands of miles from the Gulf of Alaska and were suddenly forced up, creating waves of 60 to 100 feet. Some of these waves may not break for 100 miles when they hit Mexico. I would have to say that Step into Liquid is the best adventure documentary I have seen. The Cortes Bank is only one of several stories that are told. I would strongly recommend it.

A little further west we ran into the largest Dolphin pod that we have seen. I would say there were at least two hundred performers in this circus. There was a tanker a few miles away and the pod would swim around in a large radius between the two vessels. After a couple passes, you could begin to identify individuals.

The procession was usually led around by the "Jumpers". These were about twenty or thirty in this group of larger, faster guys. Individually, we could usually pick out "Gorbachev" and "Thumper". Gorby was leading the gang and had a white spot on his dark forehead. Most of the Jumpers would come completely out the water three to four feet. While traveling at twenty miles an hour their arc would probably cover ten yards or more. Then there was Thumper. He had figured out how to get as high or higher than everybody else and would then interrupt his arc, hitting the water as hard as possible. At his peak he would squeal and seemed to have a huge tuna-eating grin.

The procession would continue with smaller members. There were the "Girls" who would swim exactly side by side and come out of the water in synchronised threes and fours looking like chariot horses. The last were the moms with the little kids who were as small as two feet.

I know you may be thinking, "What is so big about this?". Your right, we are getting there. This went on for maybe two hours with small lulls. After one lull, the procession came back in force. The Jumpers seemed ever more animated. Suddenly as the group passed the bow, a huge whale blew about twenty or twenty fve yards in front of the boat. At 6 knots, the boat covers twenty yards in just a few seconds. We were so suprised, that we barely had time start hoping that the whale would dive quickly. Four feet off our starboard beam, we passed two large oily patches where the whale had been. Whale snot.

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