Triple sunset

Triple sunset reflected off sandbars

There are times at sea when moments of bliss serendipitously present themselves like an unexpected visitor. This particular moment of bliss takes place off the coast of Queensland, Australia. It’s found in The Long Way Back, Chapter 1, pages 30-33.

Jimmy, Ann, Gunter and I are enjoying a unique sunset at sea. Pacific Bliss is moored near the channel between two islands, Keswick and St. Bees:

 

In the cockpit, we watch a pale gold sun set beneath the horizon…

As night falls, the real show begins.

Ann is the first to hear the strange primal sound, accompanied by a swoosh, like surf rushing through a small opening in a rock cave.  She calls us to the cockpit. 

“That must be a blowhole, over on the St. Bee’s side,” I tell her.

Günter counters, “But there’s no surf here, and the winds are not strong.”

“Whales!” We all shout. From then on we whisper, listening closely to the whale songs followed by the blow. Each stanza begins with a low moan, like an elephant, followed by a long screech that ranges from a low to a high frequency. The song changes to a long growl-like bark and ends with a monkey-like eee-ee, then the stanza repeats.

First, the haunting whale songs reach us from across the channel. Later, we hear them as the whales make their way south through the pass. We know that the plaintive sounds of the humpback can travel up to 20 miles underwater, but we’re so close that we can hear them from the cockpit. Above water. Magical!

While we discuss the route of the humpbacks in hushed tones, the sky turns into a glittering canopy of stars, covering us with nature’s glory while grunts, groans, thwops, snorts, and barks continue. Finally, we hear the noises fade toward the center of the channel. The show is over. We turn into bed silently, tired yet awed.

***

0830: “Whales! I see them coming through the channel!” Günter calls from the bow of Pacific Bliss. He has just untangled the mooring line and Pacific Bliss is now swinging freely, her bow facing ESE toward St Bee’s hills.

We all rush to the bow. Now—in the daylight—we can see the whales.  We watch, mesmerized, as two humped backs breach simultaneously.

“Beautiful!” Ann says.

“Powerful!” I answer. “I wonder whether they are signaling to the rest of their pod, just having a look around, or shaking off barnacles.”

“Maybe they are playing,” Jimmy says. “Just having fun.”

“They could be the same whales we heard last night,” Günter adds. “Coming back through the channel. If so, they might be staying around here for awhile. Probably mating season.”

“Or fattening up from all that food on the reef,” Jimmy comments.

We hear a few faint blows as the creatures swim out of range and on to the sea. Then nothing.

The show is over.

That’s what I love about traveling the natural world: it whets my curiosity; it propels me to learn more.  What a wonderful way to begin a new day! And what a whale of a day this is will be.      

Have you ever heard a whale’s song?  If so, I’d love to hear your comments. If not, you can listen to them here:

Some humpback whale songs are sung during the mating and birthing season, but others are sung for other reasons. Researchers now believe that humpbacks learn from one another and sing for complex cultural reasons.

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About the Author: Lois and Günter Hofmann lived their dream by having a 43-foot ocean-going catamaran built for them in the south of France and sailing around the world. Learn more about their travel adventures by reading Lois’s award winning nautical adventure trilogy. Read more about Lois and her adventures at her website and stay in touch with Lois by liking her Facebook page.