Those who know me understand why I thought of our 43-foot catamaran as a person. And yes, she has a “voice.” Here is one of her sailors’ tales, written on the 6th day of a passage from the Maldives to Salalah, Oman. Position: 14º17´N, 59º23´E

Pacific Bliss

I’m Pacific Bliss, and I have my own story to tell. I wasn’t too happy last night. I droned along—as blissful as can be on a glassy sea—giving my wings a rest. My navigator was busy at the nav station entering comments into the logbook about the three fishing boats at the horizon to my port. “3-4 miles off,” she wrote. She could see that horizon under the light of a half-moon, beaming a silvery path right to the port helm seat. My able-bodied seaman Chris had just gone off watch. And my Captain was sawing logs, storing up energy for the dogleg watch.

All of a sudden, I was trapped like a hunted prey, my engine gasping for breath. And I’m a huge whale of prey, at 12 tons. My daggerboards were trapped at one side of a huge black net, and both my hulls were wrapped at the stern. I was helpless! I must say; my crew rose to the occasion. Lois ran to the helm. Chris was out of his bunk like a flash and shut off the engine. Gunter heard the commotion breaking through his dreams and arrived topsides, wearing nothing but a pair of shorts. My crew does take care of me. I’m important—and they know it.

Even so, it took them awhile to get me out of this predicament. First, they took down my sails so I couldn’t press forward. Then they raised both daggerboards all the way up to free the forward side of the net. But it was still wrapped around my stern—on both sides. White floats held the net, and one big float, the bitter end I think, was bobbing at the port side, trying to sneak underneath.

My crew used every hook on board to try to get that net free, to no avail. They discussed going down below me, into that deep dark sea, but no-one wanted to do that at night. I don’t blame them; that net was heavy and still attached to a fishing boat over four miles away.

As Lois and Chris peered over the port side, they heard the blow of a whale coming for air— three times to be exact. I wonder what happens to one of those whales caught in a net like that. I know what happens to dolphins and sea turtles; they struggle and drown. Poor things!

spread_size_book2_chapter8_whalewatching2

Well, Chris managed to push that big float underneath me with that big hook we have on board. The float slid underneath me, past the rudder and sail drive, and out into the sea. That left only a small section of the net at my starboard stern. He pushed that down with the same hook and finally we were free. My engines started again, and we continued motoring to our destination.

Later on Captain Gunter’s watch, another fisherman hailed us on the VHF. He didn’t speak English well, but he gave his position. “Is that your net or your boat position?” Lois asked him three times. (She was still up after her watch, keeping Gunter company, “teaming up,” they call it.) Finally, the man gave her two lats and longs, one for the boat and another for the net. Turns out his net was 10 kilometers long (that’s about 6 miles for you Americans who still do not understand the metric system). We had to deviate course for some time.

Frankly friends, I’m relieved to hear that we have only 350 miles to go to Salalah. I’m tired of these Indian Ocean fishing nets, tired of sailing, and quite ready for a rest!

Two plaques hang in our guest bathroom, one of a humpback whale surfacing, another of a baby humpback swimming atop its mother’s back. They are both signed by the artist, Sheri. Like most of the art in our home, this piece has a back story.

P1040744 Humpback Whales in Tonga

Humpback Whales in Tonga

Gunter tells the story on page 148 of Sailing the South Pacific:

The Eye of the Whale: A Moment of BlissBy Günter

Our guide spots a mother humpback whale with her calf; she orders the driver to approach them slowly. Then at the spot where we had last seen them, the four of us on this excursion, along with our guide, take to the water with our snorkeling gear. With my face down, I do not see anything right away. Suddenly, I see something right below me—big and white. Then I realize that what I am seeing is the mother on her back, letting the calf drink her milk. In the next moment, the calf begins to surface very close to me, just a few arm lengths away. It comes up and looks at me with a large black eye as large as a dinner plate. I am mesmerized. I cannot move.

I feel intimately connected to this animal in a very friendly way. I have a very strong urge to touch it. So I swim a few feet toward it and reach out with my arm. That is too close for the whale’s comfort! The calf rolls on its back and paddles away from me with a few powerful strokes of its large flippers. In doing this, one of its flippers hits me on the right shoulder. It feels like being slapped with a big piece of wood. I’m not injured, but the spell is broken. I become concerned that the mother will surface and toss me into the air. However, she doesn’t; she is a gracious creature who forgives my intrusion.

The Moment of Bliss in which I felt deeply connected to this fellow animal is gone. What is left is a scolding from the guide. I had violated the rules of engagement in the Whale Watcher’s Guide. I feel like a little schoolboy being reprimanded by the principal. But she is right. It is a very dangerous thing that I did.

Back in the anchorages, we find a houseboat with a sign saying ARK GALLERY. We motor over with our dinghy. We tell Sheri, the artist/owner, about Günter’s experience. “Then you will want a souvenir of that experience,” she says. “Here’s a set of plaques that I painted of those whales. One of the humpback surfacing. The other, as you can see, of the baby swimming above the mother.”

I love them!  There is no need to negotiate. I pay the price. I know exactly where they will hang in our home.