Whales Off the Coast of Mauritania

Mina2 in the Caribbean - Where's The Ice Gone?
Tim Barker
Sun 1 Nov 2009 12:36

Noon Position: 19:19.04N 018:32.52W

Distance run over last 24 hours: 168 miles

Date: 31 October 2009


Pressing on with the wind right behind us with the yankee goose-winged we have been making good progress. Unfortunately to get the speed we had to push further west than I would have liked and the weather forecast has changed a bit such that there is now less advantage being well west than there was. Time will tell. We have just gybed the yankee (call the ADS, she will explain it all to you) and we are now steering 175° straight to Dakar and managing just under 8 knots.


The excitement yesterday afternoon was spotting an enormous whale just in front of us. We passed it less than 50 metres away and saw most of its back and part of its head. We identified it by its size, and shape of dorsal fin, as a Humpback whale. Later on Tom saw another one (or possibly the same one) and saw its enormous fluke rise out of the water as it dived. One feels so privileged being in the company of such majestic beasts.


Last night was magical. We have a nearly full moon which spreads its light across the waves like a brush stroke of silver. Tom has coined a word for the reflection of moonlight on the sea as “lunescence”, a word so poetic that it nearly brought tears to my eyes. Nearly.


As the night progressed the seas have built into a large Atlantic swell, between 3 and 4 metres from peak to trough. Sometimes we are perched on a crest with a commanding view of the horizon. The bow then dips as we hurtle down the back of the wave into the trough, to be surrounded by high walls of water all around before being lifted again. This is the rhythm of our life in this beautiful isolated world. (When reading this to the crew, Lawrence said “Oh for God’s sake Tim, pass the sick bag!”).


This morning, passing the coast of Mauritania (how exotic does that sound!) dawn rose to reveal that the deck and all the rigging was covered in a light brown dust – Saharan sand even though we are more than 100 miles offshore. As Mina2 charges through the water, flurries of small flying fish leap out of the water and glide to safety.


One surprise has been the temperature. Ever since we got to Dakhla, whilst it is hot when one is out of the wind, the wind has been cold. At nights we wear long trousers and fleeces and when in bed one needs a duvet. Not what I had imagined the tropics would be like at all.


Back to personnel issues. After tea yesterday Tom, being a medical man, insisted that I start taking my malaria pills ahead of our arrival in Senegal. I thought that the malaria pills were called Malarone but I could swear that the pills he made me take were called something else – Mogadon I think. Probably one of the new generation of malaria pills that my doctor hasn’t heard of. Anyway, then an extraordinary thing happened – my cabin door got jammed whilst I was inside. No amount of shouting managed to raise the crew – idle waisters. Being off watch I went to sleep and the next thing I knew was that I had slept for 12 hours non-stop. Shamefully I had missed my night time watch., but I woke feeling completely refreshed – I must have been more exhausted than I realised. And the voices have now gone as well, which is a blessing.


Tom and Lawrence are being very kind and solicitous this morning. They insist that they didn’t mind one bit standing in for my watch when I was asleep. Clearly my tactic of openly confronting them at tea time yesterday, accusing them of hatching a mutiny and then making them watch me whilst I ate their tea time ration of biscuits has done the trick (surprisingly difficult eating nine dry biscuits in one sitting). The authority of my command has been re-established. Though I say it myself, I think my man-management skills are tip-top.