Whale - Up close and personal

Ocean Gem
Geoff & Eileen Mander
Wed 21 Jun 2017 15:17
Date: Wednesday 21st June 2017
Time: 12:00 UT
Position: 41:07.886N 17:51.843W
Distance from A Coruña: 442NM

We continued to sail towards NW Spain with only the occasional interlude where the wind dropped to the extent that we needed to use the engine for forward progress. In fact the sailing was very good. We had full sail up arranged 'wing and wing'. That is the jib was held out to starboard using a pole whilst the main was set out to port. Under this arrangement we were sailing downwind with the wind almost directly behind us. However it makes changing course rather difficult.

There was very little swell and the waves caused by local wind were small so that inside the boat there was very little sense of movement and all felt very calm, in fact there was less pitching around than in the marina in Ponta Delgado. The only sound was the gentle swishing of water running past the hull as we glided along, almost as though the boat was running on rails. These conditions are delightful and, in my experience, rare in mid ocean.

Towards mid afternoon I hooked a fish and with some difficulty reeled it in to the boat as it fought against me. As it got close we could see that it was a good sized blue fin tuna about 3 feet long. This is one of the best tasting fish in the ocean. Just as we were attempting to bring it onboard it slipped the hook and got away. I think Paul said 'tant pis'; I said something stronger.

After a while we were joined by a small pod of common dolphins. Paul and I were on the foredeck enjoying their company when about 100 meters away, on the port bow, we spotted a large whale. I was so keen to look closely at it to try to identify its species that it almost slipped my notice that it was swimming directly towards us. As it dawned on me I rushed back to the helm to steer away from it. But I was not fast enough. As I got to the helm the whale had dived and I could clearly see it swimming directly under the boat, at right angles to us. It was about 8 feet deep and around the same length as the boat. It emerged a few meters away, spouted, then dived again. I wasn't able to identify it, or indeed take any pictures.

Only last month, in this same area of sea, another Hallberg Rassy sailing yacht (Destiny of Scarborough) was attacked by a whale and sunk. I don't think this one was being aggressive, just curious or maybe even playing with us. But it came far too close for comfort.