Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Whale Encounters in La Cruz

We dropped the hook in the La Cruz anchorage on Saturday afternoon following a relaxing day of motoring and sailing down from Chacala. There were humpbacks everywhere rolling, flopping, and breaching in the surrounding waters as we made our way in to Banderas Bay. If we could have sailed the whole way it would have been a perfect day, but the wind always seems to be too light or blowing right on the bow or stern. Still, we enjoyed the time out on the water and I even managed to catch a fish that wasn't mackerel. I reeled in a nice little tuna which I filleted for dinner that night. That makes 7 mackerel and 1 tuna, if anyone is counting.

It's hard to believe we've been here three days already. We're still in the process of cleaning up the boat and learning our way around town. I have a few boat projects to take care of and need to work down the list before it gets any bigger. Especially after our whale encounter on Sunday night.

We were sitting at anchor on a peaceful night surrounded by about thirty other boats. I was just getting ready for bed and went on deck to let Keiko do her business when I heard a blow from a humpback just off the starboard bow. I called for Millie to come up on deck and before she could get up the steps the boat shuddered and lifted as the whale slammed us from the stern. He surfaced on the starboard beam and I watched him roll on his belly and slap the water with a fin, nearly taking down our dinghy floating next to the boat. The next thing I saw was his head as he came up to get a look at what he just hit. I stood there on deck in my underwear, dumbfounded, staring down a 15-foot juvenile humpback with a clear lack of depth perception.

My first response was to check the bilge for water. No problem there -- everything looked dry. Next I checked the steering, expecting to find a bent or damaged rudder. The wheel still turned but it felt a little sloppy. I found the steering cables were loose and the rudder stop was severely bent but, otherwise, the boat seemed OK. The next morning I donned the dive gear and went under the hull, expecting to see visible signs of a collision. Surprisingly, the hull, rudder, prop, and shaft all looked untouched. After a few turns to tighten the steering cables the boat seemed to be back in order. We'll take her out for a day sail this week to check it out but it looks like we may have escaped an expensive haul-out and repair.

Word soon got out that we were hit by a whale at anchor. With that many boats around us the primary fear is getting tangled in an anchor chain. But, from what I've heard, a whale hitting a stationary boat is a rare occurrence. We couldn't believe our rotten luck. I noticed a lot of fish bubbling around the boat right before he hit so that probably had something to do with his lack of attention. And, even though it was a traumatizing event, we were never in any real danger, surrounded by many boats in 25 feet of water not far from shore on a calm night.  It was clearly an unprovoked, unintentional attack and once he realized his mistake simply swam off.  Having a well-built boat certainly helps in situations like this.  I'm amazed at how strong Jean Marie is.  She can take a direct hit from a whale without showing a mark.  Although, the next time we see a whale in the anchorage I think I'll run the motor just to let him know where we are.
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