A Most Incredible Day

When I read the post from Duane "Ambergris" Strosaker of a Sunday costal paddle, I thought THIS would be something to get up early for. With the world's largest creatures inhabiting our local waters, I was sure that "coastal paddle" was a subtle code for "whale hunt". Sure enough, at the pre-paddle coffee klatch, Duane revealed the true itinerary. There would be no hugging the coast on this paddle.

We were seven strong when we left Dana Point, Duane, Catherine Ridder, myself, Dave Houser, Ken Fry, Steve Wilson, Dublin Dave O'Connor. Steve who was testing out his new titanium spine said he was only going to paddle the harbor with us, but the lure of the Blues must have been too much for him and we were soon all making good time as Duane led us to his "Honey spot". Having had my close encounter with a whale a couple of weeks ago, I wasn't sure how lucky we would be today, but I figured at least we'd see some spouting off in the distance and we could call the day a success. At our first break, I think Duane was feeling a little pressure to produce for the group he was leading, but the day was already turning out to be a great paddle. At the break, Catherine entertained the group with jokes that Duane swears she was telling 3 years ago when he last paddled with her. As we floated there, we realize our group was encircled by a large group of dolphins that were swimming rings around us and leaping and frolicking. Then up into our circle popped a sunfish to check us all out. It was quite enamored with Catherine, but would disappear and pop up again to give everyone a good view. Already a nice day on the water.

We made it to the spot where Duane thought he'd been for his earlier encounters and we were waiting around for some excitement. There were only a couple boats about a mile or so out to sea from us. Of course it was Duane who was first to shout "spout". It was about a mile away and the chase was afoot. I had been making pretty good progress with the group, but with the extra adrenaline as everyone paddled toward the sighting, I took up my usual spot in back of the group. It was a long sprint and I could see the spouting ahead and hear the oohs and ahs of the forward paddlers. When I caught up, I found I had just missed the wave of the tail as the whale headed back under in the distance. We figured at least we were in the right area, an opinion strengthened by the copious amounts of whale poop scattered across the ocean. It looked like orange flavored cottage cheese, but Dave said it was much saltier! To make things interesting while we waited for another sighting we were treated to another amazing sight--a wall of dolphins, too many to count, eclipsing the width of our circle of boats and charging towards us, leaping and creating a wave in front of them. We thought we were in for some rough water, but at the last moment, they parted around us and continued their charge.

Then, for about the next hour, a great day became incredible. A couple hundred yards away a whale surfaced to give us a great show. As he went to dive, everyone tried to get their cameras out to get a tail shot, but he was too quick. Meanwhile about a quarter mile away another behemoth rose up next to a motor boat. We were flanked on two sides by at least two whales. Duane had told us to make sure we kept 300 feet from the whales and until then it was no problem, but a whale decided to be quite uncooperative. He surfaced almost in the middle of our circle of boats and Duane got some great photos. He didn't seem too interested in leaving and we had to back paddle to get out of his way. We just sat there while this giant surfaced on one side of us or the next. We weren't sure if it was only one whale or not as often as it came up from one side to the next. It was too amazing for words. We were joined by a whale-watching boat, but I almost felt sorry for the people on it. Sitting on a noisy boat belching exhaust just can't compare to sitting in a kayak at eye level with a beast who's heart is the size of a VW bug! Even as we started home we had to stop as the whales surfaced a couple times more to say goodbye.

We paddled home on cloud nine. Fighting the chop and wind could make no dent in our day. I had to make sure Duane sent me the names of all the people with us today; I didn't want to leave anyone out. This was a "Woodstock" day, the kind of day that years from now everyone will want to claim they were there. For those who us who were, it was a most incredible day.

Mark "Seam Splitter" Sanders