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Stories from the Sea, Past and Present

22 October 2011; At Sea.

As the distance between Puerto Caldera and Hualtalco measures 786 miles, we have a sea day in between to make the schedule. Our course is one straight line and as the coast is curved in this area we are sailing for most of the day over 100 miles from the shore. On the starboard side, in the far distance, are the borders of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala and by the end of the evening we will pass the Mexican border. Then, until we reach San Diego, we will be sailing along the Mexican coast.  The coast that curves away here creates a sort of bay or gulf and that area is called the Gulfo de Tehuantepec. It is quite notorious for windy weather. We observed that during our Eastbound cruise 14 days ago and I am expecting another “significant breeze” in the early hours of tomorrow morning.  Today the sea was calm, although when in the Pacific Ocean you can never say that it is as flat as a mirror, as there is always some sort of swell running but today it was minimal. With one stabilizer in operation, the ship was as steady as a rock.

For most of the day our course line is following a canyon deep below. It is called the Middle American Trench and is a sort of gully between two higher areas. All is relative of course as the Trench is about 15000 feet deep and the higher sides about 10000 feet.  Still 5000 feet is nearly a mile, and if on land it would be quite a sight. Without a bridge to cross this valley, going down 5000 feet and then up 5000 feet, would make your realize that it is quite a difference. Hence the word: Trench. Although all the more conspicuous area’s under water have been named by now, there is still very little is known about what goes on deep down there. Scientists are saying that in general more is known about the Moon, than about the bottom of the ocean.   In the old days when wildlife was more plentiful and sailors sailed on slower ships, and closer to the water line, they would observe the strangest animals on occasion. First giving raise to superstition ashore, followed by ridicule by the then time scientists. Now with better submarines and unmanned exploration robots, more and more reports are published confirming that those ancient sailors did not always have it wrong.  Giant Octopuses are now being found and healed battle scares on the skin of whales indicate that there must be some nasty big things down there.

I have never seen any ‘strange” animals floating by, either death or alive. My greatest and most impressive experience was coming across a Blue Whale, which is the largest animal on earth (as far as we know of course). If you are so big then you do not care very much about what is going on around you and also the passage of a tin can full of tourists does not make much of an impression. However the whale was so clearly visible for all the guests, that I slowed the ship down to about 5 knots and kept the same speed as the whale. While staying at a respectful distance all the guests had the option to see this king of the sea which of course made a huge impression. Unfortunately encounters with blue whales are very rare and not much is known about them.  So most of the time we have to be happy with seeing Humpback Whales which are the most active of the whale species and when they are well fed, they are normally quite happy to put on a good show.  That is why the wildlife in Alaska is always better at the end of the season than in the beginning because in early season the whales are too busy feeding. On the other hand in the early season the weather is most of the time better, with less fog so, it is impossible to say when Alaska is at its best. Maybe going twice a season, would be the best option.

 The Alaskan whales are not back yet in the warmer waters of Mexico and I do not expect to see them in larger numbers until well into late November. Until that time we have to console ourselves with Brown Booby’s gliding in front of the bow and the occasional group of porpoises coming by.

Tomorrow we will be in Huatalco. We will be arriving in mid morning and we are staying until late in the evening to give the guests an evening under the stars. The Hotel manager has arranged for a local Mariachi band and dancers to come on board to entertain the guests. The weather looks good with little wind and a lot of sunshine and we just have to hope for no rain in the evening.

2 Comments

  1. Missed Career at Sea

    October 25, 2011 at 2:46 am

    Time to dig up my map of the Pacific Ocean bottom again, Captain!
    Thank you for your insight on unusual seamonsters seen through the eyes of sailors of the past … What a marvelous experience to have sailed alongside a great Blue Whale! I second your observation of better weather in the beginning of the season to Alaska, but not many wildlife sightings. Fortunately, I have had one of the best Humpback Whale shows around Lahaina, according to the Captain. If he only had heard me scream to shut his motor off we would have had a mother and her calf swimming right up to our excursion boat ….

  2. Patricia Poulsen

    November 19, 2011 at 3:09 am

    I am enjoying reading your posts. You bring everything to life and I can imagine myself aboard your ship experiencing the same sights. Hope you will be the captain when we sail on the Statendam March 2, 2012.

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