Saturday, October 06, 2007

All's Well That Ends Whale

With only a few days to go until she returns home, Lou, my lovely missus, decided to arrange a mystery trip for us.

Despite my constant questioning she refused to give me any clues as to where we were going, and it was only when she hinted "You need a jumper and a camera" that I guessed correctly; it was pushing a sweltering 27 degrees and in this weather only the sea could be that cold. Turns out, we were going whale watching. Good stuff.

I immediately began brushing up on my Moby Dick quotes - "To the last, I will grapple with thee" and "From hell's heart, I stab at thee" - ready to deploy them in case I became accidentally entangled with the harpoon and found myself trussed to the side of the beast. Obviously, that wasn't likely to happen, but I just wanted to show Lou how cultured I was.

So after I'd been put right on the differences between whale watching and ....well, whaling .....we set off. At Darling Harbour we loaded up onto a double decker boat about the size of a small corner shop, and buzzed-off Eastwards out to sea, passing under and past the ubiqitous opera house and bridge. About 1 hour 30 minutes later, Sydney's skyline was pencil-feint in the heathaze, and with the boat pitching and buckling in the Pacific, I began to feel rather queasy. Lou had taken her travel sickness tablets and so was zonked out on the back seat, but other people were surreptitiously making use of the windsock-style honk-bags distributed at departure.

Just when the sweat was beginning to pool in the small of my back and my mouth had gone dry, the driver - who was an Englishman and a Christopher Ecclestone lookalike - spotted two blowhole sprays and made off for a spot about 200m away. Predictably, there was a mad dash for the top deck where several people were already poised with their digicameras, together with one big black American guy and his missus, who had some kind of proper super-duper, hi-tech, ground glass, long-lensed Olympus effort.

With the engine off and drifting aimlessly, the whales began breeching closer. Now we could see them arcing and curling through the waves, the instantly recognisable Y-shaped tail signalling their departure from the surface. At was at this point, however, people who were attempting to take photos were beginning to discover all they had was a series of snaps featuring just the ocean; it was impossible to know where they would surface next, and when they did breech, in the time it takes to fire off a shot, they'd surged off in another direction. Usually down.

Nevertheless we did have one very close encounter. About 20 minutes in one whale pierced the surface metres from the boat, eliciting a chorus of oooohs and aaaahs from the throng. I scrabbled for my camera but completely bungled it - first by turning it off and, then, after I'd turned it back on, by accidentally selecting the wrong mode. Bugger. To my right I heard the big American with the expensive camera chuntering as well ; he'd obviously missed the moment too. Luckily, Lou got off a few shots from a crouching position with her old-style Nikkon, but as she's a photographer and uses good old-fashioned film, I don't know yet whether the encounter exists on record.

Then it was over. We'd had our allotted time and so turned tail and made for Sydney, now obscured by a brilliant blast of late-afternoon sunshine. Actually, it wasn't over. About 40 minutes out of Sydney, a fellow passenger descended the stairs to announce: "look....dolphins" and again there was a mad scramble to the top deck, and to the front of the boat. We peered over the edge to see a dolphin just feet in front of the bow, scything through the foam at incredible speed. To the casual observer it could have looked like we were chasing it down, but we most definitely weren't. No, the dolphin was playing. Apparenty, they often join the returning boats, racing along with them across the ocean. And, sure enough, after a few moments they had peeled away and disappeared.

Another great trip, then. But next time I'll need to be quicker with the camera.

1 comment:

Dad said...

Where did you get the PratHat then?