As we are approaching the final week countdown to the San Juan cruise, I am looking forward to some of the things we may see and experience. The San Juan Islands of Washington State are frequented by Orcas, both “resident” (which means, as you can imagine, that they live there year-round) and “transient” (meaning, they are passing through). With the amount of boat and people traffic in the San Juans, strict laws have been put in place to limit the amount of interaction — and sometimes downright harassment — the Orcas have to deal with. For example, you or your boat must remain 300 yards away from the Orcas while viewing them and you have to stay 400 yards away from their path. That means you can’t just pop ahead of a traveling Orca and get intentionally in its way. There are other rules too, and you can read about them at BeWhaleWise.org.
While it’s amazing to come across a pod of Orcas when you kind of have an idea of where they are going to be on a regular basis, it’s even more impressive when you stumble upon them…and you are the only boat in sight! That’s what happened to me in Alaska two years ago, while running the Alaskan Song. We were cruising Frederick Sound, transiting from our last night’s anchorage to where we were headed for this evening, when we were hailed over the radio by another boat who knew us and knew we were in the area. The code word “Black and Whites” was uttered and we knew we were in for adventure!
After securely anchoring the boat in a safe location, we lowered our skiff with the two guests we had aboard for our last cruise and off we went. Within minutes we could see fins! Several medium sized ones, a few small ones, and then one that towered straight up over the rest — a big male! We stopped at a respectful distance from the group and proceeded to watch and video their approach. What was particularly noticeable was how they all swam in a precise straight line, never wavering in their spacing or distance. Well, except for the juveniles, that is. Pay attention in the video and you’ll see that they are literally hopping over the females snouts as the moms and aunties swim along. Kind of like a cetacean leap-frog!
While it appears that we are SUPER close to the Orcas, the reality is we had a great zoom lens. But, they WERE close, and as we sat there, in the Sound, with our engines off, they got even closer. They didn’t pay us any attention, just continued along their path. But you really had the feeling that you were in the presence of something magical. We must have drifted with them for 15 minutes or more, hearing their blows, watching their fins rise out of the water, watching the little ones cavort. We spoke only in whispers for fear of ruining the moment.
After a bit, when they had moved away and were heading out of sight, we started the engine and turned back to the boat. For me, there was a meal to prepare and serve, cleanup, and setting up for the next service. But, for a short bit, I got to be part of something wonderful, something that no restaurant chef is going to be able to experience. To be honest, it’s not something I get to participate in all the time either because my boat duties — whether meal prep or anchor watch — frequently comes before “play.” But, at times like these, when I do get to be in the middle of the adventure, it reminds me why I have chosen this life — the life of The ShipboardChef.
I hope that, in a week or so, I’ll be sharing another Orca adventure — one that our guests on the San Juan Cruise have experienced. Until then, keep tuned, keep reading and watching and sharing my other adventures and moments. I’m glad you’re along for the ride!