‘Thar She Blows! Independence Day with the Whales

Here, in the Pacific Northwest, summer officially begins after July 4th.  We can usually count on the rains to stop and blue skies to emerge by then.  And, of course, everyone is giddy with excitement to get out on the water, soak up some sun and take advantage of our small weather window.  This year, we had a  Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 39i  to try out with friends.  We’d spiffed it up as best we could since January, when we’d bought it, and were ready to invite our first guests aboard.  Since they had to work late, we had enough time to whip up a batch of guacamole and place a pan of deep chocolate brownies in the oven.  By the time they arrived, we had a cabin that smelled heavenly and a tray of guacamole and chips along with a lobster pasta salad (a sure sign of summer) with brownies for dessert.  We opened the cockpit table, brought out a colorful tray filled with dinner, poured the wine and proposed a toast to our first voyage on Sea Bear II together.

It was July 3rd, but we weren’t headed for fireworks exploding in the sky like many of our fellow sailors.  We were truly celebrating Independence Day – our choice to go to where it is quiet, calm and filled with the sounds of wildlife.  Little did we know what surprises lay ahead.

We left the dock in Anacortes, the entrance to the San Juan Islands, and arrived at Cypress Island, only 1 ½ hours later with plenty of light in the sky.  In July, it doesn’t get dark until about 10:30pm.  We anchored in a small sandy cove with lapping waves and only one other sailboat.  Mt. Baker was backlit in all its glory, standing majestically in front of us, like a mirage, draped in snow and rising out of the blue Cascade mountains in the foreground.

Tree-covered sea stacks, one with a carved-out arch, seemed to rise and fall with the tide.  As we settled in, as if on cue, an eagle plucked a fish out of the sea and landed in a tree to eat his dinner.  The four of us rocked gently in the cockpit admiring the natural beauty all around us.  And, as the sun set, we headed for our cozy berths on Sea Bear, and let her lull us to sleep.

Courtesy G. Yule

In the morning, we were heading to Sucia Island to spend the day, a beautiful marine park we wanted to show our friends. But, on the way, we noticed small groups of boats.  And, we knew, where there are groups of boats, there are whales.

Courtesy G. Yule

Sure enough.  Orca whales.  The black and white killer whales of Sea World fame, out in the wild, diving and slapping their tails, hunting salmon.

Courtesy G. Yule

Our friend, Geoff, a brilliant wilderness photographer with a great telephoto lens, loves nothing more than capturing the antics of diving ducks with red legs and eagles catching fish in flight.  But he didn’t know that he’d signed up for a close-up and personal whale watching tour on the 4th. Geoff climbed out on deck and captured breath-taking photos.

At times, the orcas would head toward our boat, dive under it and come up with a roar.  The beauty of seeing them from our own sailboat is that we could be quiet.  Without the engine running, we could drift and let them come to us.

We had joked, on the way, about Gilligan’s Island and the “three hour tour.”  Our first tour with our friends was less than 24 hours, and we felt exhilarated.  We’d been to a place that looked like a tropical island with eagles, seals, seabirds and orca whales.  We, indeed, live in paradise.