I have a whale of a tale to tell you lads and lasses. Well, make that a turtle tale — a rare thing hereabouts.
I had a charter group quietly fishing, with the engines off, straight out from Coal Oil Point in nearly 200 feet of water when we espied a strange and wondrous sight — a large sea turtle swimming on the surface of the water, right toward us.
A wise captain constantly monitors everything outside the boat as well as inside, so I saw it first about 70 yards off. It took me awhile to figure out what I was looking at. Passengers noticed me staring intently at something and followed my gaze. Then came the inevitable question: “What the heck is that?”
By the time the critter was about 50 yards off, I was ready to accept that we really were looking at a sea turtle. It looked to be a venerable old leatherback.
That did it! Everyone reeled in their lines, and we took a break to admire the rare sighting. Pretty soon everyone was cheering excitedly, including myself and my deckhand, Capt. Tiffany Vague. There is nothing wrong with occasionally reverting to excitable children again when a situation warrants it.
That critter kept swimming lazily but determinedly right for us. At 20 yards, I could see that it was indeed a large turtle. It sported a 4-foot shell and a head bigger than a well-inflated football.
It continued its direct course right for us, and I moved to the bridge to maneuver the boat out of its way so it wouldn’t bump its head on the side of the boat. But when just 10 feet from us, it suddenly sensed something in its path and raised its leathery head. That beautiful and weathered old face took on a look of pure surprise. Oh yes, critters have expressive faces. It made a quick 90-degree turn and continued swimming right past us without another glance.
Something struck me odd, that I haven’t yet figured out. There we — and the turtle — were, right in the middle of the “oil patch,” where natural seepage from the seafloor creates an ever-present oil slick replete with thick sludgy-looking spots. That big ol’ turtle swam right through the yucky stuff without it adhering to and coating its shell or skin. Why is that? I wish the same were true for my fiberglass hull!
We continued cheering our turtle hero until it was nearly out of sight, swimming eastward toward Goleta Beach. We decided not to follow the critter, because we didn’t want to crowd it or worry it.
— Capt. David Bacon operates WaveWalker Charters and is president of SOFTIN Inc., a nonprofit organization providing seafaring opportunities for those in need. Visit softininc.blogspot.com to learn more about the organization and how you can help.