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Monday, December 10 , 2018, 8:01 am | Mostly Cloudy 48º


Captain’s Log: Close Encounters of the Whale Kind

A charter boat cruising the Channel experiences a near run-in with a humpback

Go blasting around the Santa Barbara Channel at 25 knots long enough and close calls happen. Skippers of fast boats learn to constantly scan the water around the boat and remain poised for fast action to fully utilize the high maneuverability of small, fast craft. We had a close call during a charter last weekend that drove the point home.

Capt. David Bacon
Capt. David Bacon (Ramona Lisa McFadyen photo)

What a day on the Channel! We cruised across the Channel in the morning — on somewhat bumpy seas that were settling down from a wind shift during the night — spotting a couple of whales along the way. Hundred of dolphins swam in to play off our bow and stern wakes. Speaking of high speed, our common dolphin have absolutely no problem catching up with a boat traveling at 25 knots (a knot is 1.16 statute mile, so that’s about 29 mph).

Flat and calm water greeted us at the entrance to Painted Cave, the world’s longest sea cave. We ventured deep inside the cave to admire the colorful rocks and listen to the raucous sea lions. After nearly wearing out every camera aboard, trying to take the perfect picture of a spiritual place, we came back out and cruised along the stunning cliffs to the west end of the island, where we spent several enjoyable hours catching fish on light tackle. After filleting the fresh catch and putting the filets on ice, we turned the boat to a course for home port — Santa Barbara.

Just on the northern edge of the shipping lanes, we spotted a pod of six or seven humpback whales. They appeared to be foraging over a wide area and having great success.

I watched the pod closely before we reached them and as we cruised through. I saw each one surface repeatedly and thought I knew the position of each critter, all well away from our boat by a couple of hundred yards. Well, one — which must have been on an extremely prolonged dive — gave us a surprise and a start as it surfaced right in front of our boat. I have never known one to hold its breath that long.

I was watchful, poised and ready for a surprise, so I was able to throttle back (we call it “slamming on the sea brakes”) and spin the helm to avoid the critter. That big whale realized the boat was there at the same instant and quickly sounded in a perfectly complimentary corkscrew move. That critter and I worked together very well. Upon reflection, we were never less than 40 yards apart, but when a critter that huge comes right up out of the water that close, it seems like you can reach out and touch it.

After a rousing cheer for the whale — which went right on about its business of foraging — we started off again, slower and ever more diligent.

— 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.

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