Where There Be Birds… (by Ann)


Not so long ago on this blog JHamm indicated that perhaps I was not exhibiting appropriate sailor-type behavior. Not so, I say! During my last day watch, about 50 miles off of the North American coast I could not help a very sailor-like thought from crashing through my brain. “Where there be birds…there must be whales!”

Generally I do not think this way but during this final afternoon watch, after an UGLY morning watch for Bob (which he shared with you because just thinking about it again scares me still), I was treated to a show of whales unsurpassed in Charisma history. Initially I was seeing a few blow puffs on the horizon.

Thar she blows! (click to expand picture to see better)

So hard to capture the intensity when they were popping up everywhere and Charisma was rolling in large waves.


Two, maybe three at a time. I was trying to keep track of how many and what types (I saw numerous humpbacks and three Orcas). One sighting was about 50 yards in front of us. In order to avoid hitting them I quickly turned on the engine to idle knowing that the noise would tell them we were there. It worked and they quickly dove and moved out of Charisma’s path. Sailing can be so silent and approaching whales that are feeding seems so dangerous.

As it turns out I needed to turn the engine on about four more times as Bob slept. I was worried it would signal pending collision with a large container ship to a sleeping captain. Fortunately after the first such thought he understood my strategy. It was working great. Until the birds. I noticed a hundred or so birds sitting on the water as we sailed up to them. How interesting. I took pictures to show Bob. A few miles further and the birds were swarming. We had been without aviary company for about 24 hours (during the gale) and so I was delighted. At first. As the birds thickened in the air I began to feel like I was in the middle of a bird feeding frenzy…like the ones we’ve seen off the coast in Aptos.

That’s when it registered…they are feeding…and so is someone else. So I lowered my sights to the water and suddenly noticed numerous spouts from feeding whales. One was 20 feet off the port side. I quickly turned on the engine to idle again to announce our presence. It was frightening and exhilarating at the same time. After they had passed I found I was trembling. Too close for comfort in my book. And that saying started marching through my head. “Where there be birds…there must be whales!”

When my heart finally slowed to a regular beat I relaxed and enjoyed the gift of sunshine and an ever=brightening rainbow after the horrible morning. And then I noticed lots more birds about a mile ahead. In the air, swarming. I altered course with a quick adjust to the Monitor hoping to avoid the melee. It did not seem to help. I turned on the engine and tried to determine if they were moving in a discernible direction. In panic I finally woke Bob to come help me decide. By the time Bob got into the cockpit he had me disengage the Monitor and steer twenty degrees to the left of the large pod of feeding whales directly ahead of us. No minor Monitor adjustments would be enough. So as I steered we gaped in amazement at the huge whales puffing along, happily feeding with a entourage of winged friends circling wildly overhead hoping for left behinds. What a show! Even now my heart races as I think of these large mammals so close to Charisma and so preoccupied. I realized at this point that the Pacific Northwest was full of incredible beauty and adventure waiting for Charisma. Yes, we were almost to America, but our journey is definitely not over.

4 thoughts on “Where There Be Birds… (by Ann)

  1. Dear Bob and Ann,
    Congratulations on making landfall after what sounds like a LONG passage! And welcome to the Pacific Northwest; here in Humboldt County it sometimes feels like we share more with the PNW than the rest of coastal California. What an impressive three legs you’ve now completed. It seems that perhaps the second leg was the most enjoyable of the three. I sailed a similar route, from Papeete to Hilo and Honolulu in 1980, going via Manihi in the Tuamotus where we celebrated Bastille Day (July 14 I think) in most memorable fashion. I was crewing on a homemade, steel gaff-rigged schooner 32 feet long out of Vancouver. Apart from the SSB, compass, and sextant, we had no navigational or other instruments; there wasn’t even a winch as all the lines were lead around belaying pins.

    At any rate, I just wanted to send Charisma a “shout out” of welcome back to the west coast. Apparently Kim already extended the invite to you to stay with us if your plans might include a stop in Eureka and Humboldt Bay on your way south (not sure when you’re planning on heading this way), but I’ll do it again anyway – you’re most welcome and it would be great to see you. We have a dedicated guest room in our house and you are most welcome to enjoy a little land time if that sounds good. Our place makes a good base to explore the redwoods, if that sounds attractive. Hey, if you happen to be here on the first Tuesday of the month you could share a few stories at the monthly Humboldt Yacht Club potluck dinner. Anson (my 16 yr. old son) and I sort of got roped in to being Vice-Commodores this year, so we’re doing our best to organize the races, calculate results, etc. This weekend is the Redwood Regatta at Big Lagoon – three days of camping at Big Lagoon, racing on Saturday and Sunday; should be a lot of fun. Our younger son (Devon, age 11) will be racing his Laser II with a friend of his. She only weighs 55lbs, so we hope the wind’s not blowing too hard.

    We had our fifth summer sailing down the coast from Berkeley to Channel Islands and back. Installed our wind pilot windvane and Kim diligently got the lines and sail trim dynamics figured out. How wonderful to have a new crewmember who does not need to sleep or eat! We’ve christened her Eleanor, after the navigator of Flying Cloud.

    We enjoyed reading many of your blog posts, since you left New Zealand. What a great record they represent of your adventures.

    Welcome back!

  2. That must have been quite the site! Hope you got some photos. And did we miss a post from Bob about the UGLY morning?

  3. Such an amazing gift from nature to let you roam among so many of the oceans’ majestic inhabitants. A thrill of a lifetime.

    And topped off by the unexpected, joyful reunion with your brother sailing adventurers. Life be good.

    Dear Ann, in my eyes, you are the most perfect of First Mates. Your captain is one lucky dude.

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