Atlantic Safari – Georges Bank

The stage was set behind a curtain of fog. Day six was uneventful and all the cleaning I could muster didn’t distract from the boredom of a slow moving ocean passage (4 cupboards, one closet, 4 kitchen shelves, bathroom shelves). I was well into my second book and had baked brownies for a bit of excitement. The gloom continued to tease us with moments of clarity. I was thankful it wasn’t raining. Brian was thankful for the radar.

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Days seven and eight were long and slow as we crawled through the fog at 1.5 knots. We were located approximately 160nm offshore from Cape Cod, MA in an area known as Georges Bank.

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Deep trenches wove through the bottom of the ocean; near our location depths ranged from 120 feet – 1,000 feet. A bit northwest of us the bank became very shallow; 10 feet – 40 feet with charted shoals. It was over the trenches where all the action took place and Rode Trip was treated to a spectacular display of wildlife.

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Birds were swooping, diving, and sitting atop the water’s surface all around; Shearwaters and Guillemots. In the dark of night we’d startle the resting birds and hear their cackles and chirps nearby.

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Our first sightings were Blue Sharks; they meandered along the surface with the tips of their dorsal fins and tails just poking through the water. Then another type of fin appeared.

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We approached for a closer look. This was a Mola or Ocean Sunfish. These unique creatures are HUGE, average 6 feet long (between snout to tip of tail), 7 feet wide (between dorsal fin to anal fin) and weigh 1 ton (2200 lbs). We’ve added our sightings to assist the research of these fish; we spotted three during our passage.

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Then we had a very close encounter with a pod of Pilot Whales; we observed the pod resting near the surface. These whales range in length from 10-25 feet.

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During the day time, although too foggy to realize it was mid-morning, we heard the sound of rushing water. Loud, consistent, “whoosh, whoosh, whoosh”. We checked the radar, checked the ocean view, checked the radar again. What was approaching? A tidal wave? A ginormous ship about to pummel us? Brian had his had ready at the key to start the engine so that we could steer away from whatever was forcing water out of its way. Suddenly, the “whoosh” of the water growing nearer, a line of white caps approached. We squinted into the fog to see fins among caps of breaking water. This was a pod of dolphins; HUNDREDS of White-Sided Dolphins swimming together. This was the first of at least five dolphin tidal waves. Astonishing!

We experienced several encounters, close encounters, with Minke Whales. These 15-30 foot long whales were slow movers and we’d often see the arch of their back followed by their seemingly undersized dorsal fin. While in the fog, or at night, we’d hear the Minke Whales nearby, and though we couldn’t always see them we’d smell the rank, fishy odor of their breath after they’d exhaled through their blow hole. We spotted a tail only once on a clear day and it was too fast for a good, clear photo.

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When the wind finally built to a whopping 10 knots, consistently, we were thrilled to be on the move as Rode Trips speed increased to 3 knots. We eventually sailed out of the fog, just in time to begin seeing fishermen’s buoys. Or possibly we’d been sailing blindly past the buoys for days…

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This was truly a magical experience; one that made us both rejoice that we’ve chosen a cruising lifestyle. We wished all of our passages could be this peaceful, this rewarding. During our 10 days at sea I was intrigued by this all-powerful, mysterious ocean. And when we sighted land at Mt. Desert Island, ME…I was ready to jump ashore!

Atlantic Safari – Into the Cold, Dark North

I’ve never been intrigued by the ocean. The sound of the waves doesn’t soothe me, white noise. I’m not interested in swimming with the fishes in that salty water; I’d prefer any fish watching to occur in dry, climate controlled aquariums. And wouldn’t it be a glorious view to watch a sunset accentuate the peaks and curves of the purple mountains instead of squinting across a blank canvas with hopes for a milli-second, minuscule flash of green? I’ve not been lured onto a boat by the all-powerful, mystifying ocean (nor by my dashing and adventurous husband). I was lured onto a boat in order to travel; to experience far off lands. For this ocean passage I mentally prepared myself for the boring landscape and anticipated discomfort with a bit of good ‘ol positive self-talk. “It’s totally worth it…there’s plenty of chocolate on board…”

We set our iron sail (Perkins, specially designed for wind conditions ranging from zero to nil) and blazed a bioluminescent trail as we departed Bermuda during the night. The ocean seemed determined to befriend me during this passage. Already, I was oohing and ahhing more than usual seeing thousands of florescent green orbs outline the waterline as it rippled away from the piercing hull. From a moonless sky above reflections of the stars danced atop the water’s glasslike surface. We had anticipated light winds per our GRIB forecast and swapped out the jib for the genoa; a gamble, the larger sail area usually prompted heavy winds and we’d long ago agreed it was not best for passage-making. Soon, though, we hoped we could raise the sails and silence the iron’s rumbling.

The forecast held true and the genoa was the perfect selection. Rode Trip moseyed along through 5-12 knot winds and 0-3 foot seas. We went about our days as though the boat were anchored; cooking, eating, cleaning, reading, watching movies, playing iPad games all the while marveling at the calmness of the ocean. The days grew longer, sunset was fast approaching 9:00pm, and the nights grew cooler, comfortable sleeping weather. Evidence that the ocean was coming alive, increasing numbers of birds, (Shearwayers and Guillemots) we observed as we continued farther through the Northern Atlantic. How did this cold water appeal to life? I’d already retrieved a long-sleeved shirt from the bins of warm clothes I’d hoped to not ever need again. The cozy Caribbean was slowly slipping away. On day four, I was joined on my morning shift by a pod of dolphins. These seemed swifter than our familiar Bottle Nosed farther south; these were White-Sided dolphins and they’d come to escort us at the bow for a while.

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Later that same afternoon, day four, I was roused from a nap to Brian’s yell, “Steph! Whale! HUGE splash!” A sight neither of us had yet seen, Brain had actually spotted a whale mid-breach. The huge splash resulting was approximately two miles away. Our eyes scanned the water following mists from the whale’s breaths. Our lucky day! Yet again the whale breached and we saw what we think to be the head of a Humpback lunging out of the water. It was breathtaking; we smiled at one another, speechless.

Rainclouds encircled us and we put one reef in the main, “Just in case”. Twice we hurriedly took down the genoa as blasting, winds filled with pelting rain knocked the boat toward its side. Both times the sail was set again within 20 minutes once the gust had passed and both times we resumed our stagnant sailing. On day five I was entertained on several occasions by White-Tailed Tropicbirds who’d taken a liking to our windvane. The tell-tail on the windvane was flipping and flapping and the birds were apparently attracted to this would be mate. They circled close and danced with the windvane. Sadly, no amount of fluffing their tail feathers could entice the steel-hearted windvane into action. The rejected White-Tailed Tropicbirds eventually flew away toward more hopeful prospects.

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On day five, gloom lurked nearby. Gloom creeped and crawled along the horizon disguised by a veil of sunlight, clouds, and mist. The wind was light and variable, the waves nonexistent. We were soon tricked by impending gloom; it decorated our view with a mirage of mountain ranges. Yellow, grey, and navy blue colors of sky and sea blended as the gloom inched nearer and we were awestruck by the landscape before us. When we’d realized it was all smoke and mirrors, the fog had already settled.

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Rode Trip bobbed, frustrated being unable to reach teasing patches of blue sky. The fog remained like a smudge on a charcoal drawing, smearing our vision, and there we remained in a sea of gloom. I’d added sweatpants and slippers to my newly developing summer wardrobe. The ocean, still trying to make friends with this non believer, had a few more tricks up its sleeve…

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