Not a tedious day

I thought we might be in for a rather tedious time, motoring all day in flat calm and very poor visibility. When we left Crookhaven after breakfast there was no horizon, so as Suzy remarked, it was as if we were motoring into Michael Ende’s Nothingness. We crept along a shoreline completely devoid of any surf, rounded Mizen Head close to and set a course across the openings of Dunmanus and Bantry Bays toward Dursey Sound. But it was all new to Suzy and Gib, who enthusiastically pointed out features of the coastline as we passed. Gib was the first to spot the splash of a couple of dolphins as they travelled past; and Suzy noticed how the hazy sun played strange tricks on the cliffs north of the Mizen, reflecting from the sheer surfaces so that the light seemed to be running down the rock face like a waterfall.

But as we left the Mizen behind the coastline became increasingly obscured in the mist. The sea was flat, occasionally covered in tiny ripples, but most of the time looking like polished stone. Coral thrust her was forward, the tone of the engine never varying, the Autohelm steering a straight course, while the bubbling wake behind was soon absorbed by the flatness of the sea.

We watched gannets circling high above the sea then diving for fish. We passed clusters of guillemots, which scurried away from boat as she approached, their heads jerking anxiously from side to side. Sometimes they dived neatly out of sight one by one; sometimes took flight altogether in a flurry of excited wings. “We won’t see puffins,” I said authoritatively, “They are back out to sea now after the spring breeding season,” so soon Gib pointed one out, then another and another.

Then came the first excitement. Again it was Gib who saw the first splash and the first dorsal fin of dolphins coming our way. They didn’t seem too interested in us at first, seemed to be passing us by. But then they turned and swam directly toward Coral, passing under the hull in water so clear we could see they were big animals and could make out every detail of their bodies. But they were not going to stay with us, and soon were off out to sea in long elegant leaps.

Dolphins and puffins seemed to be as much excitement as one might hope for in a day, and soon Suzy was deep in a philosophy book and I was writing in my notebook, struggling to describe the qualities of the sea.

But then Gib called again, more excitedly this time, something about white fins. We rushed up to where she was sitting in the bows and, looking deep in the water, saw a whale passing under the hull. Apparently effortlessly it moved deep below us and disappeared, shortly to surface alongside us, a long slow arc emerging from the water and blowing through its breathing hole. And a third time it breached, this time coming out head first so we could see its eyes, its long mouth, and sets of groves under its chin. It had a curious expression on its face, not seeming to smile like a dolphin, but rather conveying a sense of immense calm. Then, raising its tail fins clear of the water it dived almost vertically out of sight into the depth below us.

That must be it, we agreed. To expect more that three sightings would be greedy would it not? But the whale clearly didn’t think so, continuing to breach and dive in Coral’s wake for several minutes before finally disappearing. It left us all with big grins on our faces, Suzy holding her stomach as if it hurt. Once the excitement was over we looked in up in our reference book, and identified it as a pike whale or lesser rorqual.

What more could we expect? We carried on through Dursey Sound into the Kenmare River, the visibility just lifting enough for us to see the tops of mountains beyond the coast. Then more splashes as a pod of maybe twenty small dolphins race across our bows with a flock of guillemots hurrying in their wake. Almost exhausted with excitement and stimulus we made our way across the river, picked up the leading lines, and found anchorage in Derrynene Harbour.

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Comments

  1. Miriam Darlington says:

    A WHALE of a day – this was an exciting read! Wowee! Am envious! I thought it was going to be a huge flock of bobbing puffins, but no, it was even more exciting.. More to come I’m sure.. I await the next encounter with eager anticipation.
    Miriam xx

  2. Sarah Bird says:

    Gorgeous to read about this – thank you!

    Sarah xx

  3. stephenreneaux@aol.com says:

    Wow, fantastic, I’m thrilled to read this and thrilled for you all! (wish I was there too of course!)
    Having sailed around Mizzen Head with you in quite different conditions it reminds me of life’s ever changing rhythm; highs and lows, ups and downs etc. and there’s something to be learned by all experiences.
    Wishing you sun and a steadyish F4!

    Steve R.

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