There is something about the shape of the sleek boat hull that nestles down into the water; white above and black below, racy lines and luscious curves, of our 40 Whale Encounter of the Closest Kind foot sailing vessel Shadowfax, that seems to attract sea going mammals. We have been adopted by a seal pup in Desolation Sound and spent a night listening to his moans and calls for his mother as he snuggled against the Shadowfax hull (none of us slept!), anchored amongst snoring humpback whales in Alaska (all of us slept), cavorted with porpoises near Ocean Falls British Columbia and now the alluring Shadowfax has attracted a juvenile and very rambunctious 30 foot, 18 ton (or more), humpback whale, for another sleepless nighttime adventure.
One of our favorite haunts in British Columbia’s waterways is a small cove on Broughton Island nicknamed Candlefish Cove. It is filled with plentiful baitfish, candlefish; herring and has provided halibut and salmon to those fishermen casting lures off the bow of anchored vessels in its tiny harbor. It might be called the food emporium of the Broughton Archipelago as it provides feed for many of the regions aquatic creatures both resident and the transients moving up the Inside Passage to Alaska and beyond.
The preferred moorage technique is to anchor in 70 feet of water and then shore tie the boat’s stern to trees on the east end of the cove resulting in a comfortable depth under a vessel of about 40 feet or less depending on the tide. The waves and wind of Queen Charlotte Strait seem to bypass this cove so the still surface of the water shimmers with hoards of swarming baitfish that periodically jump out of the water leaving circles that mar the surface for a brief time, an idyllic spot to stay.
Our adventure commenced quietly, we had spent one night in the cove as usual, stern tied close to shore, bow pointed outwards towards the mouth of the little bay. Dinner finished, clad in our pajamas, our dog snuggled against us, we were settling down to read in the early evening light. This peaceful scene was disrupted by the trumpeting blow of a whale very close to the Shadowfax and the sound set us throwing books to the floor, almost trampling the dog and scrambling into the cockpit. Sure enough a whale had joined us in the cove; a smallish humpback was feeding about 50 feet from our boat.
By now we had assembled cameras and we prepared to record this special event…we did not know exactly how memorable this event would turn out to be. Only our dog, Raleigh, seemed to have a premonition that this huge smelly loud thing cavorting in the bay might present a danger…he shivered, he cringed, he panted with fear, he drooped, he frantically pawed our legs to warn us that this was BAD. And when the whale came up to the side of our boat and blasted a particularly foul breath into the cockpit our puppy made for below decks and dubious safety.
By now the thrill of having a whale nearby was turning into disquiet as the whale started circling the Shadowfax, spy hopping up to look at us, so close that he rubbed the side of the vessel and we could look down into his large eyes and barnacle covered head. He repeatedly circled, in front of our bow, around the stern brushing the stern tie lines with his back, diving under the boat and coming up the other side so close that the water from his movements swirled against the Shadowfax hull creating a bubbling noise and rocking the boat. In one of his numerous dives under our boat he actually bumped the keel, which was not surprising since there was only 30 feet of clearance under our vessel where it was moored. Fascination turned into fear as the behemoth continued his worrying behavior; one tail slap or head bump and we would be sunk, and there was the very real possibility he would be tangled either in our anchor line or shore tie lines which would lead to another type of disaster.
Our crew had differing opinions on the danger we were in; Captain Bob stayed above, fascinated with the cavorting creature; the First Mate and Raleigh were below, huddled together with life jackets on shaking with fear, listening to the loud exhalations of whale breath, the thumps and the violent sloshing of water against the hull. It was much like the Disney movie of Peter Pan and the evil Captain Hook… hysterically listening for the tick-tock of his crocodile nemesis as it got closer and closer, then calming a bit as the noise receded. Only this wasn’t a fairy tale and we didn’t know the ending of the story.
We didn’t know what to do to dissuade the unwanted behaviors so the CD player was turned on full blast in the hope the sound would scare him off; cockpit loudspeakers spewed earsplitting noise that bounced and reverberated off rocks in the cove, scaring wildlife for miles around, but as a whale repellent it was not effective, unfortunately the Hawaiian music seemed to attract him.
The next step was calling the Coast Guard since the whale had been next to us for about a half-hour by now and showed no signs of leaving, only distancing himself from the boat periodically to attempt to bubble feed in the cove, then returning to our ships side to continue the circling, diving and erratic behavior. The Coast Guard got our GPS coordinates, told us to put life jackets on and see if we could move the boat, an impossible task since we would run over or entangle the whale if we attempted any escape. We were told to call back later to give a report on how we were faring since they had no information or advice on what to do. I assume they wanted the GPS coordinates so they would know where to find our wreckage. We were on our own.
At one point we thought the whale was leaving, as his loud breaths retreated to the mouth of the bay, and we felt a sense of returning calm. This was only a brief respite, for he returned within five minutes and seemed to be exhilarated to find us still anchored and waiting for him. Darkness fell and the whale still kept on with his circling and diving antics; the boat rocked and rolled with his movements,
fueled by curiosity or infatuation, it didn’t matter. By now an hour had elapsed and it was apparent that the whale planned to continue his activity indefinitely. The interior of the Shadowfax reeked of whale breath and the dog, attired in his life jacket, was huddled in a quivering, panting, hopeless mass of fur in the rear bunk waiting for the end.
It was time to plan an escape in the dark and relocate the vessel to any other harbor than this one. We only had to release the stern lines, start the engine, pull the anchor and motor out of the bay without hitting the whale or startling him into sudden wild motions. While the whale did more feeding next to us in the cove but at least not under or around us we started the engine, released the shore tie and allowed the Shadowfax to swing free. The whale immediately moved to where the stern had been; we could see dark swirls in the twilight-tinged water as he investigated our move, but we got the anchor up and took off as fast as a 40 foot, 9 ton boat with a 44 horsepower engine could go.
We relocated in the dark to another nearby harbor; dodging reefs and rocks; listening for signs of pursuit, but beyond following us a short distance we were able make our escape. Our new moorage was close enough to Candlefish Cove that we could still hear the whale blowing and feeding all night, but at least it was not in our close vicinity. Escape at last!
The next visitors to Candlefish Cove might not be as fortunate.