August 31, 2009

An unexpected encounter

WELL, we dragged our old dinghy Tokoloshe behind us for one last trip into the San Juan and Gulf Islands. It turned out to be an interesting trip. The plan was to meet up with friends on two boats in British Columbia, and to visit the world-famous Butchart Gardens, which are accessible by dinghy from a gorgeous little anchorage in Tod Inlet.

But, as it happened, we dragged anchor in Echo Bay, on Sucia Island, on the first night out and I had to weigh the anchor by hand in a hurry. I raised the 25-pound CQR and its 30 feet of chain with no problem. Or so I thought.

It wasn’t until the next night, in Bedwell Harbour, Canada, that the pain set in. As I discovered later, I had sprained a sacroiliac ligament. At the same time I had managed to pinch a nerve and my right foot had gone numb. It flopped awkwardly from side to side when I tried to walk.

I lay flat on my back for a whole day, doped up to my eyeballs with ibuprofen, and then we hightailed it under power for home and medical attention.

It was a long, tiring day but one that my wife June and I will remember for an unexpected encounter with orcas, those sleek black-and-white killer whales that frequent Puget Sound.
We were putting along between Stuart Island and Roche Harbor when we noticed a Washington State ferry hove-to in the water about half a mile ahead. A crowd of passengers was crammed onto the foredeck, all their necks craned in one direction. Two powerboats and a sailboat suddenly slowed down. And then we saw the puffs of white vapor low over the water and the huge dorsal fins standing high above the calm sea.

I idled the engine and put her into neutral. The whales came straight at us. A large rubber dinghy filled with whale watchers hovered cautiously off to one side of our stern. More yachts came to a halt in a wide circle around us.

We held our breath as a pod of five orcas raced past us, no more than 30 feet off to starboard, four of them in line abreast and arcing up together in absolute unison while the fifth trailed a little way behind.

We could see cameras and video recorders glinting in the sun on the other side of the whales as they came past. What wonderful footage it would make for the evening news if one of these magnificent beasts nudged us with its tail.

Even once the orcas were well clear, the large car ferry was still dead in the water. Another group of whales was following the first one. They, too, came straight for us, four of them flashing in the sunshine, shedding sprays of water from those tall fins.

Only when they were all well past us did we think about the dinghy floating behind us. Tokoloshe has a jet-black hull with a broad white stripe up to the gunwales. Sort of like a baby orca. “Maybe they thought she was a relative,” said June.

I’m glad she mentioned that only after they’d gone past.

Today’s Thought
Danger and delight grow on one stalk.
—John Lyly, Euphues

Atheism is a non-prophet organization.


Aaron Headly said...

I'm sorry to hear of your injury, and I wish you a speedy recovery.

John Vigor said...

Thanks Aaron, I hope I didn't make it sound too dramatic. I'm doing fine. The numbness is gradually disappearing and I have some physio sessions lined up.