The last time Marika and I went whale watching, we both got seasick. But it was more than twenty years ago. And we both wanted to try. And this time we would take some pharmacist-recommended bonine pills before we went out.
She took two pills with her tortillas and cheese breakfast. I decided I didn’t want to feel spacey, so I put my no-more-nausea- seasickness bands on the pressure-points on my wrists and we headed out.
It was a clear, crisp, blue-sky morning. I bundled up in layers: an under-camisole, brown turtleneck shirt, mid-weight fern green sweatshirt. My top layer, my over-sized blue Morro Bay hoodie that I bought in 1995 was on the seat next to me. I had my knitted hat on and I regretted not bringing gloves.
The boat was a catamaran, like an oversized pontoon, but with two tubular hulls to float the boat instead of one. And it had a motor. The sides of the boat were about four feet high and the deck was open to the sky with five rows of white, wooden benches to sit on. I took the end seat on the left in the second row. Marika sat next to me, on my right.
The water in the bay was smooth and easy as we made our way past the raft of harbor seals toward the harbor. Captain Kevin stopped the boat and the Naturalist, my friend Ruvi from the bird festival, pointed out where to look for the peregrine falcon.
“Three quarters of the way up the rock, do you see the waterfall of guana? Look to the right of that, in the shadow of a rock that looks like a fist.” I borrowed Marika’s binoculars and found him, tall and still, perched in the small crevice.
But looking through the binoculars as the boat rocked was making me immediately uneasy, so I handed them back to Marika and refocused my attention on connecting my body with the rhythm of the water.
Morro Bay Harbor is one of the more dangerous harbors on the Pacific coast. The entrance is narrow, bounded on both sides by high, dark rocks, and big swells can create dangerous conditions in the bowl of the bay.
Last week we joined the other tourists and locals who came to the harbor to watch nine and ten foot waves break over the jetty. Hard-core surfers took their boards out into the swirling surf and people perched themselves on the most inland of the rocks to watch the show.
In fact, the surf was so high that they cancelled the whale watching tour we were supposed to go on last weekend and rescheduled it for today.
I’d been watching the water the past few days on my morning beach walks. The ocean was still more active than usual, but the waves were smaller and slower and there was much less wave action on the horizon.
From my seat on the boat, the waves looked calm and easy. Ruvi came up to me and pointed far out, past Morro Rock. “There are some whitecaps out there, so it may get a little choppy. “Uh oh,” I said. “Why?” he asked. “Do you get seasick?” Marika and I both nodded. “But I’ve got my meds on board, so I’ll be fine,” she said. I turned to her. “OK, can I have one too?” I took two, chewed them as directed, and had a sip of water.
The boat followed a curving route away from the marina, around the corner of the sand spit, between the red and green buoys toward the open ocean. Just past the jetty, the waves became a roller coaster of five foot swells, raising the front of the boat up, then dropping it. I WOOHOOed loudly with the kids in the front row, thinking that being one with the movement would ward off getting seasick.
I screamed and smiled, feeling the water rise and lift us, then fall out from under us. My torso rolled forward, my hips settled back with each swell. The cold wind felt good on my face as we rode the waves toward the horizon.
The boat turned right, cutting across the water, parallel to the coast. The engine at the back of the boat roared over the water sounds as we headed north. The wind kicked up and I pulled my hoodie on with the hood.
“The gray whales are migrating south, from Alaska to Baja in Mexico and pass through the open waters just beyond Morro Bay.” Ruvi stood on the storage box labeled “Adult M Life jackets” and pointed out over the water.
“Watch for spouts,” he said. “ It’ll be like a spray from a garden hose in the air.” We all scanned the endless waters on all sides of the boat. The water was getting choppy and there were small whitecaps where we were headed.
The swells were only a foot or two high, mostly slow, gentle rolls. But they were constant, and coming from all sides now. I took off my hoodie. Even though the wind was blowing cold, I was suddenly feeling warm and flushed.
Ruvi squatted next to me and asked if I was OK. “There’s less movement further back,” he said, pointing to the row of seats behind me. He was right, I felt less of the swaying. But it was too late. I hurried to the back corner of the boat, hung my head over and puked.
He brought me a bottle of water and encouraged me to splash some on my face. It did help. For a while. Until I had to puke again.
I sat back down next to the droning engine. I turned my head into the breeze. I tucked my face down so I couldn’t see everything moving. I tried chanting but couldn’t get past the first line. I looked up to catch glimpses of what everyone was seeing. But mostly I just sat in that back corner and waited for it to be over.
But, we did see gray whales! Three of them traveling together. And there were displays of mating behavior and fluking and we were close enough to see the barnacles on their skin.
It was an unsteady walk back to the car and I was shivering. Marika gave me dry socks when we got home, turned the heat on and I got in bed and slept for three hours.
I was hungry for pretzels when I woke up. Marika and I talked a little about my whole ordeal. “I knew the minute I saw you take your hoodie off that you were in trouble,” she said.
“Thanks for coming back to check on me.” She had spent the last hour of the trip at the back of the boat with me, but still watching all of the whale activity that was happening in the water.
I asked her to tell me what she saw, what it felt like to scan the waters, watching and waiting.
“There were three whales and they were moving so erratically in the water, not swimming in a straight line, so the boat kept moving to find them.” I remembered hearing Ruvi shout out the different positions on the face of a clock. “First they were in front of the boat, then off the right side at 4 o’clock, then they spouted again behind the boat.”
“Males or females?” I asked. “One female and two males. The second male holds the female in position for mating.”
“What did Ruvi say about them swimming with their fin on it’s side?” “That was the mating behavior.”
“WOW!” I’m glad everyone got to see it!” And I was. I didn’t regret the day at all. “Now I know that I don’t do boats,” I said. “And now I know that I can,” Marika said.
I tucked into bed early that night with a hot cup of ginger tea and a check in on Facebook. I had no pictures of whales to share but it was still a very good day.