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A Whale of a Time

My first thought on Saturday was that it seemed kind of breezy. I based this on the fact that several hats, a wayward beach umbrella, and what appeared to be a small wide-eyed dog wearing a little knit sweater, flew by the windshield.

"There might be a bit of a chop out there," I told the family as we walked through the harbor parking lot.

"Swell," someone said.

Clark and his son David were visiting from Ohio, so my wife suggested we do something California-y, like all go out whale watching on the Condor Express. They offer two trips daily. We chose the early one because they said it was usually calmer in the morning. If that's true, the afternoon trip must be like the final scene in the movie "The Perfect Storm."

"Yee-haw!" someone on the front of the boat yelled as we went straight down, similar, I thought, to a pelican diving into a school of anchovies.

"Hang on!" someone else yelled as we bottomed out and now headed straight up like a rocket about to blast off to the moon. I saw a seagull and I swear he was lower than we were – but only for a second.

Down. Up. Down Up. Down… I was beginning to lose track of which way was up.

"Hahahahaha." Leila and Charlie laughed. They were holding onto the front railing, loving every minute of it. Clark, David, Carl, Christy, Jon, Patrick, Ashley, my wife and I were also on the front of the boat. What's a near-death experience if you can't share it with family?

"Sorry about the swell. We need to keep heading west," the captain informed us from the cockpit. "That's where the whales were yesterday."

"Were? Yesterday? You mean we could be heading in the wrong direction?" I demanded to know. No one heard me of course because of the wind and a new addition to the fun – spray.

Invention ideas: windshield wipers for sunglasses and suction cup athletic shoes.

Another wave broke over the bow. Was that a mackerel that just missed my head?
At this point most of us headed inside where they had food for sale. I didn't need any. Breakfast was still with me – and I hoped it stayed with me. David bought a giant hot dog and covered it in enough ketchup to supply a third-world country. Teenagers!

The captain came on the loudspeaker and told us they had spotted some whales. Everyone headed back to the front of the roller coaster, er, boat.

"See anything?" someone asked.

I looked straight ahead. All I could see was the next wave, which was above us. Not the place you want a wave to be.

Down. Up. Down. Up. Down. Up.

Someone yelled: "Whales," and I took a photo of the baldheaded guy in front of me, hoping that wasn't the only picture I got. Even in Photoshop it would be hard to make that look like a nature shot.

The whales came up again and I got a photo of a hump. Wow.

"Tale," someone yelled and I took another shot.


whale's tale

"Spout." Click.

"Hump." Click.

"Sky." Click. Oops.

Suddenly, the captain turned the boat around and we were going with the swell and the wind. Now it was like being on a lake. Note to self: when visiting the ocean, always go with the swell – even if it takes three or four years to get back to the harbor.

"What's the longest you can validate for?" I asked a crewmember.

The whales came up again. Three of them. Right beside the boat. I could see down into a blowhole. Amazing. I dropped my lens cap. Bummer.

"Tale." Click.

"Hump." Click.

"Spout." Wow, there's my lens cap.

We stayed with the whales for almost an hour. I took more than 150 photos. Some of them were even in focus.

As we walked through the parking lot after our adventure I felt a real bond with the family -- partially because we were all bumping into each other trying to get our balance back.

"Swell," someone yelled as we looked at the recently washed cars, now covered with seagull souvenirs.

All and all it was a memorable day.