I have had the great blessing of experiencing some wow things during my thirty-five year liveaboard
experience. These are moments that when they happen usually catch your breath, spike
your adrenaline and make your heart beat real fast. These big wows are rare but leave a large footprint in your memory.
One of the most wonderful things about going cruising is that you never know what to expect and
this sort of life encourages you to live in the now. In 1982 right after Christmas, the good crew of the “Two Can”, a Colvin designed lug rigged steel schooner my wife and myself built, was moored in Samana on the eastern side of the Dominican Republic. It just so happens that the Humpback Whales gather around the Silver Banks and bring their calves into and around the Samana Bay. The Dominican Republic officials
would not allow you to sail in this deep bay, and from our anchorage we could see the whales breaching around the mouth of the bay. There were several cruising boats anchored here preparing to cross the Mona Passage to the west end of Puerto Rico. We all got together and formed a plan to approach the Port Captain and get permission to take a day sail and whale watch. We turned in our passports and wrote up a crew manifest and somehow got permission to spend the day sailing amongst the whales.
The “Two Can” had no cockpit and lots of deck space, so she was elected to carry a very excited and large crew out for a day of whale watching. We had several cases of the adult beverage of choice, El Presidente, and lots of crew food when we departed. There were about twenty souls on board and we had in tow a large Zodiac with a 20 HP motor from a Canadian cruiser who was part of our good crew. We motored out of the anchorage, hoisted 1000 sq. ft. of tan bark sail and headed towards a pod of frolicking whales. We could get no closer to the whales than 500/700 yards. The cooler bar had already had an early
opening in our collective excitement.
It suddenly dawned on me that there were five captains on board who had made it from various
places in North America to the DR and I was about to miss a once in a lifetime experience. This
was to be my first and last time of abandoning a ship, especially my own. I made my intentions
known to the good crew with no strong objections. So Bob, the owner of the Zodiac, Jill, a fellow
female cruiser, Ginny, my first mate and wife, and myself grabbed our masks, fins and snorkels
and blazed away towards the pod. We were all hunkered down not knowing what to expect when
a Humpback breached right in front of us. Had he or she come back down towards us, we would
have been crushed. Something I consider to be really neat happened next as this huge mammal
rocketed skyward. All on board the Zodiac exclaimed the same name simultaneously and that
name was “Jesus”. I believe deep down inside us all is the knowledge that all that surrounds us
and all we see was created and at rare moments something deep within us reminds our spirits that
the creator is much larger than the creation.
Our latest marine “wow” occurred much later, just this past September 2008. Ginny and I took a
short respite in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico. Ginny took a few good books and spread out on the
beach and read. I took my scuba gear and went wall diving and (cenote) cave diving. I must
admit that I’m glad I went cave diving, but once is enough for me. We had the opportunity to go
to Isla Holbox, Mexico on the top of the Yucatan Peninsula where the Whale Sharks congregate.
I missed them the last time I went to Roatan and the possibility of getting up close and personal
with the largest fish on the planet awakened the little boy in me. Even Ginny my diving buddy
who gave up scuba for lent after our daughter’s birth wanted to get in on this one. We had a
three hour bus ride to a coastal fishing village where we boarded an outboard powered dive boat
and ran eastward for approximately three hours before we encountered a Whale Shark. My first
thought was BIG! We were instructed to pair off and two at a time jump in with the shark
swimming towards us. In my excitement and rush to jump in one part of our instructions must
not have registered. When the shark came into view with it’s mouth open and feeding, my second
thought beside BIG was Jonah being swallowed by the whale. The mouth on this thing looked
big enough to take my pick up truck head on. I had a digital camera and started snapping away. I
got the mouth head on, then the eye, pectoral fin, port body shot and as the shark passed by, I saw
something in my peripheral vision. Then I remembered our instructions were to avoid the tail at
all cost. Too late. The tail approximately 1/3 of the body length hit me in the side of the head
dislodging my mask and snorkel. I can’t properly describe the sensation it was, sort of like
getting hit with a whole butchered cow at about three knots, quite a jolt. This Whale shark was
only about 40′ long and some get up to 55′, but big is as good of a description as I can come up
with. Herman Melville wrote that he thought God would come under the guise of a whale, so
I’m sure he thought Big also.
We got the added pleasure of swimming with a giant manta ray our guide estimated as six meters from wing tip to wing tip. I have no idea but big definitely applied here but much faster than the shark. So much power and grace as they swim and effortlessly glide along in this awesome liquid we call sea.
We have had many other “wow” moments, but these two have left an indelible imprint on my wonderful memories of my days of cruising. I pray that all who read this short sea story have the opportunity to experience some of what the psalmist in Psalms 107 VS 23 and 24 said; “they that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.
Also, I hope you will hook your lifeline on Psalm 139 vs. 9 and 10; “If I take the wings of morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me and thy right hand shall hold me.”
Happy sailing and remember, the Lord loves sailors.
Neil K Haynes May 19, 2009