I spent a lot of time at sea. A decade and a half with very few weeks off. As you can imagine... I saw some wonderful things. The Aurora Borealis with their shimmering green veil like ribbons while sailing inside the Arctic Circle. Icebergs off of Greenland and Iceland in the North Atlantic. The sail away from Stockholm, Sweden, which takes hours - as you pass tiny islands covered with brightly colored hand built Cabins that slowly turn into rocky outcrops with a straggly tree or two on them.
The “White Nights” in the Baltic Sea, where sunsets last so long you can go get dinner, come back out later with your camera (now smartphone) and still catch the sunset. Crossing the Equator and having King Neptune and his court rule on your fate. Walking to the very spot where Christopher Columbus set sail- and the stones that once held the Mayflower anchored to the shore.
Volcanic islands that dot the huge expanse of the Pacific Ocean, and walking on atolls that used to witness Atomic Bomb tests, but now are bird Sanctuaries. By the way, if anyone offers to scoot you from one atoll to another to see the old camera mounts and Offices left behind…wear a hat! A thousand birds will use your head for target practice, and those who brought you will laugh - because they are wearing hats.
What I want to share with you today are three of the most incredible sights I saw at sea. A fish smashed up against my porthole in heavy seas, a sailfish silhouetted against a blood red sun, and a whale that came up next to me in a Fjord. So here we go:
We were in rough seas just off of Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean. They hadn’t come too close my porthole yet (Staff always closes them during rough seas with metal water proof seals, so they can’t break and fill the ship with water). My cabin was ten feet above the water line- but the swells were twenty feet or more, so green water was constantly going by my porthole.
I turned off all the lights and sat my chair facing the big waves going by the porthole. A full moon gave a silvery sheen to the water and would sparkle on the bottom of the swells. When fish darted through the water, a trail of phosphorescent glow would trail behind them. I was fascinated.
Then, out of nowhere, a big fish, minding its own business, was smacked right up against my porthole. It made me laugh out loud. The look on its face was almost cartoonish. Like: “What? How did this reef get here?” It was smushed up against the glass like you see in old cartoons. Then as the water sucked it back off of the glass, it just kind of shook, like a dog does when it gets out of playing in water- and swam away.
I love that memory.
The next fish story was coming out of a Mexican Port- Mazatlan. Home of the second tallest lighthouse in the world. A hike almost a thousand feet up from the sea, on a series of switchbacks, and there it is - a lighthouse perched with a straight drop down on the seaside. A Cliff you could not dive off of, and live. But that hike is a different story.
Mazatlan is a Industrial Sea Port, the pollution in the air makes sunrises and sunsets have some spectacular colors. The sun was just setting as this giant red ball surrounded by wine red skies, with gold bands edging all the clouds. I wanted to go get my camera to catch a picture. But this wasn’t the Baltic in summer, where sunsets lasted hours- this was a regular (although stunning) sunset. It would be gone in a few minutes.
I decided to just stay at the railing and watch the sun go down. Great decision.
For not a moment later a SailFish leaped out of the water to be framed precisely in the Center of the sun. It was arched so that its entire body was framed in the circumference of the sun; with the tail fin touching one side of the circle, the large sail on its back filling the middle of the sun circle, and the rapier like sword beak just touching the other side of the circle.
If that wasn’t enough, the water dripping off of it looked like shiny pearls cascading down into the water. It hung there like a painting for what seemed like minutes but was only seconds. Then it straightened out and dove back in the water. It is one of the most beautiful natural sights I have ever seen. If I could paint, or had taken a picture- it would have won awards.
Now the whale.
I was in a Fjord in Norway. The locals had built a little two decked artificial beach complete with tons of sand, right next to the Fjord. A ladder went down about 12 feet from the lower deck into the water. Locals were jumping off both the lower and upper decks, swimming around a bit, then pulling themselves out of the water up the ladder to sunbathe some more.
They told me that the water just a few feet from the deck was 800 feet deep. Fjords are like that, steep mountain valleys filled with water. Some are thousands of feet deep just a hundred feet from shore! The water is cold, but thanks to the Gulf Stream current- warm enough to swim in for a few minutes.
I jumped in. I was in the water by myself, not scared at all because a hundred fit Norwegians could see me from the decks of the artificial beach. It must be what skydivers feel like when their chutes open. Just hanging there in the air. I was just hanging there in the water- looking down at my legs dangling with hundreds of feet of water below me.
I was so entranced (and a bit scared, I had never been in water that deep before) that I didn’t notice everyone sitting up, then standing and pointing. I turned to look and a “small” Minke whale was right next to me. And believe me, even small whales are huge. I could see its eye just a few feet away. Then it exhaled.
Whales are spectacular, their breath is not. It smells like rotten fish, cod liver oil, and sea stink. The whale kept an eye on me as it swam lazily by me. I could hear the clicks of many cameras above me. I swam to the side where the ladder was and climbed up. I felt the ladder shake a bit.
I looked down to see the whale rubbing up against the ladder. It must have been scratching its back or something. I held on for dear life. And then…another exhale. I was covered with whale snot. Everyone laughed. Including me. (laughing while you are gagging is not an activity I recommend) I waited for the whale to clear the deck area - and the ladder. When it was gone, I jumped back in the water to wash its spray off of me.
A couple of dunks later I was clean. The locals told me I wasn’t in any danger- at least from that kind of whale. They offered me some beer, but I don’t drink. But I did drink the water they offered me. Everyone laughed, clapped me on the back, and told me that swimming with a whale was a good omen.
I didn’t tell them that I didn’t ever want to be close to something that big again, that is alive and a better swimmer than me. They assured me it was a juvenile whale and quite small. I remember the stink and how big it was. Luckily it wasn’t interested in me at all.
There you go, three fish stories from my Sea Days.