Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Nurse the Hate: The Whale Adventure

My feet were dangling off the side of the boat wearing a pair of cheap flippers.  I had on an equally cheap diving mask with a snorkel jammed in my mouth.  My right arm desperately held on to a pole supporting the flimsy sun tarp as we floundered in eight-foot swells three miles from shore.  Six very excited Latin American dive instructors were also in snorkels but outfitted with state-of-the-art masks and wet suits.  The plan was to get in close to a surfacing whale, and then jump in next to it to observe the massive creature in the water.  Not only does this fall into the category of “bad idea”, it’s also “illegal” (even in Mexico). 

Allow me to explain.  The previous day I had gone on one of my favorite scuba dives of all time.  If you have ever been to Cabo San Lucas, there is an area by Lover’s Beach where sea lions lounge on a large rock and bark away at tourist boats.  A Mexican Dad and I with $22,000 of gear and no real ability jumped in the water there with a German girl dive guide.  She had been living in the area for months after leaving “a small town in SW Germany”.  (“What’s the name of the town?”  You never heard of it.  “Try me…”  Karlsruhe?  “I played a gig at the Hackerei last Fall.  Did you go to university there?”  Oh my God!  You do know it!)

The dive began in a small cave filled with bright red fish.  Despite instruction not to disturb the silt on the bottom, Mexican Dad immediately disturbs it all and fucks up the visibility for all of us.  We leave the cave and head towards the big rock where the sea lions hang out while tourist boats rumbled overhead.  Then, like a fighter jet fly by, two sea lions rocketed right over top of us, turned radically right, zipped in about 3 feet in front of our faces and stared at us.  Just as quickly they zipped off again.  Awesome.  We worked our way through a small passage that serves as a border between the Sea of Cortez and the Pacific Ocean.  The push of the waves created three feet forward and one foot back progress.  It was narrow, about 12 feet across and 20 feet deep.  Two more sea lions roared straight toward us overhead and shot by.  We cleared the channel and emerged to find a shipwreck from the 1950s where all sorts of colorful fish and a suspicious hefty grouper gave us the eye.  We investigated the wreck as the occasional sea lion roared past unexpectedly.  When we ascended for our safety stop, a huge school of jacks enveloped us in a blanket of shimmering silver.  It was a great dive.

We headed back into the harbor watching the sea lions beg for bait from the returning fisherman.  Pelicans circled overhead looking for a free meal.  Terrible looking fake pirate ships hauled bachelorette parties out where the captain and I speculated on which girl was going to barf/cry and which would hold her hair.  The sun warmed my skin, cold from the ocean.  It was a nice morning.  I helped haul the empty oxygen tanks up the dock to the captain’s beat up old Ford pickup.  I gave him a farewell and started down the dock when he called out for me.  “Hey man… Ah…  If you’re not doing anything tomorrow I’m taking out some friends to snorkel with whales if you’re into it.”  Yeah.  I’m into that!  “OK, we leave before sunup because it’s not technically legal?”  OK.  “Be here at 645a.”  See you then man.

As you might have guessed, this captain is not the most legit guy in the area.  I tend to have a skill to find people that operate in, shall we say, “the margins” of their communities.  This guy was employed in the summer up in Alaska running a commercial fishing boat, and in the winter came down to Cabo where he lived in a $200 a month apartment above a motorcycle repair shop.  If you needed something in Cabo that you might not want to ask the concierge at the hotel for, he’s your guy. 

The uber took my associate Mike and I to the dock at exactly 645.  It was dark.  Fishermen prepped their charters, but it was too early for the local hustlers to work the area yet.  I had asked Mike if he was into going and might have skimmed a bit on the details.  I think his concern ratcheted up a notch when the captain said “I had to set five alarms to get up.  I was out drinking until 330 last night.  Hey, do you have gear?”  No man.  I told you that yesterday.  “Oh…  I totally spaced on that.  We probably have some in the hutch.”  Did you get that wet suit for me?  “Oh, I thought you had one.”  You got me one yesterday!  “Ohhh…  That’s right.”  Then we hit the swells as we headed straight out to sea.  It was cold, and the boat was getting tossed around, mostly because it was about 15 feet long and not ideal for the conditions.  “Tourist Goes Missing In Suspected Sea Disaster”

The other passengers were all Spanish speaking divers except for a really skinny blonde kid from South Africa that was some kind of ocean videographer.  There were two women, both of whom were long haired with groovy hippie anklets, Zen tattoos and perfectly toned in their professional wetsuits.  The guys had the graceful confidence of truly athletic men in their prime.  They were pros.  We were two assholes with sunglasses and flip flops.  And we were going to jump in rough ocean with whales.
We found three gray whales that had surfaced.  Their blowholes sent up spray.  Their dark black backs arched out of the water when they dove.  The tails would briefly reveal themselves as the whales went under, hiding from us.  We were close enough to see small scars on their skin.  We waited to see if the whales would surface again, poised to jump off the boat at the first sign.  Then they were gone.  We waited and bobbed in the ocean, scanning in all directions.  They didn’t want to show themselves to us.  We motored on.  And on.  And on.

By the time we spotted three large humpbacks and a calf breaching from the ocean making dramatic splashes, the small armada of whale watching boats were out to sea.  There would be no snorkeling with the whales today.  If we did jump in the water, the boat would be reported, and the captain given a backbreaking ticket.  We would have to content ourselves watching these beautiful massive creatures play and lounge on the surface.  At one point the largest humpback turned on his side and flapped his massive fin lazily making massive “thwacks!” on the surface.  It would have been a real rush to have swum near something that huge, having it stare at me with his enormous eye.  I was disappointed but only mildly so.  It had been a good adventure.  The group on the boat shared an easy comraderie.  The sun shone down.  The sea lions barked.  The pelicans circled.  It was a nice day.


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