A tale of a Whale

16th January 2008, 22:05
A Tale of a Whale

The recent whale watching season on the Great Barrier Reef Coast and today’s Antarctic water’s conflict between protest ship “Sea Shepherd” and the Japanese whaling ship brings to mind a little memory note I penned last year;

The Collier MV Kaitangata left Westport one evening with a full cargo of coal for delivery to Auckland and mid morning found us at sea west of Wanganui as we plodded along at a sedate 8 to 9 knots in calm seas and heading toward North Cape.
I was in the engine room on my forenoon watch half dozing and enjoying a cup of tea while the engines wheezed away pushing the heavily laden ship as fast as possible toward our home port.
Suddenly my reverie was shattered as the engine room telegraph bells jangled and called for half speed and as I jumped to my feet and throttled back both engines I wondered what on earth would give us reason to slow down mid ocean. Was it another ship in trouble? Had we sighted a raft or life boat? Or were we about to have an ‘at sea’ boat drill while the weather was so calm.
The ship’s Captain Desmond Champion was what we fondly called an ancient mariner, he was a man in his 60’s, of huge experience and conservative caution and a life boat drill was a likely event to test and ensure our readiness for such emergencies.
His background was from sailing ships and he had served as Second mate, First mate and finally as the Master of the Barque “Pamir” while this beautiful windjammer from the past was sailing under the New Zealand flag during and after the Second World War. He commanded this sailing ship on its last voyage from NZ to Europe and back via Cape Horn and with a Kiwi crew before it was returned to its Finnish owners.
I Phoned the bridge to ask what was happening to be told that two large whales had been sighted ahead and on our course and the Captain had slowed down to get a good observation and was hoping the slower speed and less engine noise might let us get close.
It turned out that the whales saw us as a friendly neighbour in the ocean and although they are capable of swimming at speeds up to 30 kilometres per hour their curiosity or amusement cause them to form up each side of our bow and start all manner of antics to show off to this monster of a ship which they may have seen as an outsize family member. Captain Champion identified them as very large Blue whales by their colour and twin blow holes and they were close enough to the ship’s side to estimate their length at approximately 75 feet. Apparently blue whales grow up to almost 100 feet and can weigh up to 150 tonnes making them the largest mammal on earth.
In due course the Third Engineer came down into the engine room to relieve me and allow me to spend 15 to 20 minutes enjoying the spectacle and that is the only word that could describe it. They were behaving like agile porpoises, turning on their side lifting and crashing down their fins and tail flukes and frequently venting water out of their blowholes that shot about 50 feet into the air and drenching everyone of the crew that were watching on the forecastle. It was a sight that I will never forget and I recall the Captain saying to me “take a good look lad, I have seen many whales in my time but never anything like this and I doubt that we will ever have the chance again.” He later told us that it was quite common for whales to swim close to sailing ships as their silent movement through the water compared with a noisy diesel engined vessel caused them little concern but he had never ever seen such a ‘cheeky’ display as we had that morning.
They got tired of us after a couple of hours and sped off ahead while we cranked our speed back up to 9 knots maximum and were left in their wake but with an indelible memory of it all.

Bob Jenkins 2006

16th January 2008, 22:08
great story bob.............

one of the delights of seagoing................

16th January 2008, 22:11
Bob, You are the ultimate lucky man.
Thank you for sharing that ...

Harry Nicholson
16th January 2008, 22:21
Tremendous Bob. A vivid story.... keep writing.
In 1957, off SW Africa, the sea was red for miles with plankton, there were dozens of whales diving around amongst it. It's one of the things that I recall easily... that and the sight of a huge manta ray leaping out of a glassy Bay of Bengal and coming down with a great belly flopper. Oh - and one of the engineers (assisted by a few others) landing a huge sunfish on the deck in Aden harbour.



16th January 2008, 22:48
Thank you Bob, for reminding those of us who can only imagine your experience, why we should do what we can to prevent harm coming to these majestic creatures.

We’ve made, and continue to make, a mess of our environment to the detriment of ourselves and the creatures that we exploit, and for the other creatures that must share it with us.

It is to be hoped that the whales can be left if peace, in their environment.

16th January 2008, 23:46
Nice piece Bob, you told the tale well. And good to remember the days when a master still felt that he had the authority to slow down to look at a whale and when there was still someone in the engineroom to respond to the telegraph order.

17th January 2008, 00:14
cboots, on this note of a captain's discretion we once got a signal at sea that we were to stand off the little port of Stenhouse Bay in the Spencer Gulf on our arrival due to port congestion so the skipper looked at the charts, altered course toward a shallower good fishing spot and we stopped and drift fished for an hour or two with great results.
I guess today the head office would pick up the indiscretion via sattelite and
would be asking for an explanation as to why we were using a 5000 ton ship as a fishing runabout .

17th January 2008, 11:28
Yeah, you bet mate, the "please explain" letters probably come by email now.

18th January 2008, 10:44
It keeps coming back to Psalm 107, Bob. Nice story.

John T.