Getting Colder & The Story of Whale Snot.

So we came up off of the deep water 18 hours ago from 4,000 meters up to 1000 and now to 100 meters.
The wind veered from the South West to the North and when I posted last night at midnight it was 26*C tonight it is 16*C which is a bit brisk on a ship with no heating. The Malay, Thai, Indonesian, and Singaporean people who make up the vast majority of the crew are grumbling a bit because we are just not geared up for cold weather. As the vessel has never been further north than about 12* in the gulf of Thailand even I have no warm clothing. I do have flip flops plenty of shorts and t shirts but not a single long pair of trousers or long sleeve shirt or other such suitable clothing. I will see how this one pans out

So here we go
28* 01 N 125* 09 E Course 0058 Speed 5 knots – Wind North 28 knots. Sea height 2 meters, water depth 100 meters Temp 16*


The story of me being woken up by whale snot:-

I was working off shore Nigeria in 1994 as the skipper of a high speed, passenger carrying, jet boat. The vessel was 15 meters long and had a beam of about 3.5 meters. It had twin inboard 375Hp turbocharged diesels than ran twin water jet drives.
We carried 20 passengers at service speed of 36 knots. The wheelhouse was just forward of the stern and above the passenger cabin which was accessible by a short stairwell.
The passengers embarked and disembarked via a doorway at the front of the accommodation that led onto the bow section
Behind the wheelhouse was an area about 2 meters long with handrails around the stern. We had arranged a couple of planks of wood in these rails that acted as benches for us to have a snooze ion during the day or to make the fishing more comfortable for us when we didn’t have passengers.
The crew was one skipper (me) who doubled as the engineer and one boatman (local Nigerian) who kept the vessel clean and assisted the passengers on and off.
There was no living accommodation on board and we were about 100 miles out from the Bonny River in the Gulf Of Guinea.

We took people from the main Floating Storage and Offload (FSO) and hotel vessel out to the 6 platforms (spread over an 11 mile diameter) in the morning (0600) took them back in the evening (1800) and ferried them about in the day if they needed to visit other platforms.
We would also transport the food to them at lunchtimes.
We had a sub sea mooring that had a floating hawser attached and in evening, after dropping everyone back at the FSO, we would make fast to the morning and the oil fields standby supply vessel would send across its Zodiac (rubber boat with outboard) to pick us up. We slept on board the supply boat.

If I was actually driving the boat and had the engines running for more than 5 hours a day it was considered a very busy day.
Basically it was great job that paid well, gave me the opportunity to drive a wonderfully responsive and incredibly accurate to handle boat, that also gave me plenty of hours in the day to engage in some big game fishing.

The waters were rich with Barracuda, Sail Fish, Red Snapper, Dorrado, Yellow Tails, Tuna etc that we would sell to the camp boss (catering manager of the field).
There were also an assortment of sharks including one memorable encounter with a 4 meter Hammer-head shark that we had to release.
I can tell you that reaching down with a pair of wire cutters to cut the hook as close to its mouth was a very tight sphinctered moment.
Before this shark catch I used to often jump in and have a swim in the clear blue waters when we had a quiet hour or more, however the Hammer-head incident and one other put a stop to that.

One morning, whilst in the Zodiac on the way to the boat, we were trailed all the way by a very big shark whose fin was no more than 2 meters from our Zodiac and matched us for speed for the one mile, open water journey.
It was predawn we couldn’t see what sort of shark it was in the dark water but it was a big fin which normally indicates a big shark.
I am sure I could hear the bass notes of a cello going DUH Dun…Duh Dun Duh dun duhdun duhdunduhdun. I never swam after that.

One quiet afternoon I was having a bronzy doze on one of the planks when I was startled out of my reverie, first by a massive whooshing sound, followed closely by a drenching spray of water.
As I jumped up in shocked alarm I came face to face with a Humpback whale who was on the surface calmly looking at me while I stood dripping with whale snot and seawater looking back at him.
I could have sworn he was smiling.
His eye was bigger than my head and I just looked into it and somehow found the voice to say
“Aye Aye Matey, nice to meet you. Where did you come from?
He didn’t answer but continued to hold my gaze for a while.
I don’t know if it was male or female (it just seemed like a he) but he hung around for about half and hour just checking us out from different angles, often very close nudging us with his body, as we drifted on the current and chatted away to him.

He was close enough to touch on several occasions, and so we did, which he didn’t seem to mind at all. All I can say is that if you can imagine what its like to touch a whale, it felt like that.

There was absolutely no mistaking the fact that he was definitely “looking at” my boatman and I as we made polite albeit one sided conversation with him, in both a river delta dialect of Nigerian and in the Dorset brogue of English, as well as some whistles and an occasional attempt to mimic whale song I had heard on a documentary.
I am glad in a way he didn’t understand that as I might have been inadvertently calling his mother the whale version of a fat crack whore.

He was massive, certainly bigger than the boat, however although he possessed an immense and gentle power it was obvious he was absolutely no threat to us.
I felt that he was just as curious as to what we were doing (and what we were), as we were about him, however I don’t think we quite inspired in him the awestruck respect and splendour that he inspired in us.

Once he had satisfied his curiosity he slowly raised his tail high in then air and slipped beneath the surface and was gone.
About twenty minutes later we saw what we thought was a blow (as in “Thar she blows”) a couple of miles away.
I had seen hundreds of whales of all sorts before that, normally just gently swimming along, where you get to watch their sleek backs and the fountain of their blow, as they go about their business.
I have seen killer whales leaping and somersaulting so beautifully and gracefully for me to think they must have escaped from an aquarium.
I have seen humpbacks breeching alone and as pairs but never had, or expected to have, such a magical and close encounter as that.

When I see a whale I smile.
I think everyone does.
There is not much you can do about it they just make you want to smile.
If you say “whale” the same bits of your cheeks flex as when you smile, (go on try it, you know you want to)
I don’t know if it is some sort of Darwinian recognition of a distant evolutionary cousin, but there is something about them that has an historical resonance, connecting to a forgotten inner sense, when you see then in the wild.
They are totally at one with their environment, they only breed enough to have family groups that their habitat can support. The waste nothing and create no pollution. They are in tune with where they are.
No wonder we smile when we see them, it’s probably out of embarrassment.

The other sea creature that instinctively raise a smile are Dolphins or Porpoise. (I will call them all dolphins from now on)
Have you ever seen an animal that looks happier about being alive in its own environment than a dolphin?
I know its just the shape of their faces but they look like they are having such fun and they are always a joy to see and watch.

I was lucky enough to have a dual encounter with two whales and a pod of dolphins a couple of weeks later in the same location off Nigeria.
It was a delightful sight that filled me with such joy I thought was going to spontaneously combust.

One afternoon we spotted a pair of humpbacks together only about half a mile away steadily swimming in one direction.
We also noticed a pod of dolphins nearby, which wasn’t unusual as barely a week went by without there being plenty of dolphins about.
The dolphins were never really interested in us when we were just drifting, but when we were speeding through the water they would often come across and try to ride the bow wave and I would adjust the speed to suit.
Many a time I have put the boatman on the controls and I been lying down with my head over the bow at 25 mph or faster and having two or three dolphin weaving in and out of the bow wave just below the surface near my finger tips.
Smiles and grins that big make your face hurt after a while.

The pod of dolphins must have caught site of the whales, or maybe the whales were singing and the dolphins recognised the tune, because suddenly they all changed direction and swam over to the whales.

They began just mucking about jumping over the top of them and swimming right up next to them, and leaping in the air and doing back flips and front flips and belly flops all around them. It was lie lambs gambolling or puppies playing.
I am sure if we could have heard them talk they would have been saying “Whay hay,. Whoop Whoop. Yippeee. Yeee Haaa
It’s the giants. Hey big guys where you going?
Hey come on lard ass chase me, ha ha ha
Whoop Whoop”

They played for nearly and hour as I followed them at a reasonable distance in the boat. I vividly remember having tears of pure happiness streaming unashamedly down my face as I watched and the memory of it still evokes a tear of joy.

Love and Peace

Also if you want to click on the Billy and Gentley Dreambuildeer section you can see more on the renovation and how we put in the woodburner.


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