Shamu, Is that You?
July 19, 2016
We left San Evaristo yesterday afternoon headed to Puerto Los Gatos, about 20 miles north up the Baja coast in the Sea of Cortez. Because we were in the San Jose Channel, between the Baja peninsula and Isla San Jose, a large island, there wasn’t a lot of wind for our sail north. We left in the afternoon and needed to make the anchorage before it got dark, so we were motoring along at about 5 kts.
We had only gone a few miles when I heard us being hailed on the VHF radio. It was our friends on Allora, who we hadn’t seen since they left La Paz in early June. They had traveled north up into the Sea and were now headed back south toward Puerto Vallarta. I picked up the radio and heard Diana say “Look to starboard and wave.” I got the binoculars out and saw a sailboat a few miles away across the channel near the coast of Isla San Jose. Allora had spotted us on the AIS.
For non-boaters… AIS is a system where you can transmit and receive information about other boats nearby. Not every boat has AIS, but all of the commercial boats do. It is especially helpful when sailing at night and you can pick up a boat nearby. It will tell you the boat name, length, speed and direction, so you can tell if you are on a collision course and need to alter course. It is a very helpful tool and something we installed before we left California. So, Allora had seen us pop up on AIS.
I chatted with Diana for a few minutes and wished them well. We were both sorry that we were passing each other and would not be able to get together in an anchorage. We’re hoping that we may catch up with them at the end of the year on the mainland side of Mexico when we will both be traveling south.
I had only signed off the VHF for less than a minute when Diana excitedly hailed us back. “There are killer whales right by the boat!” she exclaimed. Mike and I both got really excited, because we have never seen killer whales while out sailing. We saw Allora suddenly do a 360 and were speeding back up the coast at 9 kts (faster than Adagio can do…). We heard from Allora that the killer whales were chasing a dolphin and they were following, struggling to keep up.
They were a few miles away from us, but we decided we had time, so we altered course and started heading toward Isla San Jose to intercept Allora. After a few minutes we saw Allora basically stop and Marcus came on the radio to say they were pretty sure that the whales caught the dolphin and now they were just playing around their boat. I know it is the circle of life and all, but I’m a bit glad I didn’t see that part. I would have been rooting for the dolphin.
We got closer to Allora and could see the whales just off their stern through the binoculars. As we approached we heard Allora yell “they’re coming right toward you.” Sure enough the killer whales came right toward us. I was racing up to the bow with my GoPro while Mike was at the helm when one breached not ten feet away from us. It was fantastic! They were now heading behind us, so we quickly turned around to follow. We saw the whales ahead of us, when they turned back toward Adagio and came right at us again. Three of them came directly toward the starboard side just below the surface and dove down right before they got to the hull. Mike swears one of them turned to the side and looked up at him just before he went down. Unbelievable.
Both boats tried following them, but they had gone under and we appeared to have lost them. After a few minutes, we said goodbye to Allora and headed north as they turned south. We had gone about a mile when we saw the orcas in front of us again. There was one off our starboard side and two off port. I was at the bow again with the video camera trying to get the perfect shot. The whales started for our boat from both directions. I had my camera trained on the starboard side and caught him diving down under the boat right as Mike yelled “over there!” I whipped my camera around as the two on port breached right next to the boat and dove under. They were seriously close enough to reach out and touch them! We’ve never had any kind of whale play around the boat before, but dolphins do it all the time. These whales reminded me of giant dolphins! They were huge though and absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to clip together the video. I know it won’t do the experience justice (it never does), but I still want to share it.
Once we got to the tip of San Jose the wind finally picked up. We pulled out the sails and turned off the diesel. We had a beautiful sail to Puerto Los Gatos and got in the anchorage just before the sun dipped down beneath the horizon. We’re excited to go out and explore this beautiful place that is full of reefs and stunning red rock faces. We will probably be here a few days before heading to Bahia Agua Verde.