When I moved to New England more than three decades ago, I tried to take in at least one whale-watch cruise each year, usually out of Newburyport, Massachusetts. But my first time of meeting a live whale came during my first-time ever time in a real sailboat, which was also my first time out on the Atlantic. At first, we saw minkes lolling along at a distance, some of them parallel to our course. And then, just as we were turning into the harbor on the Isles of Shoals, one came up right beside the bow, where I was standing. You can’t say this Ohio boy wasn’t impressed. Minkes may be the smallest of the whales around here, but our 32-foot craft wasn’t much bigger.
Whales migrate up the New England coast each May and linger in its nutrient-rich waters well into October.
One thing I quickly came to appreciate is that there are no guarantees about what you’ll encounter when you go out from shore. What I’ve often called a poor man’s cruise is an experience in itself, especially as you watch land recede and then disappear altogether behind you and there’s nothing save the expanse of sea and sky with occasional birds and boats as punctuation. On one outing, the only whales we found were a minke cow and her calf, which we followed at a leisurely pace. On another outing, so many minkes, humpbacks, and finbacks surrounded us – some close enough to be misted by their stinky blow, others breaching off in the distance – I lost count. Once, we had to be content with a trio of porpoises. You should be grateful for whatever presents itself.
Somehow, though, after I remarried, the annual event faded from the schedule – maybe a handful in 20 years, always with family and sometimes with the kids’ friends. I still have the memories.
Relocating to an old house a block from the ocean has now recharged that. I can walk to the whales. Seriously. In late season, they can even be seen from the shore here.
More likely is walking down to Butch and Jana Harris’ Eastport Windjammers and setting forth in one of their refitted lobster boats. The vessels are smaller than the usual whale-watch models but put you much closer to the water. The route, from downtown Eastport out between Campobello and Deer islands in New Brunswick, doesn’t need to go into the open waters of the Bay of Fundy. On at least one of boats, you can even stand beside the captain – usually, but not always, Butch – and, on occasion, each of the kids on board gets to briefly take a turn steering at the wheel.
Don’t scoff when you connect “windjammer” with “lobster boat.” The enterprise comes by its name honestly. Up through 2014, its whale-watch cruises took place aboard Butch’s 118-foot, three-masted schooner, the Ada Lore. But on December 4 that year, a portion of the Breakwater collapsed, wrecking the schooner.
Pursuing whales from a wind-powered deck, I’ve been assured, is the most satisfying way of all to go forth.
I’m ready and willing, should the opportunity present itself.
What’s been your most memorable experience with the sea? Or some other body of water?