Spectacle on Stellwagen
Throughout the 38th Voyage, I’ve shared lots of things with you. I haven’t struggled to find the right words to describe things…until now. What I’ve witnessed during the past few days has left me wide-eyed and speechless. Let me try to describe it:
On July 11th, bright skies and light winds carried the Charles W. Morgan 11 miles north of Provincetown to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
With every sail set, we cruised the grounds. We kept a sharp eye on the sea’s surface, but we did not see a single whale spout all morning. By the afternoon, the wind had picked up. Captain Files tapped me on the shoulder and ordered me to the masthead.
I’ve climbed a lot in the Morgan’s rig, but that day I climbed higher than I have ever climbed before. Perched 100 feet above the main deck, I stood atop the topgallant crosstrees and the privilege of being the first lookout of the 38th Voyage.
I will leave it to Herman Melville to describe the sensation of standing up there:
“There you stand, a hundred feet above the silent decks, striding along the deep, as if masts were gigantic stilts, while beneath you and between your legs, as if it were, swim the hugest monsters of the sea…There you stand, lost in the infinite series of the sea, with nothing ruffled but the waves. The tranced ship indolently rolls; the drowsy trade winds blow; everything resolves you into languor.”
It had been over 90 years since a sailor stood in the hoops of the Charles W. Morgan under sail, and that afternoon, about a quarter point to the southeast, I spotted a spout.
“THAAAAAARRRRR SHHHEEEEEEE BLOWWWWS!” I yelled down to the main deck, with all the might I could muster. We lowered a whaleboat into the water, and went out to meet them. Instead of harpoons and lances, we were equipped with cameras. We captured Humpback, Fin and Minke whales breaching and feeding. I’ve had many great moments aboard the Charles W. Morgan, but this one definitely stands apart from the rest.
Here’s the video I captured from the hoops and the whaleboat. I hope it conveys what we felt watching these magnificent creatures swim in peace alongside a whaleship.
Note: the song I used is by a Provincetown musician named Marcia Mello. The song is called “Friend of a Whale.”
Watching whales from the mast of a 19th-century whaling ship is a surreal experience. I may very well be the only person alive in the world who can say that he has done such a thing.
The hours slipped by like a powerful outgoing tide. For the rest of the afternoon, I was suspended in deep thoughts on the rolling sea. It was a magical moment I will remember forever.