Whales and waves

The sun had shone all day yesterday, a perfect day on the New Zealand coast. Today however was dull and raining; I could have been back home in an English winter. As we headed to the beach we were praying that our day’s trip out whale watching wasn’t going to be cancelled due to the weather. These were our last few days in New Zealand so we couldn’t reschedule. We anxiously watched the screen in the little harbour office of Kaikoura and with great joy saw that it was going ahead. We felt lucky, almost invincible boarding our boat despite the dreary rain.
Whatever anxiety I’d felt about a possible cancellation was nothing to the increasing concern I felt as we headed further and further into the choppy grey abyss. It suddenly became scarily apparent why there were rails on the ceiling; so that staff had something to hold onto whilst trying to walk between passenger seats. The mood of the entire passenger troop was slowly changing from anticipatingly excited to uncomfortably edgy. The boat rocked side to side, back and forth, side to side, back and forth. Huge waves lashed at the windows, as if wanting to get in. The staff tried to rally the spirits of their somewhat apprehensive passengers with talk of dolphins and the various encounters they’d had whilst working on this boat. One even said “don’t worry the captain is an ex-fisherman so he’s used to this kind of sea.” Well he might have been…
After about half an hour 90% of the passengers’ stomachs had disagreed with the waves. The advice for those feeling sea sick to “watch the horizon” might have had a better effect if we could indeed see the horizon; with a boat which was rocking in every direction, the horizon was never in view. There was just sky or a wall of foamy water. The helpful staff were busy ferrying sloshing sick bags up the aisle, one hand on a clutch of bags and one on the ceiling rail.
We powered on, despite many green faces, crashing into the waves like some sort of unstoppable pneumatic drill, each crash bringing my poor companion closer to her sick bag. Trying not to get too close I gingerly held her hair back for her. Ironically whilst I don’t get sea sick the sight or smell of vomit makes me wretch like a champion.
The engine buzz got slower, and the whispers amongst staff got louder. Soon the engine was off. Was this a good or bad sign? This must be the moment. I’m either about to see a whale or meet my maker. The staff are smiling, so it must be good news. Then again they’d had cheery faces through the whole storm so far, should I trust them? We were briefed that we should just watch and enjoy instead of taking photos. I had previously made up my mind to do both, but I was unfortunately beaten by the sea. Although the boat had come to a standstill of sorts, there was nothing still about it. We were tossed around by playful waves, like a feather in a breeze, and had to hold on for dear life with both hands. There was not a free hand for a camera if you wanted to be outside. I weighed up my life against a vague fuzzy picture through rain of a possible whale and sadly fastened my camera bag. Although the decision took a little longer than it should have.
There was a lot of pointing and murmuring, so I strained my eyes in the same general direction. I just about made out a grey fluke as a great sperm whale plunged down to the depths in search of food, and out of sight forever. That glimpse was what we’d planned for weeks for, and why I had endured this turbulent sick-filled journey. I hated myself for thinking, was it really worth it?

R Fordyce

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