Michael’s Pretty Good Day

Orcas with Mt. Ranier

Melissa and I have learned one very important lesson about sailing in the Pacific Northwest: If you think you should go for a sail, don’t hesitate, go. This is the same advice all sailors have been taught for shortening sail: Reef the first time you think about it. Today, I did not hesitate.

For late March, the weather was beautiful: 58 degrees, some fluffy clouds and 7 to 10 knots of wind. I only had a couple of hours after work but it had been so long since we had taken Moonrise out that I knew I would go. I called Melissa, hoping she could meet me. Sadly, she was still working.

With a light wind, and nowhere in particular to go, this day sail was a perfect antidote to the last week of business travel.  I headed out into the middle of Commencement Bay and then began a tack over to Brown’s Point. As I was settling in to the new course I saw what appeared to be really large dorsal fins. Amazingly, a pod of Orcas were cruising into the bay. We do get Orcas in the South Sound but it is a rare treat and I have never seen them hunting in Commencement Bay. I held my course and continued to sail at 3 or 4 knots and the Orcas crossed my bow at maybe 60 feet.

I stood at the bow of the boat, letting Moonrise tend herself as I took the photos you see with my Blackberry. I could scarcely contain my excitement as I took several photos without dropping my phone into the drink.

After a while the pod head out of the bay and traveled further south. If Melissa had been with me, it would have been a perfect little day sail.

Orcas hunting in Commencement Bay


Does it get any better than this? I submit that it does not.

25 thoughts on “Michael’s Pretty Good Day

  1. What a great experience–what you’ve described is what brings me to the water and to sailing. And how nice to be reminded that it doesn’t take more than an evening after work one day to have one of those great experiences. Thanks for sharing.


    • Tristan, I have to remind myself constantly that the small things make the big memories in our lives. Even without the Orcas, a few hours connected with the wind and water make my life better.

  2. Judging by your last caption – SOMEONE likes Brian Regan! Isn’t he fabulous?! We come down there to see him every time he is in WA as he doesn’t come to Vancouver every year (although he is coming this year!)

    Lovely treat on your little day sail. It’s really quite amazing when you see something that majestic in the wild.

    • I like Brian Regan. My daugther LOVES Brian Regan.

      Day sails are the best. We love to dream of faraway places and long passages. The reality is that most of us have a few hours or days that we can get away. So instead of Carpe Diem, Carpe Horo.

    • Thanks Steve. We are looking forward to La Paz next week. Are the Whale Sharks still in the area? Now that would be COOOO-OOOOOL!!!!

  3. Hooray for you , Mike and for following your hunch that day. You obviously got a special heads-up that day and unlike most people who would have dismissed it as nonsense you chose to go along having no idea why you got such a strong nudge that day. And you were greatly rewarded.

    • Thanks Betty. I must say that when it is relatively sunny and warm in March, I don’t need too much goading to go sailing.

    • Thank Tina. Even without the Orcas, the pleasure of a boat under sail is restorative. We all get so caught up in the seeking out big adventures that sometimes we forget the beauty of a simple journey to no place in particular.

  4. Looks to me like someone is violating the 200 yard no go area around orcas which applies to all boaters, all vessels!! I hope that is a really powerful zoom lens, but I doubt it.

    • Rein,
      This may be true. The whales certainly did come within two hundred yards of me. I did maintain my course. I did not pursue or other wise alter my course to intercept the pod, but technically I would be in violation of the law. Whales frequently make corrections that we cannot anticipate and in my excitement, I certainly was not about to turn on my engine and veer away from their projected path.

      For those of us that do encounter whales from time to time, visit the Whalewise.org site ( http://www.bewhalewise.org/ ). There, you will find a short video and rules on the distance that must be kept between marine mammals and humans.

  5. Yes, if only whales could read. Hmm. Maintain engine-less course or turn on engine, sure to disturb the whales while they are feeding. A difficult choice, to be sure.

  6. Just Beautiful!! A couple of friends of ours climbed Mount Rainier last year. Those Orcas are soooo cool. The scenery where you get to sail is truly breathtaking. Louisiana has so much different landscape. Thanks for sharing.

    btw I have added your blog to our page:) Looking forward to seeing your trip to Mexico.

    • Thanks for adding a link to our blog. While we certainly feel lucky to cruise the Salish Sea, I have fond memories of Lake Pontchartrain and Louisiana in general. As a young man from Tennessee, I would travel to Morgan City to work in the oil fields to earn money for college. I also spent a week as a garbage man in Fat City and even stayed at the Baptist Mission on Magazine Street. Or was it Camp Street? I remember the beautiful lakes and bayous of the area and would love to cruise there some day.

      Melissa and I have been following your refitting efforts on Sundowner with great interest. The electrical system refit is amazing. 440 Amp Hours of battery? That is going to be awesome.

      • How neat! It is a small world after all:D.

        I am looking forward to being totally self sufficient and be able to run fans, lights and have an Engel Fridge when we spend weeks away from civilization.


  7. Always loved sailing up north too! Mexico is very different, but beautiful in its own way. I hope you get up to the islands north of La Paz – we’ve just started cruising this area after exploring mainland Mexico for the past few months. You have a lot to look forward to! 🙂

  8. So wishing our boat was in the water for easy after work jaunts! It will be again someday! You, however, have the added bonus of no engine which in turn allows the incredible experience of having such majestic creatures seek you out. Shame on you for not turning on your engines to abort your course (note the heavy sarcasm please) which in turn could have caused serious damage to those beautiful creatures. Instead, you allowed yourself the pleasure of the gift of the moment. Any level headed, not knee jerk reacting pilot would have done the same. I’m envious.

  9. I was envious, too. I was still at work when he left the dock. When I got off work and found out there were Orcas, I quickly drove down to Ruston Way and stood on the shore of the bay waving madly and looking for fins. He was far across the bay from me by Brown’s Point. I could see the fins behind him, but I was too far to get a good look. Jealousy does not describe the feeling adequately. At least I got to see Moonrise under sail.

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