A Whale of a Tale

The day started off lovely enough, sunlight piercing through the thick fog. We motored out of Sausalito with 15 others up against the incoming remnants of ripples from the Japanese tsunami. (Our Pacific Coast excursion took place, literally, the morning after the devastating 2011 event.)Whale Watching, San Francisco, California

Whale Watching, San Francisco, California

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaThe Bay was flat and glassy, and San Francisco stood out like a shining city. Not many boats were traveling through the Golden GateStrait at that early hour, so our voyage beneath the bridge was unmarred by tankers or commercial shipping vessels. The red of the bridge popped against the blue sky and lit up the morning like an HDR photo. While cold—it was 7am in March, after all—the day promised to be gorgeous and a brilliant treat for all of us.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, California

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaOur destination: the Farallon nature reserve, an archipelago of jagged granite 26 miles off the coast of San Francisco. Our intrepid guide:  SF Bay Whale Watching.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaThis veteran eco-tourism company offers trips out to the desolate outcropping of rock off the coast of San Francisco that is home to birds, sea lions, seals, dolphins and other iconic Pacific marine life. Typically on the search for migrating gray, humpback or blue whales, expeditions leave from Gas House Cove Marina at Fort Mason and pass underneath the majestic Golden Gate Bridge on the 27-mile trip out to the islands. Captain Jim Robertson has a crew of trained naturalists that accompany each voyage and will stop the Outer Limits catamaran at the first sign of water spouts on the six- to eight-hour weekend trips.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaGrowing up in the Bay Area, my friends and I had always wanted to drive a zodiac out to these islands, but never gathered the nerve or the gasoline to make the trip. The Farallons are located in the middle of the food chain of the fantastically diverse ecosystem of Northern California. The water is deep, bone cold and fuels incredibly explosions of life along this world-renowned corridor.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaSitting at the apex is a predator we all know—and Kristin loves (*snort*)—the great white. These sharks are fat and have their choice of meals: sea lions, seals and otters—unsuspecting “tourists” aplenty. The Farallons are not accesible to the regular population: They are off-limits to all but scientists, so visiting them on a whale-watching adventure was a rare treat.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaI was soaking up my surroundings and reveling in the surge and rhythmic wave forms of the Pacific as we cruised due west. I turned to Kristin to share the moment, and she whispered to me: “I think I’m going to be sick.”

Whale Watching, San Francisco, California

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaShe promptly threw up into the wind (and into her flowing, long, blonde locks).Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaAs she continued to feed the fish, I reached over and held her hair for her. Because I’m a good husband like that…. Kristin had taken ginger pills and Bonine before our departure, knowing her sensitive stomach might not appreciate eight hours out on the Pacific’s rocky surf, but apparently, it didn’t work.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, California(Before you think me a mean husband, she selected and uploaded all of these photos. At least she has a sense of humor about her…condition.)Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaSo began a day of green skin, green islands and a miserable wife.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaWe didn’t see whales on the trip out to the island—and Kristin didn’t see much of anything as she spent the next couple hours curled up in a ball inside the tiny boat’s cabin or hurling fish food over the side—but we did a few lazy figure eights around the famous Devil’s Teeth and the scenic lighthouse.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, California

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaOn the journey home, we got a lot of tail. Uh, whale tail, that is.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaAnd more tail.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaThe Pacific gray whale is a smallish type of seabourne mammal, but thrilling nonetheless. I had seen its babies frolic amongst the waves and kelp of Santa Cruz on many occasion, but never so close in the open ocean. They are a curious beast and normally will eyeball you so if you’re traveling along the coast, keep a close watch on the ocean.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, California

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaIn all, we saw at least a dozen. The captain said it was the most sightings he had ever seen on one trip. Kristin has notoriously bad luck when it comes to wildlife viewings, so seasickness aside, it looked like her luck was changing for once.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaGray whales are shy, and it’s illegal to follow them, so if you see one, shut off the engine and drift.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, CaliforniaThe whales seemed to perk Kristin up, though, and her color returned to normal with each new barnacle-encrusted fin that surfaced.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, California

Whale Watching, San Francisco, California

Golden Gate Bridge, San FranciscoVisitor’s Tip: Prime season for whale-watching in California falls between December and May when they are migrating, so if heading out to the Bay Area this winter, be sure and plan accordingly.

Whale Watching, San Francisco, California

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Comments ( 43 )

  1. What a TROOPER my sister is!!! And I love your comment about her “…condition” :)

  2. Awwww….holding back her hair. What a gentleman! Heading to SF in January and now you’ve given me the idea to chase some [whale] tail. Great post and pics!

    • Just take lots of seasick meds if prone to motion sickness (overdose, even)! January in SF is usually a brilliant time to be outdoors as it’s the month with some of the sunniest weather and bluest skies.

  3. Love this and I feel her pain. Our whale trip was very similar… almost exactly the same! :) Next time, you and Bob can just go watch the whales and Kristin and I can hang out on land.
    jade recently posted..Cutie Pie That!My Profile

  4. You have no idea how timely this post is! I will be in San Fran Dec 9th week for the first time in 10 yrs with my hubby and we are looking for things to do. This is now on the list. Hopefully no one pukes!
    Danee Sarman (Gilmartin) recently posted..Holiday Giveaway! Giotto Art BookMy Profile

    • Take Bonine, ginger pills and Scopolamine patches, and you will feel like a champ :-) That’s now my Molotov cocktail for motion sickness (actually, the patch alone is usually all I need).

  5. I felt so lucky to get not just a glimpse of a whale but an amazing show when I went on a tour in Patagonia. There are no guarantees, so it’s always wonderful to see something.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Help pick my prints! (part 2 and more chances to win)My Profile

  6. I would love to do something like this! Unfortunately, I get terrible sea sickness just like your wife. :( Hmm maybe I’ll get adventurous and give it a go?!
    Sensibly Sassy recently posted..Made In The USAMy Profile

  7. What a trooper! I get seasick just thinking about being out on open water. She’s a braver woman than I!
    Ris recently posted..Turkey Trot 2012 Race RecapMy Profile

  8. So sorry to hear that you got boat sick! I can totally relate, as I was equally sick on a shark cage diving trip that I went on earlier this year. On the plus side, I was so distracted that I wasn’t scared of the sharks at all 😉 Glad you perked up just in time to see those magnificent whales!
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    • In South Africa? I’ve heard there is no seasickness worse than cage diving there! I thought about going along just to watch the first time I was in SA, until enough peop,e told me they got so sick on the boat, they couldn’t even dive!

  9. I always love SVV posts! When LG’s old enough, we’ll have to take her out there to whale-watch!
    Home Sweet Sarah recently posted..Rules? Where we’re going we don’t need rulesMy Profile

  10. Poor Kristin. That’s such an awful feeling.

    Whale watching is fun. We just had a pod off the shore near our house here in Seattle. They’re heading to Hawaii. Smart whales. Very smart whales.
    Kent @NVR recently posted..Try This At HomeMy Profile

  11. Aside from being insanely jealous about all the whale sightings you guys had, I really feel for you Kristin as I am the worlds worst boat passenger. My seasickness is now so bad that last time I went on board a friends yacht, I started to feel sick while it was tied up in the harbour! I love the sea but hate boats so I know exactly how you feel! Luckily you had all those amazing whales to cheer you up during the trip!
    PS I didn’t notice that this post was written by SVV so when I got to “Growing up in the Bay Area..” I was like ‘huh? I may only be a limey but I’m pretty sure that’s not down South!’ :)

    • Ha! yes, seeing as I didn’t really experience the whale-watching trip to its fullest (understatement), I figured Scott would be better to tell the tale/tail.

  12. being sea-sick is the worst! i was once trapped on a boat for over 5 off the florida keyes. i threw up for most of that time, then passed out on the deck only to get the worst sunburn of my life. honestly i can hardly handle a canoe on a calm lake… which basically means there are no cruises in my future.

    glad you survived and at least got to see a whale for your troubles.

    • I can’t take a ferry without yakking–well, that is until I discovered Scopolamine patches. They are a godsend, and I sailed on the open sea for four months last year without getting sick once thanks to those amazing little things. You should try them sometime!

  13. I have never ever see whales while on a boat looking for whales. I have seen plenty from land from the Pacific Northwest and tons of dolphins from a boat!
    Andi recently posted..Comment on Family by AndiMy Profile

    • I think this was a first for me, too. Well, I’ve seen them from a distance on SAS and our Alaska cruise, but I’ve always failed miserably on actual whale-watching excursions.

  14. This is one of those things that I never got around to doing, but I definitely want to! Someday…
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  15. Looks like such a good time. Despite growing up on the East Coast of Canada where you can go whale watching I don’t think I have ever done it. I’ve seen a lot of animals but not a single whale.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Why I turned my back on AppleMy Profile

  16. I am so jealous of your tail shots! I went on a whale watch in Iceland and had such high hopes, but alas we only got a few glimpses of their backs. Not quite the same impact!
    Alex recently posted..Photo of the Week 77My Profile

    • My first whale-watching adventure was in Iceland, and not only did I also puke then, but we saw ZERO whales, despite the company’s alleged 99% success rate!

  17. I once went parasailing in San Diego & I was so totally sick by the time I was about to be sent, I was puking all over the ocean. So I can totally understand what Kristin went through!

    P.S Yet even after all the excessive throwing up, I still made it. That experience was amazing!
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  18. Shaun gets horrifyingly sick too! It is nice when you can have humor about it though. Good for you!
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  19. Love this whale tale. Do you think I would be crazy to visit the Farallon’s in a RIB (rigid inflatable boat? It seats 12 passengers, so pretty small boat. So far, I don’t get sea sick.

    • I love this idea in theory but it is quite far out there so be prepared for that. If the weather is clear you might have a nice cruising day. If there is even a hint of swell to the ocean.. blech. :-) It took about 1.5 hrs to get to the islands in a large fishing boat. I’ve been in a RIB before and they vary in comfort depending on configuration. Navy Seal style or tour boat operator style (with row seats)?

  20. Andrew and I are whale obsessed. We got lucky and saw a huge group of them cruising Alaska in 2010, and then went whale watching in Boston earlier this year and it was mostly awful. The water was super, super rough and I spent the last hour or so breathing deeply and swallowing sips of water and we didn’t see any whales, other than an occasional puff of water from one far off in the distance. It was rough day.
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  21. Those tail shots gave me goosebumps! I have never seen one, leave aside 12. :)

  22. I always want to see or watch a whale but I guess I am planning to be swimming with it in the Philippines probably next year!
    Lyndsay/ Discount Travel Blogger recently posted..Boat Ride at Thale Noi’s Waterbird ParkMy Profile

  23. I love this ‘A Whale of a tale’, amazing travel and good photos. I too plan to travel San Francisco.


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