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.)
The 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.
Our 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.
This 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.
Growing 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.
Sitting 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.
I 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.”
She promptly threw up into the wind (and into her flowing, long, blonde locks).As 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.
(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.)So began a day of green skin, green islands and a miserable wife.
We 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.
The 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.
In 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.