On the whale trail: Voyage to Eden day 4

Thursday 30 October 2014, 1830 hours

Distance under sail since 1800 yesterday: 31.5 nautical miles

Distance under engine since 1800 yesterday: 31.4 nautical miles

It’s Day 4 of the HMB Endeavour replica’s voyage from Sydney to Eden, and the morning was almost entirely taken up with watching wildlife!

The sightings began at 0930 this morning when a blow was seen off the starboard bow. At first the ‘bushy’ nature of the blow suggested a humpback, but a subsequent blow was at an angle, suggesting another type of whale altogether. Whale spouts vary between species and provide one means of species identification.

Albatross and shearwater from onboard Endeavour. Credit Suzannah Marshall Macbeth

Albatross and shearwater seen from onboard Endeavour. Image SMM.

Our onboard whale expert Geoff Ross then spotted three spouts simultaneously – two large and one small. The whales seemed to be hanging around at the water’s surface for some time and Geoff soon identified them as sperm whales – two adults and a juvenile. As we approached they abruptly sounded – no doubt diving deep into the two kilometres of water under our keel in search of a meal of giant squid.

It sounds like a seafarer’s myth but Geoff assured us that it is true: sperm whales really do dive to depths of up to 3000m in search of giant squid – finding their prey not by sight but, in the darkest reaches of the ocean, using sound. The squid are large enough to fight back, armed with a beak like a parrot and tentacles with suckers that leave large scars on the sperm whale’s hide.

After the sperm whales left us it wasn’t long until we saw dolphins – a pod of at least eight animals passed us half a kilometre away, travelling north as we headed south. Then, in quick succession we saw sunfish (the fin of which was at first confused with a shark), two seals and pygmy sperm whale.

Calm day at sea. Credit Eden Alley-Porter.

Calm day at sea. Credit Eden Alley-Porter.

Around all of these mammals soared the albatross. At first they glided with us for a few minutes, perhaps two or three at any one time, before abruptly disappearing. As the wind dropped almost completely, they began to settle in the water, conserving energy. Geoff told us that a becalmed albatross is very easy to catch, as they are unable to get out of the water and into flight without some wind to give them a lift.

At one stage nine albatross drifted in a group off the starboard bow, binoculars revealing their dark backs and strong beaks. These albatross were black-browed albatross and over the course of the morning we also identified a yellow-nosed albatross.

Floating on the surface of the water at some distance, occasionally disappearing behind a swell, the albatross do not look huge. But once in the air and soaring past us, their size is impressive – and these are not the world’s largest albatross by any means. The most common albatross in this area, the black-browed, has a wingspan of 2.4m. With their large bodies, distinct black, grey and white markings and smooth gliding flight, they are an impressive bird.

While we’ve been kept busy with wildlife this morning and with sail handling this afternoon, the night watches last night were lovely as well. For most of the night, we had a great sail in light airs with four square sails (spritsail, two topsails and the forecourse) and five fore-and-aft sails set. It was a dark night to begin with but the cloud cover cleared shortly before midnight, and without much moon the stars were bright indeed.

Crew working aloft preparing to set sail. Image EAP

Crew working aloft preparing to set sail. Image EAP

One member of mizzenmast watch, Brian, who lives in Eden, said that he loves the night sailing most of all. He’s not a sailor at all – he’s here to experience sailing as Cook might have done. He says that at night, under sail on a calm sea with very few lights on the horizon, it feels that much closer to times long past. On a four hour night watch – which can feel very long indeed when it’s cold and everyone is short on sleep – one’s imagination really can wander.

As day 4 draws to a close, we have just worn ship 1.6 nautical miles off Merimbula Point and are sailing at about four knots. We will be off Twofold Bay around 0930 tomorrow morning, hopefully under sail (wind depending). We expect to go alongside in Snug Cove at 1100 in time for the opening of the Eden Whale Festival.

Endeavour will be open to the public on Saturday and Sunday in Eden and we hope to see you there!

All’s well.

– Suzannah Marshall Macbeth

One thought on “On the whale trail: Voyage to Eden day 4

  1. “On a four hour night watch – which can feel very long indeed when it’s cold and everyone is short on sleep – one’s imagination really can wander.” You’ve captured the feel of a night watch well here. Midnight to 4am is always the killer for me, with only snatches of sleep before and after, and perhaps a cup of tea to look forward to. As you say, there’s a lot of time for thinking, or just wandering.

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