Wednesday, July 25, 2012


We'll make this a quickie and get right to the meat of the matter: A few days ago I strayed, found myself in the arms of another, and it felt kinda good.

Those of you who know me know that my decision to do so was not taken lightly, as for two decades now I've been faithful to my one and only: the Oceanic Society. Yup, we're talking about the ocean, the Pacific Ocean specifically, and getting out on the ocean to commune with those fabulous beasts that call the ocean home.

My relationship with the non-profit, San Francisco-based Oceanic Society began way back in 1989, I think, and since then I've been signing up for their 8-hour, summertime, naturalist lead trips to the Farallon Islands and beyond pretty much like clockwork. I'm hopelessly hooked. Smitten. So in love with what they do and how they do it that sometimes I fork over the cash and hop on board twice a year.

Recently, however, my buddy Keith and I drove an hour and forty-five minutes south to the funky seaside settlement of Moss Landing, halfway between Santa Cruz and Monterey town. It's there one finds the departure point for Sanctuary Cruises, a small boat operation that, quite frankly, gets it done on Monterey Bay.

Like many of you, several weeks ago I'd started to read online and in the newspaper accounts of what we'll call Unparalleled Upwelling 2012 (please refer to my previous post for a refresher course on the marine phenomenon). Unlike many of you, tho, I immediately began to fantasize over the reported, and almost unprecedented, animal sightings in Monterey Bay: forty or so blue whales out there, scores of breaching and lunge-feeding humpbacks, fin whales, the occasional orca, enormous mola mola (ocean sunfish), a leatherback sea turtle, a basking shark. All hanging out on the surface because their food source was at the surface and all in sunny, calm conditions, allowing lucky landlubbers a superb opportunity to watch them do what they do do.

I've had my heart set on a Monterey Bay whale watch for a while now, but life in general and other high seas adventures in particular - you know who you are - had always (coitus) interrupted the master plan. This year, once I began to learn of the action down there, I knew the time was nigh.  Still, it took me two weeks to get my shit together and schedule the time to make it happen. I'm happy I did, but I should'a dropped everything and gone sooner.

After check-in and a safety briefing we slowly puttered out of the harbor, delighted with the lack of that pesky petroleum smell as Sanctuary is the only boat on the bay powered by biodiesel. Not twenty minutes into our sea voyage the boat suddenly slowed (always a good sign), veered right, and the captain picked up the loudspeaker: "We've got a leatherback turtle at 3 o'clock." Leatherbacks are the largest of the sea turtles, and they're rare. I'd never seen one before and had to stifle myself from actually jumping up and down. Instead I smacked Keith on the arm and quickly made my way to the side of the boat. Turned out to be a masquerading sea lion; a bit of a disappointment, but nonetheless our whole ocean-top tryst with Sanctuary was a blast. Highly recommended. The day was foggy but winds calm. Our boat and Captain Brian were able and accommodating, and Giancarlo, our young but versed naturalist for the day, was a hoot. Alas the big blues have unfortunately moved on for the time being, and we spotted none, nor any basking sharks. But there were humps (humpbacks) everywhere, spouting and fluking and even breaching very near the boat, several graceful black-footed albatross, plus harbor seals, bottle-nosed dolphins, sea otters, red-throated phalaropes, murres, pelicans, sooty shearwaters and the ubiquitous, noisy and acrobatic California sea lion.

It was a lovely affair, and I'll certainly head back down for one more romp on the water with Sanctuary before the 2012 season is history. You should as well, especially if a trip to the Farallones seems overwhelming: too long, too intense, the water and weather too unpredictable. Won't get to see the fabled islands, the Devil's Teeth as their called, but you'll no doubt have a grand day out on the mighty Pacific. The road trip to Moss Landing is a lovely one, the area is of course beautiful, the 4-hour trips are a worthwhile $50 (sometimes longer if everyone on board is in cahoots), and the undersea drop off (into submarine Monterey Canyon, where a lot of the action takes place) is much closer to shore than than it is off the Golden Gate. An added delight is the chance to observe lots of charming California sea otters on their home turf (so to speak), an animal you don't see on trips out of San Francisco.

I'll leave you with a link to the Sanctuary Cruises website, which contains all sorts of cool information about what they do, where they do it, and a Captain's Log that details recent trips and sightings, including those extraordinary couple of weeks in late June and early July 2012:

Oh...and one other website. Sanctuary may be my new mistress, my new secret paramour, but the Oceanic Society is still my main squeeze:

As promised, that's it. Outta here.

Peter J. Palmer

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