Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Boat vs Whale

A couple of days ago a sailboat named "Luffin It" entered the harbor under tow. It was a Pearson 367, a 36 foot cruising cutter that is slightly larger than the Honcho. I have downloaded a couple of photos of a sistership, which I got from Yachtworld.com to give you a sense of the size and shape of this boat. Or you can visit this web site for a lot more information on it: http://www.yachtworld.com/core/listing/boatMergedDetails.jsp?boat_id=2013084&ybw=&units=Feet&currency=USD&access=Public&listing_id=1644&url=
Pearson 367
Sistership to Luffin It
Luffin It was leaving Bahia Tenacatita a few days ago when it came into contact with a whale. The result was a severely damaged boat and what I can only speculate was an unhappy whale. Fortunately, aside from a few bumps and minor bruises, there were no injuries to the couple onboard, and no visible injuries to the whale.
The whale's tale was apparently caught between the keel and rudder. The bronze strut is about 1/2" thick and was bent nearly 90 degrees

I spoke to the owners about their experience and looked at the boat after it was hauled out at the La Cruz Shipyard. They were under sail around 1530, moving at a slow 3-4 knots on a course taking them out of the anchorage at Tenacatita, headed toward Chamela when the whale apparently attempted to surface, unaware that there was a boat above it. They felt the boat heave upward and thought at first that they had run aground, but then immediately saw the whale close alongside with its tail apparently still under the boat and caught between the keel and rudder. In its effort to free itself it flapped its tail several times before swimming away. It left the boat with a bent propeller shaft and strut, a chunk missing from the rudder, and structural cracks in the hull. This is what was visible from the outside. The owner told me that the internal damage was extensive. Many of the internal bulkheads and floor timbers were displaced as the hull flexed, knocking the head loose, jamming doors and drawers, and other damage. They immediately broadcast a mayday on their VHF radio and within minutes other cruisers in Tenacatita came to their aid. They got the leaks under control and eventually made it to La Cruz, partly under their own power and partly under tow.  You can read their firsthand account of the incident on their blog: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/luffinit/?xjMsgID=164231

We don't usually wear lifejackets when we're sailing in light air and flat seas, and the crew of Luffin It weren't either. Fortunately neither of them went overboard, but it's a reminder that you never know when a life threatening emergency will occur, and it's good policy to wear your PFD all the time. I don't plan to do that but we'll keep them at the ready in the cockpit in the future.

Whale sightings are very common in these parts this time of year. I can't count how many times we've been sailing along on a perfectly peaceful sea when suddenly a whale comes rocketing out of the water like a submarine launched cruise missile within a couple hundred yards of the boat. There is no warning, just an explosion of white water and a whale's head 20 or 30 feet out of the water. Such displays inspire lots of respect from us. I did some searching on the Internet regarding how much power resides in a whale's flukes and could not find an answer but it is clearly an enormously powerful animal, as the encounter between Luffin It and the whale shows.

How can sailboats safely travel upon seas that are also home to these magnificent animals? Aboard the Honcho we take a few precautions, but I don't think there is any reasonable way to prevent all accidental contacts with whales. During the nighttime hours we frequently run the diesel engine whether or not we have sails up. The hours of darkness are a good time to charge batteries, run the watermaker, etc. and I think the engine noise might help to let the whales know we're in the neighborhood. Some people play music instead of running the engine. At any rate, I'm fairly confident that sailboat/whale collisions are very rare, and most likely accidental. Still, it's something to think about as we share the ocean with them.

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