I can not believe that in my recent summary of our trip from New York to Bermuda, I forgot to mention the single most exciting moment of the entire challenging trip!!
Shortly after exiting the Gulf Stream (about 200nm offshore), I was on watch and bombing along under double-reefed main and a full jib. The wind was aft of the beam and we were flying along at speeds between 9-12 knots. The autopilot was driving, temperatures were up, the rain had stopped and I was enjoying our escape from the East Coast!
And then, at some point, I looked up and saw what looked like a huge (10′ plus) black log floating ahead and slightly to windward of our boat!! There was no doubt in my mind that we were about to smash into this log at speed. There was a slim chance that if I ran aft, disengaged the autopilot and swung the wheel hard to leeward we “might” miss the log.
So, ignoring all my safety rules like clipping into our safety lines when on deck, I sprinted aft, climbed around the wheel, and without looking forward I tried to turn the autopilot off. Unfortunately, I hit the “on” button instead of the “off” button. Damn, no time, I assumed we were about to suffer a massive impact and looked up…
What I saw was that the log was not actually a log, In fact, the log was a whale. A really really really big whale!!
I could see from its fin to its tail and that was at least 10 feet. The whale had been sleeping on the surface and had somehow turned parallel to the boat. As we sailed by it gently dove and as it did, the 6-foot wide tail rose slowly out of the water right next to me. A foot from the boat at most!! I think, had I wanted to, I could have reached out and touched it!!!
Disaster averted!! No thanks to me…
Since arriving in Bermuda and researching Atlantic whales, I’ve become 90% sure that the whale I saw was a Fin Whale. The Fin Whale is the second-largest species on Earth after the blue whale. The largest reportedly grow to 89.6 ft long!
The amazing thing is that I only saw the whale from its fin to its tail and thought it was gigantic. Now, I’ve seen that the fin is typically only one-third of the way forward from the whales’ tail. Two-thirds of the whale was unseen below the surface of the water.