Whale cruise in Australia an eye-opener
BRISBANE, Australia » I'm in Australia preparing my boat, Honu, for our next big adventure: Mexico's Baja Peninsula.
I'm not sailing her there. Honu will be riding on the deck of a ship built for that purpose. Going thousands of miles upwind this way is much easier on Honu, and certainly on me, but getting ready for the ride has been as much work as any other voyage.
Since I arrived, I've repaired, purchased, scrubbed, telephoned and arranged until one day, when I couldn't loosen a crucial bolt, I hit the wall.
Being a captain is too hard, I thought, throwing down my wrench. I'm not strong enough. I'm too girly. I should just go on other people's boats to enjoy the animals.
So I bought a ticket for a day of whale-watching.
The boat, named Eye Spy, was a 100-foot long catamaran and only 4 years old. After admiring the luxurious vessel, I climbed to the top deck to watch someone else do the work.
A beautiful blonde with flowers in her hair tossed and coiled the thick mooring lines with ease while another attractive woman, also wearing flowers and lots of gold jewelry, stepped to the outside control station and began maneuvering the huge boat out of the mooring.
Great crew, I thought. They're so good the captain lets them drive the boat.
The woman driving donned a Madonna-style microphone, and as we approached the whale area, she told us about Australia's humpbacks.
About 10,000 of these migratory whales, the same species as those that winter in Hawaii, come each year from their summer feeding grounds in Antarctic waters to mate and give birth in Australia's warm waters.
Whalers killed 95 percent of this population in the past, but the species is recovering by about 10 percent per year.
"The whales know we're friendly and are comfortable around Eye Spy," the woman said. "Her engines and propellers were specially designed for whale-watching."
We soon spotted a pod in the distance, but I wasted my time snapping pictures. I'd been skeptical when she said it, but those whales did seem to know and like the boat. They swam to the side and proceeded to play around us for two unbelievable hours. Three whales were so close I smelled their fish-breath.
The huge humpbacks turned upside down, showing their brilliant white bellies, and thrilled us over and over with waves of their enormous pectoral fins and patterned flukes. Maybe they weren't really playing and waving, but it didn't matter. It was the best humpback whale experience I've ever had.
Mesmerized by the show, I passed on lunch to continue watching. After the other passengers went inside, I noticed the same woman was still driving the boat. Down to the bridge deck I went. Her name tag said, "Kerry. Captain."
Kerry Lopez, it turns out, is not only the captain of Eye Spy; it's her boat. She designed it and started the business. And as we chatted, Kerry told me something that lifted my spirits sky high: She always sails with her engineer.
I don't feel too bad about my sexist assumption that Kerry was crew. During my four years of cruising, I met only three female captains. Kerry makes four. And although some days I feel discouraged and frustrated, I'm proud to say that I make five.
You can see Kerry and her boat at www.brisbanewhalewatching.com.