Leigh's 2011 Adventure travel blog

Anne and her dogs come out to say goodbye to Gnorman and...

Jon stands next to the whale watching boat.

This is what a humpback whale looks like (artist's conception).

A young whale blows while his mother swims next to him.

A humpback kicks up his tail as he prepares to dive.

Jon's arty shot of me at the rail, gazing at the twin...

The back of a humpback whale, up for air and getting ready...

A small boat followed us to the whale area.

Denise didn't speak much English, and I don't speak much German, but...

The younger humpback whale waves his long flipper at us.

Plunging to the depths of the ocean.

Michelle, the naturalist who entertained and informed us throughout the voyage.


The whale watch boat was scheduled for sailing at 8:30 sharp, so we said our good-byes and pulled out of Anne's place at 6:30. We beat the worst of the traffic, and arrived in Gloucester, on Cape Ann, at a little before 7:30. Our directions were typically poor, so we stopped at a service station and asked when we got into town, and they pointed us the right way.

We had reserved places online, but still had to go buy our tickets. The ticket seller belonged to the family that ran the operation. She said her brothers were very knowledgeable about the whales, having done this their whole lives. They ran various operations on the boats.

As we were boarding, we met Michelle, the naturalist who explained what we were seeing throughout the trip. We pulled away from the dock and headed out to sea. It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day, and crew and passengers alike were enthusiastic. Our goal was Jeffreys Ledge, northeast of Cape Ann. Cribbed from a website and edited: "Jeffreys Ledge is a 33 mile long, relatively shallow area of ocean which is highly productive for marine life. The shallowness of the Ledge, surrounded by deeper ocean waters, creates an upwelling, making it a very productive, and important, marine habitat." In other words, a good place to find whales.

On the way out, we saw our first whale just off Cape Ann, a minke. It is one of the smaller whales, measuring 20 to 30 feet in length. Just before 10:00, we saw a finback, somewhat larger at 60 to 70 feet. A few minutes later, another minke showed up, and I saw it first.

Jeffreys Ledge is as close as 8 miles from Gloucester, but we spent the best part of two hours getting out to where the humpbacks were. These guys are around 50 feet long, and weigh around 80,000 pounds. We first saw a mother and her mostly-grown offspring (a yearling, more or less), feeding together. They were not going too deep, so we saw quite a lot of them. The juvenile, at one point, rolled on his side and waved his long fluke at us. I, for one, waved back.

We then moved to another site, where we watched a mature male, and then to a third site for another male. They are identifiable by the marks on their tails, by people who know what they are doing. I would rather try to tell sheep apart.

I had quite a time trying to get photographs, because all I brought on this trip was my cell phone camera. It is fine for "Brownie"-type snapshots, but has no long lens, is slow to autofocus and shoot when you push the shutter button, and takes a long time to write to memory, so you basically get one shot. Also, my glasses had darkened and there was a lot of glare from the bright sun, so I couldn't see the "viewfinder" display on the screen at all. I was pleasantly surprised when I got back to discover that I had captured a few tails AND the waving flipper of the juvenile humpback.

In the course of all this sailing, there was a good chance to meet and visit with other passengers. I had a good chat with a couple named Christine and Jeff. He, as it turns out, uses Cognos Business Intelligence tools to analyze SAP data, and has been using Cognos software for many years. Christine was much more normal. I also met a German woman named Denise. Between her limited English and my even more limited German, we managed to have a conversation. Her daughter didn't take well to the sea, so had to go inside and rest. Several other passengers also succumbed to sea-sickness, and didn't have as good a time as the rest of us.

The whole day was superb. The foam in the wake of the boat looked bright and alive, there were seabirds all along our way, and we saw lighthouses and gorgeous scenery closer to the coast. One special treat on the way back was a group of half a dozen dolphins who came to play with the boat. They did formation maneuvers, dove under the boat, and generally put on a show. Unfortunately, I missed most of it because I was deep in conversation in the lounge with Jeff.

When we returned, we had a late lunch at the Gloucester House. Jon opted for Fisherman's Fried Haddock, and I had a Lobster Roll. Expensive, but delicious.

We wandered through the gift shops, chatting about the day with some of our fellow passengers and Michelle the naturalist. Then it was time to turn towards New Hampshire.

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