Updated: Oct 3, 2020
A fisherman's unexpected encounter with one of nature's sentient beings.
Gloucester is one of the oldest fishing ports in the United States. Many tall tales make their introduction from the bow of a vessel leaving Gloucester. These days the fishing fleet is smaller than it was during the 1960s and 1970s when the ocean seemed to have an endless bounty. The beauty and grace of Gloucester Harbor have changed very little. Ten pound Island sits quietly and the breakwater greets all those that enter the harbor.
On this particular trip, we left port at 2:00 am and began our 12-hour steam to the fishing grounds. The 42’ Bruno steamed along loaded with fuel and ice, breaking waves as we made our way. After a while, the diesel engine takes on a hum that almost disappears from conscious thought. I drifted in and out of sleep with the motion of the boat. Unexpectedly a storm was brewing off the coast. As they say in New England if you like or don’t like the weather just wait a minute and it will change. High winds picked up followed by big seas and relenting rain. If you’ve ever tried to maintain your balance on a trampoline while a 400lb person was jumping up and down on it you may have been standing next to me on the boat while I cut bait. This was quickly turning into a trip I felt would last forever. After 3 days of steady fishing in the worst of conditions, the weather broke. Streams of sunlight broke the clouds, the wind died down, and soon after the sea began to calm. 6’ rollers were a pleasant sight compared to what we had endured for days.
After hauling back all the gear, miles of long-line, we ripped fish and packed them on ice for the last time. I was the first man on watch while the crew caught up on sleep. I took our heading, back to Gloucester and settled in for the ride. Not long after starting our trip home, a family of blue whales appeared. They are easily identified due to their large size, color, and grace. I slowed to a crawl and watched as they disappeared beneath the sea. Hopeful they would return I slowed to a stop and shifted into neutral. Moments later the 42' Bruno was being lifted out of the sea and rolling from side to side in a slow gentile manner. The blue whale was scratching its back on the bottom of our boat. I was so excited I yelled and laughed which woke up the crew or perhaps it was the unusual rocking motion of a boat not underway. I was joined on deck by others equally amazed and excited at the sight of such a magnificent creature close enough to touch.
After what must have been sufficient scrubbing the massive creature rolled to one side looking right at us as if to say thank you. With the gentile flick of a tail, we all waved goodbye. Now with adrenaline flowing through our veins, there was no going back to sleep. We talked for hours about the most amazing experience at sea any of us had ever had. I of course embellished about my time with the whale until waking everyone up with my excitement.
The storm behind us, an incredible interaction with one of nature’s amazing creatures, and a boat full of fish would make for stories few would believe. I couldn’t sleep and stayed at the helm for hours. I felt incredibly fortunate, how many people have an experience like this
almost 200 miles offshore. Time flew by and soon land was in sight. As much as I love the
ocean, I’m always happy to see the lighthouse.