Cetacea Incognita

We were approaching the area where the North Atlantic ocean floor rises up to meet the continental shelf, just South of the Grand Banks, which are even shallower. The geography of the sea floor and the meeting of the Labrador Current and the remnants of the Gulf Stream create an upwelling of nutrient rich waters that support the entire food chain of the ocean. 

It was a warm and sunny day, and I was lolling in the cockpit reading a book about the greatest mapmaker in the age of discovery, Gerard Mercator. I was deep within mid 1500s northern Europe, where there was famine, plague, pestilence, wars and Christians being tortured and burned at the stake for their beliefs (by other Christians). Starving refugees roamed the countryside and filled the surviving cities. Arks were being built at various locations across the northern tier of the continent. Many of the most educated and brilliant in the population, including Mercator himself, were convinced the end of the world was at hand. Just as the red hot poker of the Inquisition threatened our hero, I was jerked backed to the 21st century. 

“Hey Doug, can you take our picture?” It was Susan, holding their Point and Pray digital snapshot camera out to me. I blinked hard, the abrupt transition from torture dungeons lit by flickering torches to the cloudless skies and bare, unbroken horizon of the empty ocean momentarily disorienting. 

 “Sure, be glad to,” I replied. I had carefully neglected to mention my past careers as professional shooter and recent year of travel photography, along with my intermittent progress on my book about the latter. I had not brought along any real cameras, and as of yet, hadn’t even pulled out my own digital snapshot camera that had ridden around the world in my motorcycle jacket pocket, even though we were more than six days into the passage. On this trip, I wanted to focus, no pun intended, on the holistic experience of a long, ocean spanning passage and not be constantly thinking about lighting, angles, balance, composition and shooting opportunities. I took Susan’s camera and followed her and Dirk out to the foredeck, where Spencer, our other crewmate, was already enjoying the beautiful day, camped out near the forestay. 

Dirk and Susan took a good pose on the cabin top in the challenging mid-day light as I turned on the fill flash to compensate for the resulting harsh shadows. Just as I raised the camera to frame them up, Spencer shouted “whales!” I instinctively looked off the bow just in time to see a smooth slick and a rippled outline where something had just descended. The rectangle of ripples was as big as a semi-trailer and we sailed right through it. 

Susan yelled, “there!” and pointed to starboard. 

For the rest of the story see the PDF document at: