Day 103: My neighbours are wild & I love it

Tuesday was a wildlife feast. In fact the further north I go, the more fellow ocean travellers I seem to bump into, sometimes quite literally.

I wish I had flippers like that

I wish I had flippers like that

While finishing my lunch I heard a clunk at the front of the boat and moments later  recognised the shining tan brown humped shield of one of my all-time favourites, a sea turtle. I am not well versed enough to know which of the species (is there five or is there seven?) it is, and annoyingly I don’t have an ID guide out here. The only one I could positively identify it as not being is a leatherback, for they are standalone in their take on being a sea turtle.  Nonetheless, even though I would love to know more of its habits and range and life history, I don’t need to know exactly who I am looking at to appreciate that this is a beautiful animal in form and function, perfectly adapted to a life on the waves, with more sea miles under its flippers than I could ever imagine seeing in my lifetime. My mind boggles at the ocean travellers he bumps into on his rounds. Even without a book to guide me, just observation (both from above and below water with the help of my Go Pro camera) allows me to learn and question and wonder at all those things, teaching me more vividly than a book could ever hope to.  It is exactly why I wanted to make this journey.

A wave surfed the turtle in towards the boat allowing this shot

A wave surfed the turtle in towards the boat allowing this shot

After a couple of minutes watching each other, he turned on his shell and swam off at what I can only imagine to be breakneck speed, wondering perhaps at this oared beast he had just been bumped by. The two big tuna who had raced out to meet him and then, it seemed, harangue him for whatever he was eating (which looked like some kind of jellied drifter, forming a whitish moustache) or perhaps they were after a nibble of the weed on his shell, slid back to the boat and resumed their positions as rear-side flankers, stagging out for others who happened to cross our path, sentinels of our fish-cum-boat caravan. They intrigue me, these beautiful fish and I am very glad of their company ever since their tiny predecessors ‘The Yellowtails’ left us a few days ago, I guess because we have come so far north, or perhaps they found someone they preferred.

Mr Tuna

Mr Tuna

This big tuna – from now on called Mr Tuna  – and his slightly smaller compadres seem very wary of me, shrinking back beneath the hull if my shadow appears over them or my camera appears near them. They get brave at night when, lined up alongside the boat with the remaining grey fish, all of them glowing silver, the tuna bullet-like and apparently all of them less afraid to being a bit further from our side. It has been a happy pleasure the last few mornings to come outside for the first time and look down to see the bright blue back and striking yellow arrow-shaped tail keeping time by our heel. I hope he stays around awhile.

Open-mouthed, these fellas followed us for some minutes

Open-mouthed, these fellas followed us for some minutes

Less than an hour before the turtle, I had noticed two flailing  brownish fins flipping and gyrating at the water line, as though waving flags. There is often a moment when a sunfish fin inspires sharky thoughts, but a glance beneath the water to see whether we were  looking at the torpedo shadow of a shark or the somehow short-changed half-shape of a sunfish, confirmed that it was in fact two of the latter.   As intrigued by the boat as I was by them, they turned and followed us, mouths open, dorsal and ventral fins wriggling determinedly to keep up with us as the surf pushed us along. I never knew they travelled in any other way than solo and wondered what the relationship was – mates, in either sense of the word; parent/sibling or just randomers whose path happened to cross by serendipity.  I am growing rather fond of sunfish – that look of surprise, gormlessness and wide-mouthed interest all in one is really rather endearing, not to mention the fact that this last pair actually turned around to follow us. There is no such thing as alone on this ocean, even if my companions can’t all talk back.

Laysan albatross soaring

Laysan albatross soaring

As I tap away at my keyboard looking out across the waves through my hatch, there is a Laysan albatross paddling into the wind to stay alongside us, checking us out. A few minutes ago I heard a blow close to the boat and nipped outside to the worst bad breath I have ever smelled, and was happily rewarded by the broad black back of a whale rolling over the water with a gentle ‘Oooooooofffffharrrumph’ as it filled its lungs ready for a dive. Not to mention the couple of pods of  dolphins  – common, I think – who have bounced past en route to who-knows-where in the last few hours.

It’s not just the big guys who interest me

It’s not just the big guys who interest me

And these are all as normal to me as the birds in the garden at home would be had I been there and not here for the past 100 odd days. Normal does not mean unspecial, however – I still live for these moments, lapping them up in eager delight and curiosity like a child, my mind abuzz with questions. This is the best classroom I have ever had – nature always is. And my shout to you is that you make it yours too, and that of your children and grandchildren. Get outside, open your eyes, watch, listen, wonder. (Or keep doing so if this is already you!)

Thanks to everyone who has donated to the L2L charities – Coppafeel!, Jubilee Sailing Trust, MND Association and WaterAid. You can do so by clicking here – all very much appreciated, and for now we are giving a very cool L2L Buff for every donation over £20.

Until next time,

Sarah, Happy Socks and all my wild teachers x


My latest blog for the Independent:

Last week I was interviewed by Ben Jackson on BBC Radio Leicester – scroll to 1:06 to hear what I had to say

Replies to comments:

I love the very international range of blog readers – most of the continents covered, I think.

Rob Hart: North is good, so long as I don’t go too far north!  We are good for now.

Ray Girard: Mum is doing well thanks Ray. Coping admirably, as always and a big support.

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15 Responses to Day 103: My neighbours are wild & I love it

  1. h says:

    What an amazing variety of friends you’ve met along your journey. It must be so incredible to see these things living in their natural habitat. I imagine it really does make you feel part of the sea yourself when you see these things. Just amazing!

  2. Valerie Hazan says:

    What wonderful photos, Sarah, and quite a lyrical blog too! I had never realised that tunas could actually have facial expressions. I hope indeed that Mr Tuna stays around..Happy rowing!

  3. Gigi Walentiny says:

    Ahh…the photos!! They are like a gift – thank you!!

    And please tell me there will be a book about this world adventure! I so enjoyed your first one!

    ~Gigi in Va. Beach

  4. Pete Casey says:

    Nice blog Sarah! And great photos, good to see you have many visitors. Be them only sea creatures and birds. I think us humans all benefit from interacting with some of the amazing different forms of life we share this world with! Thanks for sharing!

  5. Sea turtles are classified in the Class Reptilia, Subclass Anapsida and Order Testudines. There are seven recognized species of sea turtles, six of which (the hawksbill, green, flatback, loggerhead, Kemp’s ridley and olive ridley turtles) are in the Family Cheloniidae, with only one (the leatherback) in the Family Dermochelyidae. All seven species of sea turtles are listed under the Endangered Species Act.

  6. Alan says:

    You write in such an interesting way, Sarah. I prefer text to speech, although really, it is a treat to receive both!! Thank you for sharing your most interesting journey!
    Vancouver Island, BC

  7. Karel says:

    Great To See and read that you are enjoying your friends out there,keep posting ,I’ll try to talk to the wind to keep you going in the direction you want.

  8. June says:

    My dear Sarah what wonderful photographs and your graphic description of the ‘friends’ you are meeting
    on the way are heart-warming. Maybe it is me but not sure what the last picture depicts – sorry.
    Happy observations, good wishes, June

  9. Ray Girard says:

    I love these low-contrast, almost-one-colour shots underwater. They give a lonely, mid-ocean feel and show the unadulterated existence of these amazing creatures. Keep ’em coming!

    Wind & waves at your back, courageous princess,


  10. Christine & Kathleen says:

    Hi Sarah

    What a lovely report and with those wonderful pictures we too can enjoy, As I have said before what next, We are with you all of the way and its good to know you have the animals etc for company.

    Happy Rowing and all good wishes

    C & K

  11. lesley says:

    after seeing a fishing show on which they catch and releaase everything they were talking about the importance of tagging marine spedcies it would be interesting to find out for instance if your turtle friend came from anywhere near Australia they do breed on various parts of the coast and once I was fishing off some rocks ond one swam past By the way in other rowing news TRIO and Maxim Chaya and friends made it to Maritus and broke 2 records in the process first 3 man crew to do it and fastest time I hope it is on your agenda after LtOL of course Im sure of two things one it wouldnt take you 6 months and would be safer.and warmer.Lots of love and keep rowing and safe Lesley

  12. Bruce Ellen says:

    Hi Sarah
    Glad to see that you are on a more continuous easterly course and have not had to waltz around the same
    spot like before you crossed over those sea mounts.
    Are you feeding the fishes and do you have a barbeque on board to process the seafood if required.
    Keep up the photos.
    Keep on rowing
    DONT stop rowing.
    Do you remember the rest of the words ?.

    Stay safe and take it as it comes
    Bruce from sunny Queensland.

  13. Susie Hewson says:

    flabbergasted by the beautiful wildlife that you are showing us Sarah…what a holiday package this is that you are on…opps forgot myself then. So glad that the weather is being nice to Happy Socks and you are making good progress. Keep sending the images and your wise words on behalf of the wonderful inhabitants of the Pacific xxx

  14. Good to see such fantastic recent progress Sarah. It looks to me as if you’re approaching the halfway mark -or am I mistaken? That will be a psychologically great moment, as the rest will be ‘all downhill!’

    If the Happy Socks community could be likened to a Pacific Panto then we all need to learn the albatros for “it’s behind you”! Do tell us if you find out what that is 🙂

  15. Andrew Newton says:

    A fantastic post – with great pictures – I have had this printed off and posted up for the children at Future Hope, so that they have an update of your journey.

    The interview that you did for them has just been published in their school magazine (the ‘Tiger’) – I have sent you a PDF Copy via you email and via the office e-mail in UK (You can link to a copy on the Future Hope Website – – if you want to). You will be proud to know that you have been awarded Future Hope’s first ever ‘Special Tiger Award’ for your courage and for being an inspiration for the children : Congratulations !

    Although my challenge for this year was very minimal by comparison to yours, you might be interested to hear that I did manage to complete the full 100 miles in four days over the Brecon’s / Black Mountains (it was a hard slog but worthwhile – I also saw lots of great wildlife on my trip including a majestic pair of red kites circling over the mountain ridges on a brilliantly sunny afternoon).

    Best wishes

    Andrew Newton

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