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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: http://blogs.independent.co.uk/2013/08/05/via-the-world-100-days-alone-on-the-north-pacific-ocean/
Last week I was interviewed by Ben Jackson on BBC Radio Leicester – scroll to 1:06 to hear what I had to say http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01chmny
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.