Hiya! Those of you who follow me on Facebook, Twitter, here on this blog, or who have read my novels in my Quintspinner series (you’re my – ahem – favorites by the way) will know that the series is set in the historical setting of the West Indies of the early 1700’s.
Tropical islands. Shipwrecks. Pirates.
All of those things that bring to mind to romance and excitement of Pirates of the Caribbean or of the old Errol Flynn movies.
When I considered writing the series, that’s about all that I had in mind. I didn’t realize that the historical genre is considered by many in the writing sphere to be one of the hardest genres to write in, as it requires not only a great story and captivating characters, but also an accurate portrayal of life in the time era in which the writer has chosen to set his/her story. And what did a prairie girl like me know about sailing the seven seas? Well mostly that I liked being on the water and that I wasn’t particularly prone to sea sickness. However, it did soon occur to me that I had had more than just a few real-life adventures of my own to draw from, and since I am frequently asked about such events, I’m going to share these stories in a mini-series right here!
ADVENTURE #1 – THE ORCA ENCOUNTER (Or “A Whale of An Adventure!”)
“Whale Watching off the Sunny Coast of Vancouver Island” the glossy brochure proclaimed. I thought that sounded like the perfect blend of holiday and excitement, and of course, it promised to provide the mandatory (in my mind) educational component. Our family of eight and a friend of my stepson’s were all going to be on Vancouver Island for a week in July, and I was looking for quality ways to spend our time there.
“Quality,” in my mind, meant something new and different, usually something that the kids would never have done on their own. Whale watching from a dinghy seemed to fit the bill.
Pods of Orcas, commonly known as “Killer whales,” swam around the tip of Vancouver Island, a few miles off shore, every summer, and enterprising sailors turned the opportunity into a summer tourist bonanza. Pictures in the brochure showed a boat tethered at the pier, full of smiling people looking up at the camera — it certainly was no action shot, but it was something that all of us could do together, given that there was a wide range in the children’s age from eight to sixteen.
My sons groaned and rolled their eyes when I handed out the tickets. “Do we have to do this?” they whined, “Couldn’t we just meet you back here in a couple of hours? What fun is sitting in a smelly boat all afternoon going to be? I betcha’ it’ll stink like rotting fish. You won’t like that, Mom. And look, it doesn’t even look like there’s enough room in it to get up and move around.”
“Attendance is not optional,” I replied, “These are not ordinary whales, you know. These are Orcas.”
“Yeah, but there’s no guarantee we’ll even see any,” my son pointed out, “It says so in this stupid pamphlet right here.” And he stabbed his finger at it.
“I don’t see why we had to get up so early just to come here,” my stepson complained, “when we’re just going to fall back asleep during the boat ride anyway.”
“If nothing else, time together in this small, smelly boat will allow all of us to bond, my darlings,” I replied with a tight smile, hoping that the look in my eyes would tell them that the discussion had ended.
At the dock, the oversized Zodiac raft looked safe enough. It was no more than a glorified dinghy with a couple of small motors attached to the back and four wooden seats spanning its width. We were fitted with bright orange full-body life preserver suits by the “captain” and his helper.
“Phew!” my daughter gasped, “These smell worse than the boat, and they are way too hot!” She pulled hers off her shoulders and peeled it down to her waist.
“No one goes,” the captain bellowed, “until everyone has their suits on, right up to the last snap and zipper!” My daughter reluctantly pulled hers up again.
“Thank God, no one will see us in these things,” my stepdaughter, pouted.
This “Whale Watching” expedition was quickly turning into a teenager’s nightmare – being forced to wear really uncool clothes, having a crabby guy in charge who yelled at them, and having absolutely nothing to do but sit still, crammed together shoulder to shoulder while listening to him for the next two hours.
The nine of us, as well as three strangers, climbed into the boat, all decked out in the snazzy, tangerine full-body life preserver suits. We joked about being “astronauts” and “Pillsbury Dough boys in Hallowe’en costumes,” and the boys jostled for the outside seats on the benches.
Outside the harbour, the captain opened up the motors and we tore into the ocean waves, all of us bouncing wildly about in the boat. This part of the ride was exhilarating enough that even my teenagers, who were usually too “cool” to get excited about much, hung on for dear life.
We were about a half an hour into our boat ride, with the shoreline having disappeared from sight, when our captain yelled, “There they are!” He pointed to the ocean horizon where we could just make out several spouting geysers amid tiny points of black dorsal fins.
He carefully maneuvered our boat through the four-foot waves, to a spot just ahead of the traveling pod and then killed the motor. He explained that it was provincial law that boats had to maintain a certain distance from all known marine life when their motors were running. Sitting with “dead” motors allowed us to be legally closer to the whales.
Even the boys were paying attention now. One Orca surfaced about 20 feet from our boat, spouted and dove. Everyone in the boat cheered with excitement. Even from 20 feet away the Orcas looked enormous.
Without warning, our boat shuddered and the starboard side shot out of the water. Grabbing the seats to keep ourselves from sliding sideways, we screamed as a mountainous wall of glistening black dorsal fin rose out of the water, tilting our boat and pushing the starboard side even higher.
One second later, a waterfall of freezing ocean water crashed down upon us, nearly swamping our boat, as the huge Orca spouted and then dove under the boat, bumping it again as it passed beneath.
“BAIL! For God’s sake, BAIL!” the captain roared at us, and we desperately grabbed for the plastic containers tied to the seats. Ocean water sloshed up to our knees. The captain started the motors and we bailed as fast as we could.
He steered the boat back in the direction that we had come from and we roared away from the spot. We were all still shaking from the adrenaline rush when, a few moments later, the motors whined, sputtered, and died.
“Oh no! We’ve sucked in kelp! The motors are plugged!” the captain yelled. He radioed our position to the coast guard while we continued to madly bail out the boat.
Drenched as we were, and in the ocean wind, our hands soon cooled to the point that it was difficult to hold onto the bailing containers. The orange suits that we had earlier joked about were now conserving our body temperatures, as we sat huddled together, awaiting rescue.
As the captain continued to work feverishly on the motors, we were blown towards a rocky crag that rose out of the water. Land! Even though it was covered in sea bird droppings and smelled horrible, it looked good to me, but not so to our captain. “If we hit that, it’ll puncture the boat and likely capsize us,” he warned. “Be ready to jump into the water!”
As we veered towards its edge, a seeming miracle happened: one motor sputtered back to life. Ever so slowly, we made our way around the rocky crag and back towards the shore.
An hour later, we spilled from the Zodiac and onto firm dry land, our eyes stinging and our faces coated white from the ocean salt. Back at their office, as we wearily hung up our orange suits, I noticed their motto printed in large black letters on a wall poster. It said, “Our Adventure Tours – More Than You Could Ever Hope For!” No kidding.
Stay tuned for next week’s installment:
Up Close and Personal With Creatures of the Deep
(Ahem, attention please: the above is a true story. You’ll find several similar adventures in my Quintspinner series, most of it fictional, except of course, for the parts that are real. You’ll have to figure out which is which for yourself. And you can get started on that adventure right here! http://amzn.to/1kLuqi9
G’wan. You know you wanna’. It helps me fund my next fishing trip. Thanks for reading.