On-board Diary: Crossing Almerimar - Seco de Palos

Author: Alex van de Meeberg
Date: July 16, 2010



Today began with preparations for the crossing: last minute shopping, paying the bills, returning the keys to the toilets and showers - and taking the last normal shower for seven days:-)

The plan for the coming week is to work with the ROV at Seco de Palos, 30 miles east of Cabo de Palos. It would take 20 hours to get from Almerimar to our point of destination, so we left at 11h00 sharp in order to arrive at 07h00 tomorrow to start working at first light.

As we left the harbour, the sea was as smooth as mirror and it started to be a little foggy. Although the sun wasn´t clear in the sky, it was hot – really hot, all day long - and without any wind.  Actually, when we slowed down a little, there was a bit of wind coming right from the back, but at the regular cruising speed of the Ranger, no wind was noticeable at all.

During the days and nights of crossings, the crew stands guard for 3 hour shifts every 12 hours. Mario and I were on watch from 3 till 6. With foggy conditions it´s important to keep track of the radar and other equipment like AIS (Automatic Identification System), to monitor boats passing around us. We also have to be vigilant and keep a lookout with a pair of binoculars for those vessels that don´t have this equipment and therefore don´t show up on ours.

In addition to keeping track of other vessels, we always try to look out for any animal activity that there might be. But we saw nothing all day - no sunfish, not even a flying fish. The afternoon watch went very smoothly and the only thing we had to worry about was the sun, which returned in force and where to get the most shade and the slightest bit of a breeze.

After our watch we got out of the sun as quickly as possible, but my bunk was to hot, so I ended up watching a documentary on a laptop in the mess room. At around 20h00 I laid on the net at the bow of the catamaran. Around this time the sun was fairly low and had lost most it strength. Being just a meter or more above the cool water passing between the two hulls of the catamaran, allows for a nice and cool breeze.

For 15 minutes, it was the most relaxing place to be.....until Silvia shouted ´´Pilot whales!´´ and the whole boat was set in motion. The cameraman, videographer, biologists, sailors and divers, were all up on the bow looking for them. Finally, after a day of absolutely nothing, we got to see whales!

And did we! A pod of 4 approached to boat, checked us out, and moved off. Dead ahead, about a hundred meters away, another pod was just coming in sight. Before we knew it the two pods had joined with a third and they were all upon us. And not only that, they stayed with us - 16 pilot whales in total. There were also some striped dolphins that passed by and decided to hang around and join the party. One of the big black pilot whale males was over 5 meters long and among them, was a newborn which was all grey and wrinkly and another 5 young ones.

They played, they nursed and just hung around lazily at the bow of the boat. They left and came back. All in all, 40 minutes of pure excitement and awe. Until, with a set of whistles, the pilot whales called the retreat. A juvenile came back to say the last goodbye, but the pod was really moving on and not going to stop for anything. And just like that they literally left into the sunset.

The whole boat was abuzz with excitement, which lasted way passed dinner time. We finished the day by watching the footage on the big screen TV. After that I went to my bunk, as I had another 3h00 watch. But when a day ends like this one did, it is well worth all the heat and boredom! Can´t wait till tomorrow!.