Tag Archives: Whales

Cape Cod II – Setting Fourth

Tuesday 4 July 2023 – My first-ever Fourth of July in the USA! We had two activities to look forward to, the first of which was Chatham town’s 4th July Parade. The Sheas had kindly offered to bring seats for us and told us where and when to meet them on Main Street.

At first, the auguries were not too positive. It rained very hard at about 0830, and the visibility as we walked from the hotel was not something that was too encouraging. Some people, it was also clear, had other priorities.

However, foggy or not, the rain appeared to be in abeyance as we approached the town and we got our first inkling of the atmosphere of the day.

It was clear that people had been out very early, or late yesterday, or possibly both, putting chairs out to reserve a place.

Some had even planned for the earlier rain.

It’s a remarkable and lovely characteristic of the town’s celebration that no-one apparently stole or moved any chairs. I can’t see that happening in the UK. Generally, as we headed to our agreed meeting place, the feeling in the air was of extreme geniality, with people wishing each other “Happy Fourth!” and generally having a good time.

Many had made a special effort to dress for the day.

We met the Sheas a few minutes before the parade was due to start at 0930, and settled ourselves down to watch.

It was spectacular!

For about an hour, all sorts of groups of people, floats, vehicles and bands walked past. If you’ve 45 minutes to spare, you can watch it all here – though content is blocked in Russia, in the unlikely event you’re there at the moment.

There were some great old cars,


local organisations and society branches,

and, generally, much exuberant behaviour.

It was clear that a huge effort had gone into spiffing up floats and vehicles. Some of the trucks were huge and really beautifully polished up for the day.

All in all, it was a lovely experience, even if it was celebrating the fact that the USA had given us Brits a beating some 240 years ago.

The rain even held off for almost all of the parade, which was good of it. Afterwards we went to the Squire Tavern (one of the businesses which had made a contribution to the parade), where the place was simply soggy with atmosphere.

John pointed out one of the quirks of the place, which is its collection of licence plates, sent in by devotees who want their contributions on view for all to see.

Rather than repeat the excesses of two days ago, we cut and ran after a single drink and headed back to the hotel, to regroup for our second activity of the day – whale watching. For this we had to head to Barnstable, some 15 miles away, and board, along with many other revellers, a pretty substantial boat.

Just after we boarded, the heavens opened

which made me rather pessimistic about what the evening might hold. But, dammit, we’d paid for the ticket so we were jolly well going to stick with it.

The plan was that we would spend an hour or so getting from Barnstable past Provincetown harbour (which is right in the palm of the hand if you think of Cape Cod as an arm with a crooked elbow) and out into more open waters to look for whales. The lass who was doing the commentary pointed out that there was no way to detect where they were; we had to rely on luck and the skipper. Also, as we sped along, it was clear that, well, it wasn’t clear; visibility was dreadful. I therefore set my expectations really low and indulged in a bit of sporadic conversation with the people who were sharing our table.

The great thing about low expectations is that they are easily exceeded. After less then an hour, the word began to spread around that whales had been spotted. But, given the poor visibility and also my previous whale-watching experiences (where humpbacks typically were visible in the distance, best seen with binoculars or a long telephoto lens), I initially though that it wouldn’t be worth even bothering to take a look.

I’m glad that I changed my mind on that one.

If you have eight minutes to spare, take a look at what unfolded:

For those of you without the luxury of even that short time, here’s a summary.

When I did go for a look, there were actually a couple of humpback whales – a mother and her calf – close to the boat.

They were much closer than I’d ever been to a (live, swimming, not at Sea World) whale before.

Initially, they did little more than lazily swim around and occasionally surface to breathe (giving us a chance, being downwind at one point, to experience the true horror of whalitosis). But after a while, we got a brilliant display of tail waving, fin slapping and – most dramatic of all, of course – breaching.

It was spectacular – we were truly lucky to have such a great display, and so close to the boat. The skipper did really well to get close to the whales without disturbing them so that they continued to disport themselves; it even looked like the mother was waving to us with a fin at times.

After such an inauspicious start, the whale watching turned out to be a splendid experience, made all the more satisfactory because I got some decent video from it, because, as everyone knows, if you can’t share photos or videos, it didn’t happen.

The weather by this stage had cheered up a little

So it looked like we might also enjoy the final piece of the day’s entertainment – the firework display at Provincetown harbour, which we would watch from the water.

Sadly, the weather had other ideas about that, particularly as it started.

The fog did lift a little as the display continued

But then its own smoke started to obscure it.

So the July 4th fireworks were not as spectacular as we might have hoped (frankly we do just as good a job every November in Chobham). But that couldn’t diminish the pleasure we felt at having had such a rewarding experience watching whales at play. By the time we got back to the hotel it was really very late, but we’d had a great Fourth Of July.

I’m actually writing this at home, completing the Cape Cod story after a nice farewell lunch with the Sheas, grinding our way to Boston airport and flying back to the UK. It’s been a really excellent few days in Cape Cod – meeting new/old friends, experiencing the charm of Chatham and re-acquainting myself with the highs and lows of Gunpowder Gin.

We rarely revisit anywhere on our travels, on the basis that there are always fresh and new places to seek out, experience and (in my case) photograph). The Azores has been one exception, and I rather think that Cape Cod might be another. We both feel that there’s a lot more to explore in those 339 square miles.

So that is all for New England. After some three-and-a-half excellent weeks there, we now have to prepare for our next adventure, which starts in just over a month. Come back some time soon after August 12 to find out what that will be, won’t you?

Meet Whales Again

Sunday 21 August 2022 – Unusually, for us on holiday, we had a relaxed start to the day, as our main activity was set for the afternoon. We had an outline plan in our minds that the morning could be spent going for a walk before brunch before another walk.  We were, it turned out, sufficiently leisurely that the initial outline plan of going for a walk before brunch was replaced by simply going to brunch.

We were thus slightly startled, sitting in our hotel room, to hear the faint strains of Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” from somewhere outside.  Jane looked out of the window to see what we could see and, to our delight, it was a dance of the cute little water taxis that ply their trade across Victoria Harbour, over a background of classical music.  Our view was somewhat obscured, and you can’t hear the music, but the dance is undeniably charming – apparently they do this every Saturday and Sunday.

For brunch, we returned to Milestones and once again had a short wait before being led to our table, despite turning up bang on time for the reservation we had carefully made. As ever, short staffing was the main reason.  Our waitress (am I even allowed to use that description any more?) explained that Victoria has the highest number of restaurants per unit of population in the whole of North America; and eating out is practically the norm, so there’s a huge competition among restaurants for serving staff.

Anyway, we had our brunch, which was sufficiently leisurely that the rest of the morning plan went by the board and we simply returned to the hotel to get ourselves ready for the afternoon’s activity – whale watching.  We’d already (you’ll remember, since you’ve been following in detail, haven’t you?) had a go with some success in Juneau; but this time, instead of being on a reasonably large boat (such as the one we saw departing whilst we brunched),

we were to be on a Zodiac RIB with a maximum of 12 passengers in total. Thus we needed to be dressed reasonably robustly and I needed to take along a waterproof bag for my camera, in case the conditions got wet.

Our whale watching was courtesy of Orca Spirit Adventures, whose offices are just by the seaplane departure point (which we get to use in a couple of days). We got there promptly, as we had been directed, for 1.30 – and then hung about waiting for 20 minutes for something to happen.  Eventually a chap called Mick came out and got us all kitted up in our flotation suits and climbing on board the RIB.

Mick explained that the RIB had a 500 horsepower engine and would go pretty fast, so even though the sun was out, it would be cold. Bundling up in the suits was a good idea even if you didn’t end up in the water.

We covered a total of 48½ miles, going out and back broadly WSW of Victoria Harbour.  For the first while or so, Mick explained some things about Orcas (Killer Whales) and said he was sanguine about seeing one, but couldn’t guarantee it; one had been spotted several miles off the coast, heading away from Victoria, so he wanted to head it off at the pass so we could maybe catch a glimpse. So, once out of the harbour, Mick let loose the horses,

and even though there was no big swell, the ride was, how shall I say?, exhilarating.

The top line was our speed, the bottom my heart rate.  There wasn’t much breeze, but what there was came from the south-west, so the journey out was not particularly rewarding. I had made the mistake of wearing a Tilley hat with a brim, and so I had to clutch on it for dear life; if I’d let go, the neck cord would have decapitated me.

After 45 minutes of this, Mick suddenly slowed down because he’d seen an Orca.  Then everyone else spotted it. Then even I could see it.

Just.  It reminded me that there’s a great deal of luck involved in whale watching, and one spends a lot of time taking photos which are basically worthless, every time something exciting happens, such as when the whale takes a breath.

I think God for digital;  I took 400 photos of this whale and its companions (there were about five in total)

and only about three are any good, and that’s because we got lucky and the Orcas turned in our direction

Mick then suggested we’d done enough Orca chasing and that we go and look elsewhere.  Luckily we found a humpback whale, which toyed with us for a bit, merely coming up a few times to blow raspberries at us.

However, eventually the whale took pity on us and came over for a closer look

and then obligingly did the tail fluke thing before buggering off entirely.

All in all, then, a very satisfactory whale watching experience, consisting as it did of both watching and whales.  Mick then said he’d find us some other wildlife, and so headed over to the Race Rocks Ecological Reserve, where we saw a Steller sealion, who really didn’t think much of us as a group,

a Californian sealion, who lolled over to give us a sleepy once-over,

a seal, who posed for us

and a colony of sealions who were so busy arguing amongst themselves that they paid us no attention whatsoever.

Mick had one more treat for us.  Among the kelp that litters the area, he spotted a Sea Otter, apparently the only one in this area, doing its otter thang.

Ollie the Sea Otter.  He looks cute, but apparently can be really vicious towards other otters.

And that was it; our time was over so we had to head back to Victoria.  This was a slightly less challenging ride since the wind was behind us, but it was still pretty bumpy at times.  Thus ended a very interesting session, which was surprisingly tiring, given that I’d only sat down for three hours, occasionally standing up to get a better angle.  Anyway, we were really glad that we’d done it and got so close to some whales and other sea life.

On getting ashore, we headed back to the hotel and managed to persuade them to serve us some food and drink, which were quite welcome by this stage. To round off the day, we went for a stroll up into the Chinatown area of Victoria, the oldest Chinatown in Canada.

before walking back along beside the water to the hotel

and retiring for the night.

Having ticked one standard tourist box in whale watching, tomorrow sees us tick another – a visit to Butchart Gardens.  The weather forecast is propitious and I hear good things about it.  I hope to be able to present you with some great photos of flowers and that, should you come back to the blog tomorrow.  See you then!