Whaling, Whaling

It doesn’t take much to lure me out of the Northeast in February—just a little warm salt water and a sailboat will always do it. But it was pure East Coast envy that brought me to Magdalena Bay, on the Pacific Coast of the Baja peninsula, for a whale-watching/sea-kayaking/camping adventure run by Sea Kayak Adventures. Mag Bay is the northernmost of the three bays on that coast to which Pacific gray whales migrate annually from the Bering Sea in December and January to spend two to three months giving birth, breeding, and fattening up their calves for the long trip back. It’s also the bay that, from my position at SAIL as recipient of manuscripts, inspires cruising sailors to write.

There are many things you can do in a sailing vessel between San Diego and Cabo San Lucas, but they don’t include watching—and, hopefully, interacting with—whales or exploring mangrove lagoons and the shallow channels between them. For the former you need a panga with a licensed driver; whale watching is highly regulated by Mexican law, and no private boats or kayaks are permitted in the main channels when the whales are in residence. For the latter, unregulated waters, you need a canoe or kayak to negotiate the shallows and silently approach the incredible bird (think great blue herons) population. And of course, for exploring the beaches and dunes and the wealth of plants that grow there, you need your feet.

The oddity of being in a desert environment—the Sonoran Desert stretches down most of Baja California, on both sides—surrounded by an ocean struck me when I woke in the middle of the night and decided to take a look outside. I stood on the top of a dune—barefoot, unfortunately, since the sand, moistened by condensation, was freezing cold, and the air wasn’t far behind—confronting a sky packed so full of stars that it was almost impossible to pick out familiar Orion, right there in front of me and about to get his feet wet. I heard the whoosh of whales spouting before I saw them, but there they were, clearly visible in the starlight and surrounding by leaping dolphins. Magic.

Magic #2 arrived better late than never. We had packed up and were whale-watching our way back to the mainland when a much-desired “friendly” whale and her baby came alongside our panga. At that close range it was hard to tell nose from tail or mom from baby, but she was clearly inviting a touch, and touch her I did. Amazing! www.seakayakadventures.com

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