Sunday, April 8, 2012

Tall Ships and Gray Whales

Happy Easter friends! I hope you are having a wonderful weekend. We are back "home" in Northern California after a fabulous stay, albeit too short at "home" in Sablet. While it rained in Northern California for most of the time we were in Sablet, we had glorious weather in Provence.

We live in Sonoma County California which borders the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. This weekend, the tall ships Lady Washington and Hawaiian Chieftain are making their first-ever visit to Bodega Bay, a small village on the Sonoma coast to help commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Fort Ross, the southern most settlement in the Russian colonization in North America.

Yesterday, daughter Stephanie and family were in San Francisco and daughter Tricia was sleeping after working a 12-hour shift (she's a registered nurse) overnight at the hospital so we took off with son-in-law Alvin, and grandkids Avery and Caedon to the Sonoma coast to see the tall ships.

The original Lady Washington was built in the British Colony of Massachusetts in the 1750s and carried freight between colonial ports until the American Revolutionary War, when she became an American privateer. In 1787, after the war, she was given a major refit to prepare her for a trading voyage around Cape Horn. In 1788, she became the first American vessel to make landfall on the west coast of North America.

A pioneer in Pan-Pacific trade, she was the first American ship to visit Honolulu, Hong Kong and Japan. The Lady Washington opened the black pearl and sandalwood trade between Hawaii and the Orient when King Kamehameha became a partner in the ship.

The topsail ketch Hawaiian Chieftain is a replica of a typical European merchant trader of the turn of the nineteenth century. Her hull shape and rigging are similar to those of Spanish explorer's ships used in the expeditions of the late 18th century along the Washington, Oregon, and California coasts.

Built of steel in Hawaii in 1988 and originally designed for cargo trade among the Hawaiian Islands, the Hawaiian Chieftain's design was influenced by the early colonial passenger and coastal packets that traded among Atlantic coastal cities and towns.

Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay.

Not sure if this is a sea lion or seal as both live along the California coast in the Bay area. You can click on these pictures to enlarge them.

Son-in-law Alvin and grandson Caedon watch the tall ships.

Grandson Caedon enjoys playing in the sand at Spud Point Marina in Bodega Bay.

Granddaughter Avery plays in the sand.

Since the tall ships headed out to sea to enact a gun battle, we went to Bodega Head, a promontory further out on the coast beyond Spud Point Marina to see if we could watch the battle from there.

Much to our great pleasure and surprise, we found a small crowd watching a couple of Gray whales, a large one, probably a female with a smaller one, probably an older calf, playing in the water close to the shore.

The Gray whale is a Baleen whale that migrates between feeding grounds off Alaska and breeding grounds off Baja California on a yearly basis. The whale reaches a length of about 16 m (52 ft), a weight of 40 short tons (36 287 kgs), and lives 50–70 years.

The whale feeds mainly on crustaceans, which it eats by turning on its side (usually the right, resulting in loss of eyesight in the right eye for many older animals) and scooping up sediments from the sea floor.

It is classified as a baleen whale and has baleen, or whalebone, which acts like a sieve, to capture small sea animals, including amphipods taken in along with sand, water and other material.

Mostly, the animal feeds in the northern waters during the summer and opportunistically feeds during its migration, depending primarily on its extensive fat reserves. Calf Gray whales drink fifty to eighty gallons of their mothers' 53% fat milk per day

Each October, as the northern ice pushes southward, small groups of Gray whales start a two to three month, 8,000–11,000 kilometers (5,000-6,800 mi) trip south. Beginning in the Bering and Chukchi seas and ending in the warm-water lagoons of Mexico's Baja peninsula and the southern Gulf of California.

Traveling night and day, the gray whale averages approximately 120 kilometers (75 mi) per day at an average speed of 8 kilometers per hour (5 mph). This round trip of 16,000–22,000 kilometers (9,900–14,000 mi) is believed to be the longest annual migration of any mammal.

By late December to early January, Gray whales begin to arrive in the calving lagoons of Baja. These first whales to arrive are usually pregnant mothers looking for the protection of the lagoons to bear their calves, along with single females seeking mates.

By mid-February to mid-March, the bulk of the population has arrived in the lagoons, filling them with nursing, calving and mating gray whales. The shallow lagoon waters in which gray whales reproduce are believed to protect the newborn calves from sharks and orcas

Throughout February and March, the first to leave the lagoons are males and females without new calves. Pregnant females and nursing mothers with their newborns are the last to depart, leaving only when their calves are ready for the journey, which is usually from late March to mid-April. Often a few mothers linger with their young calves well into May.

The Hawaiian Chieftain returns to Spud Point Marina after its battle with Lady Washington off Bodega Head on the Sonoma Coast.

We had a great day out in Bodega Bay. Seeing the Gray whales on the migration trip back to their feeding grounds was a special added treat.

Who knows, those of you who live near the Mediterranean Sea in the South of France may see Gray whales yourselves some day. On May 8, 2010, a sighting of a Gray whale was confirmed off the coast of Israel in the Mediterranean Sea leading some scientists to think they might be repopulating old breeding grounds that have not been used for centuries.

Bonne journée mes amis et à bientôt.


  1. Now, that would be something to see a whale in the Mediterranean! Much better than the jelly fish we usually encounter.

  2. Meredith - I would agree! They are definitely amazing animals to watch.

  3. The ship is beautiful and it looked like you had really nice weather that day. I keep waiting for a whale sighting here, but it hasn't happened, yet :( It would be really cool if it did, though!
    Glad you made it back safe and sound. I hope you were able to see everything you wanted on your trip here.

  4. Sounds like you had a lovely Easter Michel, and really enjoyed seeing these photos of your family. And very happpy you had nice weather for your visit in Provence, makes all of the difference!

  5. Ashley - We had a great time in Provence but there's never enough time to do all we want to do. I can't wait till its time to go back.

    Tuula - We had glorious weather in Provence and definitely made the most of it. We enjoy ourselves in Provence no matter what the weather but when its nice, it is a very special place.

  6. I remember picknicking on the bluffs above Dana Point to watch the blue whales head back up in oldest daughter lives near Sonoma in Novato :)