CAPE DISAPPOINTMENT Ryan Barnes and the rest of the crew on-board their 38-foot sailboat had just hit their groove last Thursday morning when it happened.
They were a half-hour into an offshore race from about two nautical miles southwest of the South Jettys tip and were heading to Victoria, British Columbia, moving quickly north into a south wind, when one crew member saw a dark mass underwater near the side of the boat, Barnes said.
In an instant, a 30-foot whale catapulted itself out of the rolling swells on the boats starboard side, coming out of the water almost entirely.
It hit its head half to three-quarters of the way up the mast, Barnes said.
The eight people on board watched from the cockpit, stunned as the whale landed atop the boat water streaming off the massive mammal before it rolled off and back into the sea.
It was a fluke that no one was in the whales path at that exact moment, Barnes said.
It just happened that we didnt have any issues on deck, he said.
While the black, barnacle-crusted whale was only out of the water for a few seconds, it seemed longer.
Time did almost stand still. I had a lot of thoughts of dread, wondering, Whats going to happen next? Barnes said Thursday night.
The impact broke the mast into three pieces, destroyed about half of the rigging, and carved hunks of the whales flesh out scraping off a few barnacles to leave on the boat as reminders. Barnes thinks it was a humpback whale.
The name of the boat?
LOrca, named for a smaller species of cetacean also sometimes found in local waters.
Once the crew realized what had just happened, they did a quick head count to make sure everyone had survived.
They called in a mayday to the U.S. Coast Guard. Several of the other 20 boats in the race stopped to make sure everything was under control.
The crew rallied and quickly got to work, trying to salvage what they could of the 992 Beneteau 35S5 sailboat and assessing the damage. They clipped lines, making sure nothing could get stuck around the boats propeller.
Within a half an hour we had the boat put back together and we were headed back to port, Barnes said.
The Coast Guards Cape Disappointment team sent out a 47-foot motor lifeboat escort, using a tow just to help LOrca over the bar. Now the sailboat rests at Astorias West End Mooring Basin. Barnes, whose father owns the boat, planned to head back home to Portland late last week.
The incident wont stop them from fixing or replacing the boat and racing offshore again next year, as they have done for several years. The chances of another whale encounter like this are slim, Barnes said. Its kind of like lightning striking, he said. I dont think that will happen again.
Mature humpbacks can grow to more than 50 feet in length and weigh nearly 80,000 pounds. They are found throughout the worlds oceans and are estimated to now number more than 80,000, after being hunted to the brink of extinction in earlier human history. They routinely travel great distances of up to 16,000 miles a year between breeding and feeding grounds. They are capable of swimming 5 mph.
Humpbacks are well known for their breaching behavior. Breaching is a true leap where a whale generates enough upward force with its powerful flukes to lift approximately two-thirds of its body out of the water. A breach may also involve a twisting motion, when the whale twists its body sideways as it reaches the height of the breach. Researchers are not certain why whales breach, but believe that it may be related to courtship or play activity, according to the environmental group Earthtrust.