Thar She Blows: The Tale of Two Adventurous Women on San Diego Whale Watching Tour

I squealed when my college roommate, Amy, called and asked if she could stay with me while attending a conference in San Diego. I thought it would be like old times except we did not have to study; chastise our drunk, late-night, bongo-playing neighbors; or surrender to mid-night queso (aka cheese dip for ya’ll non-Texans) urges that took us on a 20 mile trek to Kerbey Lane. (Mom, it was always Amy’s idea not mine.) In reality, we looked more like an old married couple than college roommates.

Amy: Do you notice how people would rather text than talk to each other?

Me: College students never call each other, they always text, tweet, Instagram, face space . . .

Amy: We didn’t even have email until our junior year of college and even then we called each other if we wanted to communicate.

Me: I know! College students are missing out. Remember how much fun we had creating obnoxious answering machine messages?

Amy and Me (sung to the tune of Old MacDonald): Amelia is studying or asleep, E-I-E-I-O! So leave a message at the beep, E-I-E-I-O!, with a beep, beep here and a beep, beep there, here a beep, there a beep, everywhere a beep, beep . . . BEEEEP.

Amy: Didn’t your boyfriend break up with you, because he hated your answering machine message?

Me: I thought it was because he was graduating and pursuing Teach for America.

Amy: Um . . .yeah. . . right . . . of course . . . Teach for America.

Our routine continued this way for four days. Then, we realized that we needed a day of fun or we could succumb to covering my furniture with plastic slip covers and doilies. While on her morning ferry boat commutes from Coronado to downtown, Amy learned it was peak time for grey whale watching. I had the good fortune of seeing the whales breech and spy hop from the Encinitas Self-Realization Fellowship meditation garden a couple of years ago. That miraculous display fueled my desire to embark on a whale watching tour. With a brief internet search, we found a $5.00 promo code for the Hornblower Whale Watching Tour on and purchased our tickets.

We packed our cameras, water bottles, light snacks (which we subsequently never ate . . .) and other necessities into light carry-ons. Amy took her Dramamine prior to our departure given her stomach’s propensity to balk at any type of repeated motion. I on the other hand have a stomach of steel. My apologies if this is TMI; however, I can count on one hand the times I vomited. Hence, I felt confident I could forgo the Dramamine. I decided to pull my hair into a pony tail and don my Gortex Windstopper jacket given it was quite windy. (Insert foreboding music here.) We arrived at the Embarcedero and noticed two whale watching tours were boarding. Our hearts leaped when we learned our tour was on the big Adventure Hornblower yacht vs. the smaller boat used by Flagship Tours.  This 300 passenger baby had three decks! The top deck was open allowing for maximum whale viewing. It also contained a snack bar and sold bottled beer. The second deck was smaller and attached to a large inner cabin with tables and chair. Amy and I would become one with this cabin later in our adventure. However, before we set sail we discovered the second deck was a perfect place for us to digitally capture our best Rose and Jack Titanic impressions. I think a Canadian couple found our dramatic parodies loathsome and halted our antics by suggesting they take our picture together.

Once our mighty ship set sail, we found ourselves mesmerized by the beauty of the San Diego skyline and the ships in naval yard. Our mighty Captain, Bill, came on the loud speaker and started narrating our voyage. He explained that the USS Regan nuclear aircraft carrier was taller than any of the buildings in downtown San Diego and holds a crew of 6,000! We also learned that one F-18 Hornet costs a mere 56 million dollars which made me feel less guilty about getting the touring package with my Prius. Amy and I loved our cruise through the bay and then we entered the Pacific Ocean.

Ironically, pacific means “peaceful.” A few minutes into the choppy, white caps, Captain Bill announces, “We will see whales very soon.” He subsequently instructs us to yell, “thar she blows!” to alert him to the whales. Ok, this one was a little hard for me to buy. My step-dad has a sonar fish finder on his bass boat that can detect small schools of fish. Certainly the Adventure Hornblower has a sonar device that can detect something. . . say . . .the size of a whale! However, Amy and I are giddy and go along with this ruse. Captain Bill announces, “We spotted our first two whales portside!” Amy and I peer around portside and I see two beautiful plumes, one after the other. The Canadian couple behind us points and oohs and ahhs. Amy keeps asking, “where?” If one tries to spot a whale by looking for the actual whale, one will be looking a VERY long time. Spotting whales involves first locating the spouts or blows which look like puffs of smoke on the horizon. Once you spot spouts, then you can typically see the backs and sometimes the flukes of the whales. Amy quickly learned the spotting process and went into National Geographic Photography mode. After following this pair for a time, we moved on and encountered Walter and Bertha.

Walter and Bertha were likely in their 70’s as evidenced by their light grey and barnacled bodies. They also moved gently and unhurriedly. Much like Amy and I sitting in my living room, they likely carried on conversations about how the young whales no longer communicate via low frequency sounds or swim with their parents anymore. I suspect they added some excitement to their wonted migration by putting on a display for us.

Walter: Hey Bertha, look we have two whale watching tours on our tails!

Bertha: Should we do our Jonah and the Whale re-enactment?

Walter: Nah, that requires a lot of work and our audience never seems to appreciate it. Plus it left me with horrible indigestion.

Bertha: I am just going to pop my head up and take a look around . . .  Oohhh Walter, the boats are rockin’ and rollin today! I just spotted two women hanging onto the railing for dear life while trying to take our pictures. Poor dears, the wind is really whipping them around. Good thing the one has a Gortex Windstopper jacket. . .um, um, um . . . they are going to be so seasick once this show is over. Oh my Walter, these girls look green, do something!

Walter: How about a breech with a half-twist?

Bertha: You always do a very nice breech. Be sure to land on your back! You’ve got so much weight on you now . . .you’ll kill yourself doing a belly flop!

Walter: Woohoo! Get your cameras ready girls . . . SPLASH!!!!

After watching Bertha and Walter spy hop, breech and splash, Captain Bill propelled our mighty vessel deeper into the Pacific in search of more whales. With my attention no longer diverted by the magnificent whales, I felt (along with my stomach) the mighty pitching and yawning of the boat. Amy felt woozy too, and we agreed sitting down in the cabin would settle our stomachs. WRONG. Our trip to the cabin sadly resembled the night we had too many margaritas our senior year of college. We stumbled to right only for the ship to laugh at our futile attempt and then whip us in the opposite direction. We resembled dazed penguins as we held our arms out for balance. Finally, we literally landed at a table and two chairs. Despite the fact I was sitting still my stomach bobbed up and down with the heaving and swaying of our vessel. I over-estimated the sturdiness of my stomach and judiciously decided to locate the closest garbage can.  I remembered reading that one can reduce sea sickness by removing visual stimuli from the brain, so Amy and I promptly closed our eyes and rested our heads on the table. A few minutes later Captain Bill announces, “Well ladies and gentleman this is a very special day indeed. We just spotted a pod of five to six whales starboard side! What a treat!” I barely lift my head and moan to Amy, “you go . . . let me know what you see.” Amy stands up, wretches, and announces, “I’m going to throw up.” I see her looking desperately for a trash can. I point to my back up can, and she runs. I wanted to employ the sympathetic girlfriend gesture of holding her hair while she pukes, but I knew if I stood up I would give “thar she blows” an entirely new meaning. When Amy returns to the table, she apologizes and states she feels better. She looks out the window and calls my attention to five beautiful plumes. I raise my head only to have the gastric juices follow, I immediately drop my head on the table and mutter, “amazing.” Amy laughs and informs me she still feels queasy. I tried to utilize my knowledge of positive psychology to calm myself. “You were so fortunate to see these amazing creatures today . . . you can make it through the last hour and a half of this cruise . . . you’re lucky to spend this fun day with your roommate from college.” Without lifting my head I said to Amy, “I’m so glad that we can be sick together. It would really suck if one of us was sick and the other wasn’t.” Cradling her head in her arms Amy laughed and said, “yeah, I’m glad I’m with you too.” We continued our muffled conversation until our cantankerous ship entered the calm bay waters.

Given the wonderful narration by Captain Bill, the $32.00 cost of the weekday tour, and gorgeous views of downtown San Diego, the Naval base, and the whales, I desperately want to give this tour five stars. However, I have to subtract ½ star for the puke factor, which is somewhat my own fault. (Please note Amy took Dramamine well ahead of the tour and was the one that actually puked.) If I were to take this tour in the future, I would contact my friendly primary care physician to learn of the best, least drowsy option for motion sickness. I would also avoid touring on a very windy day, and I STRONGLY, STRONGLY recommend taking a great friend (and all your Jack and Rose Titanic re-enactment pictures before the boat enters the sea).

The preceding blog was written by our Beyond travel correspondent, Amelia a longtime friend and amazing supporter of Denton Dallas and Beyond.

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