January 5, 2018

We were only there for one purpose. To see Whales.

I’m one of those people who, when I decide to do something, nothing will divert me from my goal.

I had waited all my life for an opportunity to see these behemoths of the deep because they’re not something you can pop down to your local zoo and see when you choose.

Knowing the season starts in December and ends roughly in April, I waited for a couple of weeks in case they were running late and then drove down to my favourite hotel, Cape Weligama Resort, for a mid-week two days of hopefully fulfilling my dream.

I had come forearmed and had read up everything I could on Blue Whales, Orca’s and Dolphins that might also be in the area. I was careful not to share this information with the crew as they have not only read but seen more than I ever can.

It’s an early morning start on the Catamaran so I was suitably fuelled with a delicious breakfast of Sri Lankan Omelette, Toast with jam and lashings of English Breakfast Tea.

The Cat was waiting for myself and 5 other guests and once we had donned our life jackets, we cast off and headed out into the wild blue yonder.

The Cape Weligama Cat is not your ordinary Catamaran. It’s a 50 footer with ample space for at least 20 people and the ability to serve not only breakfast but lunch also. There’s also an ample bar in case anyone wants something to soothe their nerves!

With 3 crew, only 6 passengers and a couple of hours ahead of us till we came to the main viewing area, there was ample opportunity to get to know each other. After all 6 pairs of eyes watching out for each other is to the benefit of all.

It was as calm as the proverbial millpond as our twin-engine boat headed out to sea and, fairly quickly, introductions were made. I discovered that one of my fellow travellers was also in IT and was visiting from South Korea. Thankfully his English was perfect and we both refrained from discussing the current situation his country is embroiled in.

We were only there for one purpose. To see Whales.

It took about an hour and a half of steady tacking and with the occasional engine use to reach the main area where Whales are usually spotted as they migrate from the Bay of Bengal to the Arabian Sea although as they tend to travel from South to North around the coast it really is anyone’s guess where they will breach.

I was particularly relieved that it was a Wednesday when we went out as I’d been very reliably informed that weekends are very stressful for both Whales and tourists as there are so many boats out that it not only becomes pointless, but positively dangerous as they are all jockeying for position to get the best views.

That said, the Cape Weligama Cat was superb.

Not only did we all have life jackets in case the sea turned choppy, we all had binoculars so we didn’t have to get so close to see any breaching.

The Captain was also one of the most informed people I have ever met. His knowledge of Whales; what to expect; why they travel via Sri Lanka; what to do if we sight one was extremely instructive, but not intrusive.

We’d also been offered a delightful platter of fresh fruit, croissants and coffee which, had I known, I would have foregone breakfast for. Thankfully, it was also going to be available on the return journey although we had to survive lunch first. I say to survive in the nicest possible manner as if the lunch at Cape Weligama is anything to go by the portions will be positively whale sized themselves.

By 9am we had reached one of the areas where the most likely sightings were to be found.

Now, all we had to do was wait whilst the crew and Captain kept their eyes open for whales.

9.30 and no sight

10.00 and no sign

There’s only so much conversation one can have; so much coffee one can consume isn’t there.

But on the other hand, there is the sheer delight of silence with only the occasional sound of seabirds interrupting the sound of waves gently lapping against the hull.

11.00 am and I was getting somewhat desperate by now.

With all eyes looking through the field glasses, it was one of the crew who spotted the slight turbulence in the water some 300 metres away. Apparently, the crew have a range of hand signals so no sounds disturbs the marine life (irrespective of the size of what you’re monitoring) and the 2nd crew member caught our eye and pointed out where to look.

With a beating heart (yes, I’ll admit that) I swivelled in my seat (as did everyone else) and trained the glasses.

Was it a whale?

I could see no disturbance, but then the crew member was way higher than I.

Then I saw something swing out of the water.

A tail fin. Pretty large by the look of it too.

It remained in view for all of 5-6 seconds before it disappeared beneath the surface.

I prayed that I would have a better sighting than that.

And 5 minutes is a lifetime when you’re waiting for something special to happen.

And then it DID happen.

Rather like Old Faithful erupting in Yellowstone, the head came first.

A large blue-black head with barnacles.

In fact, an enormous head about 150 metres away.

Then, the rest of the body, about 25% I would think, powered slowly out of the water at an angle of about 70 degrees.

It’s difficult to describe the sight of over 100 tons of a living mammal towering into the air unless you’ve had the privilege of witnessing it yourself. It’s simply magnificent.

Slowly, as if in slow motion, it crashed back into the water sending a plume of spray high into the air.

And then it was gone.

I looked across at my Korean colleague and noticed that his hands were gripping the guardrail tightly.

I didn’t blame him.

We were both lost in silence until the Captain interrupted and said that we would be heading back and that an early lunch would be served in about 30 minutes.

It was over. My long wait was ended.

I was later informed that whilst seeing whales on the excursion is fairly common, the high breach is quite rare. Wales are fairly placid mammals and often just cruise around to save energy. When a mammal this size goes athletic it requires a great deal of energy to replace what it has used. And that means a large amount of food.

And talking of food, the Captain announced lunch which was served on the lower deck.

Avocado and walnut salad, roast chicken, tuna and a very generous fresh fruit salad with cream was welcomed by all.

30 minutes later we could see land again when the Captain announced that we were going to stop to allow anyone who wished to swim off the boat. Thankfully, we were all replete following the great lunch and it had been a very early start, after all, so all declined.

There can be few pleasures in life as rewarding as staying at Cape Weligama resort, sailing in a 50-foot Catamaran, watching whales and having lunch in the middle of the Indian Ocean.

And it was only Wednesday.

Who knew what tomorrow would bring?