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Travel Articles
Whale Watching on Vancouver Island

The main thing that attracted me to go to Vancouver Island was the fact that it was a great place from which to view Orca whales. And what better way to see them than to take one of the many Zodiac tours that leave from the harbour area in the city of Victoria. Well I could think of a better way, but that would involve a yacht, a bottle of Champagne and bowl of Caviar, and a lot more money than my meagre budget would allow. So I took the cheaper option and paid $45, after which I was forced to put on a horrible bright red waterproof bodysuit. But first I had to read and sign a liability waiver form that basically covered everything from getting salt water in your eyes to falling out of the boat and getting spliced up by the propellers. At first view the form could quite easily scare the hell out of you, but it's just designed to cover the company from being sued if anything goes wrong. I'm always impressed by these forms because they seem to cover accidents that I would never dream of happening. It's almost as if they have brought in the script writers from the Friday the 13th movies to think them up. As I sat there reading through this form, the previous group returned from their trip completely soaked, with stories of how rough it had been out there. It seemed that these horrible red suits weren't so waterproof after all.

The Zodiac was possibly the most intense boat ride I had ever been on. Once we cleared the harbour area, the driver let rip and we skimmed along the ocean surface at speeds nearing 40 mph. I clung to the bar in front for dear life as the cold wind whipped my face. The sea had obviously calmed down a bit since the last group went out and we got away with being splashed for quite a while. That is until the driver took his eyes off for a moment to check his position. The boat went down into the trough of a large wave, resulting in the rest of it flying all over us. He was alright because he was at the back. But we got soaked. None of us cared though. In fact we quite enjoyed it and wanted him to do it again.

Around the San Juan Islands of the USA we spotted a pod of about fifty whales. We were just below the US border, and I hadn't brought my passport! I suspected that the actual border was the point where we got splashed by the wave. It was just the sort of welcome I would have expected from the US immigration. The driver said that two people could come to the back for a better view. I was there. It was much better because I was higher up and got an all round view. You need eyes in the back of your head to spot the whales because they pop up everywhere. The driver certainly had his work cut out trying to predict where they would go next. At one point he predicted very well and one breached right off the side of the boat. It was magnificent. I attempted to take some pictures, but it was too difficult due to the motion of the boat and my camera lens kept getting splashed. The other problem was that I had to make sure I didn't fall off in the process. I managed to hook my arm through a bar by the driver's section, leaving my hands relatively free for using the camera. But in the end I gave up, as you need lightening reflexes to catch them in action. They were crafty these whales, and led us into a very rough section of water, making it difficult for the guy to manoeuvre the boat to get to them. He said that the whales were used to the boats and that he was sure they played games like this with them.

We had a good hour and a half out there before starting back. The driver pulled down two flip-up seats either side of him and allowed me and another the privilege of riding at the back. This was the best position to be in, as you felt the full force of the speed we travelled at. As we sped across the waves, the map that was fixed to the driver's panel became dislodged and flew into the water. With lightening response he slammed on the brakes, pulled the boat into a high-speed U-turn and zoomed back, coming to rest right next to the floating map. He then leapt to the front of the boat and retrieved it. As he described: "That was a very well executed man overboard drill!" I couldn't argue with that. If it had been one of us, then we would have been plucked out in no time. I was impressed. In fact, I wanted him to do it again. But by the look on the faces of some of the older people, I didn't think it would be such a good idea. I suspected that some might be in need of an underwear change upon return.

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