As we have noted, and all Cape Codders know, Spring comes late to our little sand spit in the Atlantic. Looking for spring signs of returning migrants has been one of our most enjoyable pastimes the past couple of years as we patiently wait for the water to warm so we can get back out on the sea. We have ventured into some of the more remote parts of the Cape and recently discovered a treasure in our midst, Barnstable’s Sandy Neck and its adjoining Barnstable Marsh. To fully appreciate this Cape Cod wild wonderland one should commit to hiking out the entire neck…. a round trip commitment of 13 miles! Though quite a walk which also must be timed to account for tidal pools that obstruct the trails at higher tides, the experience is worth it and spectacularly beautiful – by far the “piece de resistance” of Cape Cod trekking.
A chance conversation with Brad Pease, master craftsman an co-owner of Pease Boat Works in Chatham, gave me a heads up that they planned to haul the beautiful schooner Tyrone on the spring high tide. As she is quite large for their yard and a full moon, clear sky was promised we scrambled to witness the event. And it was the perfect way to usher in the beginning of my 62nd year on the planet. The evening was cool and with the wind calm everything went according to plan.
If you are interested I found the following on her web site…”Tyrone was designed by S. Sturgis Crocker and built by Simms Brothers, Dorchester, Ma. in 1939, to be an offshore passage maker. She is very ruggedly built, with 1 and 5/8-inch Honduras mahogany screwed to 2 and ½ – inch double sawn oak frames, on 16 inch centers. Garboards are two inches thick. All bronze fastened, her decks are constructed of teak. She carries outside lead ballast. Power is a Cummins 210B diesel. Gross tonnage is 48 tons. Tyrone is 75 feet over all, 60 feet on the deck and 50 feet at the water line. Beam is 15 feet, depth 8’6”, and carries 1805 feet of sail. The schooner has made several trips to Ireland, has sailed to Hawaii, and cruised in Alaska. In 1994, she was awarded “Most Beautiful Boat” at Antigua Race Week.”
And by the way – Pease Boatworks is an absolute Cape Cod treasure. Brad and Mike Pease and their crew are doing the traditional work of building and caring for magnificent wooden boats the way it has been done by master craftsmen for generations. They keep a sacred tradition very much alive in Chatham that is sadly fading from modern memory. We salute them!
Putting a plug in for joining us for our presentation in Chatham at the Community Center this Saturday, April 20th, at 2:00PM. The event is sponsored by the fine people at Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary. The lecture will be appropriate for all ages (11 and up) so if you know of young people (and their teachers) who might like to get charged up about Cape Cod wildlife please pass the word. And a note for those who have heard John speak before – we will be presenting some exciting new images and stories behind our recent adventures.
See the link below for more details or call Mass Audubon Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary – 508-349-2615
Some recent images from excursions into the wild here on the Cape, Definitely signs that Spring is in process. But it is still cold here.
After leaving Dominica and our fantastic experiences swimming and observing Sperm whales we made the 1000 mile journey northward via Puerto Rico to join the team at Aquatic Adventures in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic. Since it is not easy traveling in the Caribbean our journey took several days travel but we finally climbed on board the Turks & Caicos Explorer, our live-aboard dive boat home for the next 6 days and headed out 80 miles to the NNE finding the Silver Bank. These grounds were made famous in colonial times when Spanish treasure ships came to grief on poorly charted coral reefs and deposited lots of treasure on the shallow banks in storms. This was a return trip for us having had the experience in March 2012 and been so moved by it that we vowed to come back for more. We were not disappointed.
Our main objective in coming to Dominica was to observe sperm whales in the wild with the benefit and guidance of local researchers and guides. Because of its is unique Caribbean geography (and bathymetry) Dominica is one of the few places on Planet Earth that you can observe sperm whales in an ocean environment near land and in relatively protected and calm warm water. For much of the last decade researchers under the direction of Shane Gero and Hal Whitehead have been studying a resident population of about 20 family groups that live in the region. Sperm whales are highly social animals and, like elephants, form large family units made up principally of female family members with juveniles. Social units are required to share in the protection and rearing of young sperm whales as adult whales must dive to great depths to feed and youngsters cannot dive deeply for a number of years after birth. They are often accompanied by relatives who act as “care providers” at the surface while mom dives for food. Principally squid in the dark ocean depths.
We were very fortunate to acquire permits from the government of Dominica and get to sea with ground operators who have been part of The Sperm Whale Project team for a number of years. Most of the individual whales we observed were known to our guides and even had names and a family lineage which we learned. Male sperm whales come of age around their tenth birthday and at that point leave the family unit to join bachelor herds who travel the ocean mostly in northern climes nearer to the ice to feed and generally “learn” to be the man. Unlikely that male whales return to their home path in later life but studies of this are as yet unknown. Among the beautiful interactions we experienced we did connect with a near mature young male of 8 or 9 years who provided a spirited encounter (now posted) on YouTube on our channel – aleutiandream.
Whale Tale: Face to Face with Earth’s largest Predator.
Our journey to Dominica, the Nature Island proved to be everything and more than we could have hoped for. The island is, in jest, referred to “as the one island in the Caribbean that Christopher Columbus would recognize if he returned to the area”. It is a beautiful forested mountainous paradise that rockets in several peaks out of the sea to as high as 4700 feet on one peak. Because of its severe geography and the lack of a proper protected port it has been relatively left alone over the centuries and escaped significant development. It features beautiful waterfalls and remote canyons for hikers, trekkers and birders among others. It is a destination for many who enjoy the active sport called “Canyoning” . We saved this experience for another trip but did manage to spend two full days exploring the forests and coast for their endemic birds. Absolutely beautiful. Of note several sites on the island were used as locations for the filming of Pirates of the Caribbean a few years ago. For our purposes the main attraction was the ability to gain permits from the government of Dominica to join a locally based research team who is studying a local population of Sperm Whales. These family groups are in the general area for almost the entire year to raise their young and feed in the warm deep waters which are rich with “arrowhead squid”.
In the final stages of packing for another expedition into warm waters in search of the largest predator on planet earth – the Sperm Whale. The stuff of legends especially well known to the New England whalers of our Cape Cod and the Islands region, these incredible creatures boast the largest brain on the planet too. If you watch the attached link you will learn a bit about where we are going and why. Dominica, in the Antilles, is one of the preferred locations for Atlantic sperm whales to mate and rear their young. We are fortunate to be linking up with a Canadian research team that will give us an up close an personal experience. We are praying for fair weather.
Underwater camera gear checked out and adrenaline is starting to flow. With only one flight a day into the island we are over-nighting in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico before we head south.
Will be checking out our new GoPro Hero 3 Black Edition cameras amongst the other gear we usually take. Dominica has some unique endemic birds as well and we will spend a few days hiking its mountainous forests.