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October 29, 2004

Update: Norfolk, Virginia. Seems like years ago that we did the last update! It was less than a month ago that we left Portland, but so much has happened...

We left Portland on October 10th. It was getting very cold, and big seas were forecast from a direction that makes Portland harbor very uncomfortable, so we finished the most urgent projects and left some to do "when it gets warmer." We left Portland Yacht Services at dusk, fueled up at Dimillo's Marina, and headed out to Diamond Cove. When we'd left in August, it didn't seem such a big deal, because we knew we'd be coming back in the fall. This time, it felt momentous. Who knows when we'll return to this harbor, our home harbor? We yelled out, "Goodbye, Portland!!!!" at the darkening city...

After a day at my mother's house at Diamond Cove, doing laundry and having a farewell dinner, we hopped in the dinghy to go back to the boat, all ready to leave the next morning. As I was motoring out to Zora I saw a weird thing: it looked like a big white mooring ball rising out of the dark water underneath us. Suddenly, thunk, something hit us from underneath the dinghy. After a scary few seconds, we realized it was Poco, the baby beluga whale who has been hanging around southern Maine all summer. The local boating magazine, Points East, had just done an article on all the boaters who'd had "close encounters" with Poco recently. Liv had seen him earlier in the summer at Handy Boat where she was visiting her friend, and Neil had seen him at Portland Yacht Services the previous week.  Poco is apparently very enamored of inflatable dinghies and outboard motor propellers: indeed he was playing with ours and it worried us, we didn't want him to get hurt, so we pulled it up and rowed the rest of the way to the boat. Poco didn't go away, however, he swam right alongside, looking up at us, playing with the dinghy. We reached out and pet him. I expected his skin to be rough and hard, like a shark, but instead it was soft and warm, like human skin that has been soaking in a bathtub for a long time. He was extremely playful, even taking the dinghy painter (rope) in his mouth and playing tug-of-war with it like a puppy! Liv said, "He's like an underwater Daisy!" All of us were wide-eyed with awe; my legs were shaking with excitement..... finally we got aboard the boat and Poco swam off.... or so we thought....

The next morning we dropped the mooring and headed out, waving goodbye to my Mom on the dock. Notice the beautiful colored fall leaves.... that means it was getting very cold!

We headed out Hussey Sound, and suddenly heard a familiar noise: Poco was back! he followed us out the sound and out past Portland Head Light. We kept expecting him to turn back any moment, but he stayed right alongside, or under our aft quarter back by the propeller. We were motor-sailing in light winds, and later, when the wind picked up and we turned off the engine, we expected him to lose interest and go home. He did not. He still stayed right under the boat, coming up to breathe (and spray us with blowhole spray if we were too close!) next to the cockpit, and sometimes play in the bow wake like a dolphin, turning to look up at us watching him. It was truly amazing. I kept thinking he'd leave any time, thought he must be getting tired, at least, since we were charging along at 6 knots and not stopping to rest the way I assumed a whale pod would.

Around 15:00 in the afternoon, we thought he was gone, finally. Overnight, I thought I heard him blowing on my watch, but by then the wind and waves had increased and I decided I had probably imagined it. At dawn, we realized we'd made great time and had a couple of hours to kill before the fair tide to go through the Cape Cod Canal, so we headed over to Provincetown to try to catch a couple of hours sleep. As we headed up into the wind to drop the mainsail, we heard a familiar noise: Poco was right there beside us!!! We all waved and said "hi" to him, and he swam a bit away from the hull to turn and look up at us, then dove down as we headed into P-town harbor. The harbor is very shallow and full of moorings: Poco did not follow us in. I breathed a sigh of relief: I did NOT want him to try to follow us into the Cape Cod Canal!!!! A couple of hours later we left Provincetown, rounding the breakwater on the opposite side we'd entered, and headed for the canal. I was very relieved not to see or hear any sign of Poco. The Stellwagen Bank was just offshore and I hoped he'd meet up with some of his own species there and stop his misguided infatuation with boats and people. The scars from propeller injuries on his back, and the large chunk lost from his tail fluke, had me worried for his safety. We later talked with several marine biologists who have been tracking Poco and were told that he went right back to people and boats: he was sighted that same day across the bay in Gloucester, following sailboats again!

Go to the next page: Cape Cod Canal to Norfolk VA