Whales and dolphins of the Moray Firth, Day 2, 1 June 2008
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1 June 2008 - Are we not men, we are DEVO - Day 2 - Gardenstown and preliminary boat trip

Gamrie Bay in the morning.

Today, sort of the actual first day here. It is like that first day at a job or school, wonder what it will be like, what will happen. Well, it turns out ok, so don't worry.

I did sleep kind of badly. Stephen's seasickness patch had knocked him out completely but Duncan says I snored slightly. But then I always sleep badly on trips. But this isn't about sleeping. Porridge for breakfast, I make a bit and a few people join in. It isn't really an early morning breakfast-y crowd though. But that's nice, I can get up early and have some nice peaceful time to myself.

Hiking up to St John's Church ruins.

Gardenstown from the ruined church.

St John's Church.

Soo, Duncan, and Stephen.

Heading back down.

We report to the CRRU office at 10:00 sharp. Or I think we did. It all seems pretty laid back, come in when it feels right for you. If you want to wander off, just let somebody know. But who wants to miss anything, there are cool things to see out there.

I guess you have to have the preliminary stuff. Here are all the possible ways you can die on a boat, and here are the things you should do (and not do) so that you don't die on a boat. Mayday mayday mayday, we practice and practice. And get really hungry for lunch.

We also learn things about CRRU, what they do, goals, all that sort of stuff. Whaling organizations exist to keep whaling in place, obstensively to do it sustainably, but if the data isn't there or interpretations are off, or whatever, that probably doesn't concern them that much. Things like measuring how long a minkie whale dives for, is it consistent, is it accurate to estimate whale numbers by how many you can see on the surface and add in how long they are probably diving. Lots of things can make the figures radically different. And how do other species of animals and birds and plant life fare, how do they fit together, how do you conserve them, how are they indicators of other species.? The inner part of the Moray Firth is a special conservation area, should it be extended outward?

Trying on the dry suits, Dale and Duncan..

But enough lectures and after lunch, let's go see some things. And also get practical lessons in all the safety things too. They bought brand new dry suits just recently and we are the first group to try them out. There are lots of things in how to put them on, the layers, zipping right, and all that. The wooly bears are awesome, fleece body suits. I totally want to swipe one of them for pajamas. Putting on a dry suit, that's a real challenge. My arms don't twist that way, and putting that tight seal around your neck (that moment or more of panic as you try to get the rubber seal past your nose). It gets easier through the week but the first few times are rather challenging.

Amber suited up.

Me all ready to go.

Duncan and Soo.

But all dressed up now, radiation suits, DEVO suits, the Right Stuff, or whatever, they look as they will keep us warm and dry. Our group is then first to the boat. The rest stay behind to learn about filling out survey forms and tying knots and other things.

We head off to the harbor. It is low tide and the boats are way down there. A really long climb down the ladders. A little intimidating at first, having to back up down them in the full gear, narrow, wet slippery. We are all fascinated by the jellyfish. The harbor is filled with them, a couple of different varieties, some just clear and bubbly, some with purple and orange tentacles. Pretty but I'm sure they can be unpleasant to touch.

Jellyfish in the harbor.

We stow the gear on board, the two boxes and the wet bags (Ortlieb, of course, just like my panniers, if you want to throw something in the ocean, pick nothing else) but since the tide is low, we can't load there. The weight of all of us might make the boat drag on the harbor floor. So back up the scary ladder and we walk around the harbor edge to the outer seawall and load from the scary ladders there.

Andreas and Dale getting Orca II ready.

So, there are all the things we heard about in class, the radio, the EPIRB (something like that) that floats off and fills with water and signals the coast guard if we have sunk, the flares, the bilge pump, the thing that inflates and flips the boat back over if it flips, and the rest. But they say the boats are pretty unflippable, proper coast guard quality boats. And Dale, who is showing us the ropes now is actually a Coast Guard employee. So, I think we have safety pretty well covered.

We watch a man with his family put a speed boat out to sea. They vaguely put on life jackets, he is smoking a cigarette on the boat, the weather is a bit rough and a boat like that will easily capsize, and drives like an idiot. Dale is horrified and predicts it is just a matter of weeks or months before he is called out to rescue him and he smashes up his speed boat.

Since the seas were a bit rough, the intent isn't really to go out and do an actual survey. Just a bit of a test drive around to get used to being on a boat and see how everybody handles it. I have only been seasick once before (horrible rough passage on the ferry from Liverpool to Dublin) so I'm reasonable sure I will be ok. The boat is very open, mostly you sit on the pontoons hanging on to rope slightly over the edge, so you are right out there in the air and the sea.

We cruise out into the water and take a look around. Lots of birds out here, so fantastic, loads of guillemots floating and zooming off in their funny flight when we approach. A few eiders this far out, occasional razorbills and then we get really excited when we spot a few puffins floating off in the distance.

Out in the water for a test drive, didn't get a picture of the dolphin..

We seem to be about ready to head back in. But in the distance, umm, whale, dolphin, umm something over there. Ok, I need to work on my technique a bit, but it was my first time. We all look and Dale gets really excited, bottlenose dolphin, the first one of the year. Last night he and Kev went out to test out the boat steering and came across a minkie and some porpoise. We weren't supposed to see anything on this trip, we don't have the forms or the cameras, but we follow it around for a bit, trying to take pictures the best we can until it disappears. Wow, that was so cool. We also possibly spot a whale off in the distance but when we go to find it, we can't really find much.

We head back in after that, more things about how to dock the boat, what you do, and then head back to the office feeling pretty pleased with ourselves (or at least I was pretty pleased with myself). The other group is just getting themselves suited up and we stop to take pictures of each other in our spacemen costumes. They head off to the boat and we unsuit and head back into the office to learn about knots and forms and other things like that.

When the other group gets back, we spend time in the office doing our own things, writing, drinking tea, or just catching up on things. The CRRU staff head down to the other house and make up a leek potato casserole and we all sit down to a group dinner. We seem to have done things slightly out of order, we missed the formal introductions previously, so tonight has to be that.

Everybody tells their stories, their deepest darkest secrets, or whatever they will say under the influence of a lot of wine. Stephen launches into improv comedy and I sit next in line wondering how to follow that one. I decide that this dolphin adventure has changed my life and I'll quit my job, travel for months, move to another country, umm, ok, doing that anyways. But there is something in all of that, what do I really want to do with my future, my life, what seems like a really meaningful thing to do besides maintaining editorial software systems, as deeply meaningful as that can be.

Richard tells about his wife and the explosion in the chocolate factory. Ellie takes well being called the adolescent of the group but also has quite amazing stories of her travels in Vietnam and Mexico. Amber loves her van and surfing. Simona is pleased to be in the UK where people are nice to her. Duncan swears he has no interesting stories to tell but does have a mother who can kill rats with her voice. And Soo, well, she tells her life story, traveling through the years, lute makers, folk music, in three part harmony.

At this point, it is obscenely late, stories had taken hours but still how interesting it was. The CRRU staff is pressed for their stories and gosh how late it is, we have an early day tomorrow and they dash off. Oh well, there should be other chances. Bedtime now.