Minke whales, striped and common dolphins seen from tall ship Lord Nelson

21st Mar 2016

Lord Nelson: Gran Canaria- Southampton via Azores

After boarding the Jubilee Sailing Trust tall ship 'The Lord Nelson', the first couple of days were spent in in Port in Las Palmas de Gran Canaria. This allowed us (the voyage crew) to find our way around the ship, to haul ropes and get used to life on board.

We finally set sail at 9.30am on Wednesday 9th March into some very unexpectedly choppy waters. With a sea state 5 and a 3 metre swell it was safe to say the ship was rocking. Even with the rough conditions a blow was clearly seen above the waves. A minke whale made our very first sighting of the voyage less than an hour after leaving Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

The rest of the day brought more training such as emergency drills, mess duties and learning the ropes (as there are certainly a lot of them). As the sun started to fade below the horizon a small pod of dolphins were seen bow riding briefly. It was difficult to make a positive ID in the dim light however the patterning on the side looked typical of striped dolphins.

Once the voyage was underway the routine of daily life soon sunk in. The mornings would consist of breakfast, team meetings, sail setting, the occasional workshop, presentations and happy hour. This meant all hands on deck to clean the ship on and below deck. We also had the chance to climb up the 33m high masts (which just so happens to be the same length as the largest recorded blue whale). There was something very exciting about climbing to the top of the mast in the middle of the Atlantic, with nothing but sea all around and swaying with the swell.

Throughout the first leg of the voyage, between Gran Canaria and the Azores, there were very little in the way of sightings as we travelled over the abyssal plain, at 3000+m deep. It was safe to say the Atlantic Ocean seemed to be very quiet. Only a couple of pods of dolphin swam by keeping most of their body just below the surface, making ID very difficult. There were also a couple of tall whale blows. We all hoped it could be the big Blue, as mid-March is the start of their migration past the Azores, but with a very large swell of over 2 metres and a sea state 4, the body could not be made out to obtain a positive ID.

There was however one sighting that stood out above all the rest. Unusually, this happened at around 2.30am during the “graveyard watch”. When looking at the sea during the night you could see it twinkling with the bio-illuminance from plankton. All of a sudden these bright trails appeared, dancing around just below the waters surface as a couple of dolphins joined us on port side, swimming through the phosphorescence.

Our watch has had some interesting events happen during the 12-4am shift. We had been used to seeing the stunning night sky, learning new constellations, identifying planets and satellites, navigating by stars and seeing the bright reflection of the moon on the waters surface. We had occasionally seen a shooting star but on our latest midnight shift a meteor passed so close it burnt up in the Earth's atmosphere creating a bright white flash across the night sky.

Early Tuesday morning we approached Santa Maria, one of the Azorean Islands, we had common dolphins bow riding and a turtle snuck past us. We spent the rest of the day at Anchor to shelter from an oncoming storm before making our way to Ponta Delgata on São Miguel for our first shore leave of the voyage so far.

Other wildlife seen along the way includes plenty of Cory’s Shearwaters and Great Skuas, 3 unidentified turtles and a Portuguese Man-of-War.

We will soon set sail again making the 2 week journey back to Southampton, keep an eye on the ORCA and jubilee Sailing Trust blogs for sightings updates.

- Becky Garrity

Lord Nelson blog