Whale Watching in Boston? Prepare for Evasive Maneuvers.

“It’s hard to decide which is more exciting: catching a glimpse of the world’s largest mammal or the high-speed boat ride to get you there.”

That’s how the description of the Hi-Speed Catamaran Whale watching boat ride starts. Maybe we should have known better (a three hour tour anyone?) but it sounds promising, doesn’t it? That’s what I thought. As we headed towards the wharf to board our boat, I didn’t realize that we were in for a slightly different voyage. While not exactly the experience promised above, ours was definitely memorable and, well I’d even say exciting. Let’s make this educational and break it down into a few important whale watching lessons.

Lesson 1: Bring extra clothes.

The trip was included in the Go Boston card I mentioned in a previous post. I had never been on a whale watching tour before and, after an eventful day ticking off most of Boston’s main attractions, I was looking forward to a relaxing boat ride. I like being on the water. When we travel, boat rides are often a highlight, whether it was the junk boat in Vietnam, the felucca in Egypt or the little motor boat in Capri. Katy, having been on a whale tour in Cape Cod as a kid, confirmed that it really was impressive to see. I believe she used the term ‘magical’. Clearly it was not something to be missed. It was a little colder than I had hoped in the morning, but after the previous warm, sunny day I had put on my shorts and flip flops. As someone who “likes being on the water”, you would think that I would know how quickly the weather can change and brought a few items of warmer clothing in my bag. Well, I didn’t. So there’s lesson one if you’re thinking about visiting some whales: Bring some extra clothing layers. Fortunately I had at least remembered to bring along a rain jacket.

The boat for the tour was a very large catamaran and the guides for the tour are all “professional researchers from the Whale Center of New England, New England’s leading authority on whale populations”. So, despite the weather, I was pretty optimistic that it would be a great ride. I barely even registered Greg’s joke that he hoped it “wouldn’t be like Stand by Me” as the four of us got in line.

Awaiting our Boston Whale Tour
Everything seemed fine...

We piled on the boat with the other hundred or so guests and things started out pretty smoothly. The catamaran was definitely quick and though this made it even colder for those of us stupidly wearing shorts, we were soon making our way out of the harbour towards open water. That’s when things started to go a bit awry.

Lesson 2: Listen to helpful instruction from those who have been where you are going.

Not surprisingly, as we left the shelter of the harbour, the size of the swell started to increase dramatically. It wasn’t long before the four of us had retreated from the top deck to the sturdier main deck as the boat’s crew were making announcements that the water would be a bit rough so everyone should refrain from moving around the boat and either sit or hold on to something. Lesson two: when receiving such instruction from the crew of a vessel, be it on land, in the air, or on the water, listen! I mean sit your land-loving ass down and stop racing around the boat looking for some mythical stable ground. Sorry, we left that behind at the wharf.

As I mentioned, I like being on the water. In part, I think that’s reflective of the fact that I’m not really prone to getting seasick. Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as me in this area. As it always does, it started with one poor lonely tourist. There he was frantically racing down the stairs from the top deck to the main deck. Looking, hunting, desperately seeking something, somewhere to deposit his breakfast. Miraculously, he made it to the garbage can and, as the familiar sound of vomit made it’s way around the boat, there was an audible groan from the rest of us. Greg’s joke (here’s a hint if you didn’t get it) now became prophesy as one person after another hit their personal breaking point.

Lesson 3: The horizon is your friend.

As more and more people got sick, panic started to set in. People were running all around, despite the large swells rocking the boat, looking for somewhere they could either throw-up or, less likely, avoid it. I’m convinced that at least a few of these people could have been saved that pleasure had they just sat still, taken some deep breaths and kept their eyes on the horizon. So, there’s lesson three: Fresh air and look where you’re going. Now this is in direct contradiction of the part of the tour description that offers, “a comfortable indoor climate-controlled cabin for an optimal experience no matter the weather”, but it’s not all that comfortable indoors when it reeks of puke. We were lucky enough that none of us were sick and Katy – who in great foresight had damaged her ability to smell while doing chemistry experiments in university – was the only one of us who could stand to take advantage of the warmth offered by the climate controlled cabin.

Lesson 4: Think of your fellow passengers.

Ok, so I think you have the picture. If not, let me help set the scene: As the boat heaved through the swells, everyone is bundled up against the cold and windy conditions while an unfortunate majority deal with their own private hell. Some are staring intently out at the horizon – these people have learned lesson 3 – while others are sitting on the deck in various corners holding on to the vomit bags that the crew raced around handing out. Clearly this was not an unprecedented event; they even had a shop vac at the ready.

Using a puke bag on Boston Harbour Whale Tour
An example of proper puke bag technique.

Lesson 4 is intended for a very select group. This group includes people who probably stand on the left side of escalators, litter, listen to music really loudly on public transit and kick kittens. In short, people who really aren’t very considerate of others, and are maybe just mean and stupid. Harsh I know, but I think you’ll agree it’s a fair description. On our boat, we had one particularly shining example of this group. Clearly not feeling very well, he was looking for somewhere to throw-up. However, instead of joining the others in the same predicament and grabbing a puke bag or sidling up to an empty slot at a garbage can, he, in his infinite wisdom, makes his way up the side of the boat. Yes, toward the front and into the wind.

It all happened so quickly. Before the particularly astute in the crowd could get their warnings out, he was puking into the wind and it was flying back towards those of us unfortunate enough to be on that deck. I was closest to him and, puke flying at me in slow motion, did my best Matrix spin move behind the cover of a wall. As I did this, I saw Greg, who was sitting further back on the boat, sprinting across the boat with Courtney in tow, faster than I thought possible. It was over as quickly as it started and ignoring the screams of anger from all around, our anti-hero stumbled off to the other side of the boat… only to do it again causing everyone to race back across to the other side of the boat. Then (“surely not” you’re thinking) but yes, after he took some time to collect himself inside the cabin he came back outside and headed into the wind again. This time fate, having seen enough, stepped in. Before he could cause any more damage, someone from the deck above puked on him. Surprisingly angry and seemingly ignorant of the cheers from those of us nearby, he stumbled back below deck and that was the last we saw of him.

Cold Boston Whale Watching
Wait, is that puke flying in our direction?

In the aftermath, I noticed some puke on my shoulder. It wasn’t much, but really there’s no way to be comfortable with someone else’s puke on you (one of many reasons I respect doctors and especially nurses so much). I don’t think it was the sight as much as the smell that got me, but I wanted it gone. So, using the sleeve of my jacket I quickly wiped it away. After doing this I looked at Katy, feeling very relieved, and said “ah, there I feel better”. Katy, who had avoided being hit, just smiled and said, “in that case, you might want to do one of these” making a swiping motion with her sleeve through her hair. Yep, I had stranger puke in my hair. I got it with the sleeve of my jacket, but I can’t say I felt clean. Much to Katy and Courtney’s amusement, I spent the next 10 minutes working intently to capture a stray paper napkin that was miraculously blowing past without letting go of the handrail.

Lesson 5: Maybe whales don’t exist.

So, at this point, the hi-speed boat ride had definitely delivered some excitement, if not what I had in mind, but we still hadn’t seen a single whale. After awhile the boat slowed, which in turn slowed the puking, and our collective attention turned to whale spotting. We looked left, we looked right. One of the guides even said she thought she saw a Minke whale. In the end, all we saw were some piles of seaweed.  I expertly snapped a picture, before realizing that it wasn’t a whale.

Not a whale.
Oh look a whale... or more seaweed.

The ride back to harbour was a slightly less exciting version of the trip out, I guess the novelty had worn off. By the time we arrived, everyone was just so happy it was over that we filed off the boat in silence. Amusingly, because we didn’t see any whales, everyone was given a pass for a rain check tour. I’d love to know the redemption rate on those.

Lesson 5? Maybe the Discovery Channel lies. Maybe they, elementary school teachers all over the world, and Katy’s family are part of an elaborate conspiracy. Maybe whales hangout with the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause and the Tooth Fairy.

Maybe, just maybe, whales don’t exist. I guess we’ll just have to use our rain check tickets to find out. Not this trip though. It’s too soon. Too soon.

7 thoughts on “Whale Watching in Boston? Prepare for Evasive Maneuvers.

Add yours

  1. Have faith Dave…whales do exist… just beyond the horizon… off Cape Cod in the summer of ’89 on a hot sunny afternoon in July!! and Katy was right…it was mystical and jaw dropping at the same time! that a family from a small town along the Ottawa River in Ontario are on a whale watching boat tour witnessing a half dozen whales frolicking in the Atlantic Ocean with their spray flying in the air! and the added sound of tourists camera’s clicking..and capturing that mystical moment! Maybe…just maybe Lesson 6 should be included…Must pick a hot sunny day in July!! 🙂



  2. David,

    Great story and one I have relayed to a few friends after hearing it from you. Great laughter.

    I took in a wahle watching boat ride out of Tifino. Zodiak boat with two large engines, riding over waves 3 to 4 feet high, it was as good as a six flags coaster. They provided floatation suits (I think that maybe it was to protect us from flying puke). We managed to see three Killer whales, papa, mama and baby and we saw pap come out of the water with a seal in his mouth.

    I suggest trying the other ocean to get your glimpse of a whale.



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