Monday, 7 September 2015

20th August - Cape Cod, Massachusetts - Day One

yesterday was cleaned out with travelling.  An early start from Salt Lake City, arriving into Boston at around 4.00 pm, and then despite a very efficient car rental pick up, we had to negotiate rush hour traffic on I-95 south to get  to Cape Cod.  We finally arrived at the hotel around 7.30 pm.

Today was to be a whale watching trip, the chance to once again go out into the Gulf of Maine with the Dolphin Fleet.  when we lived in New Jersey 15 years ago we would make the journey quite often up to Cape Cod, and then out on the boats of the Dolphin Fleet.  Our first whale trip was on the 29th May 1999, our second the following day was an amazing experience, one the whole family remembers very fondly, since then no two trips have been the same, but they all saw whales in one form or another.  Now we were back, just the two of us this time, but excited at the prospect of what we would see.  

I had booked the first trip for 1.30 pm, so we had time to adjust in the morning, but an email from the company advised us that today was the Provincetown Carnival, and it was likely to be busy and parking at a premium.  Knowing Provincetown, we decided to heed the warning and set off as soon as we were ready.  As we slowly made our way into downtown, we were glad we had, we parked at the first available place, and then walked into Provincetown.  For first time visitors here it is probably a shock, and it was for us the first time.  My advice had been beware the tea dances.

Carnival day was perfect, blue skies, hot and humid at about 90 degrees, and the whole town was putting on a show.

The theme for this year was Candyland, and that is what the town had become, colourful candy everywhere.

In all shapes and sizes.

The town holds a lot of memories for us, the Kite shop down by the beach.

The garden with the many fantastic statues

And the Lunchbox Cafe.

We walked the streets taking in the atmosphere and people watching, there was a lot to see.  the Carnival parade was taking place at 4.00 pm, but already the street was lined with chairs as people set up their best positions now.

we made our way out to the quayside around 1.00 pm to get the boat, looking back the beach and waterfront looked good in the sun.

At the time of the first European encounter this area was settled by the Nauset Tribe.  On May 15, 1602, having made landfall from the west and believing it to be an island, Bartholomew Gosnold initially named this area "Shoal Hope". Later that day, after catching a "great store of codfish", he chose instead to name this outermost tip of land "Cape Cod".  That name referred specifically to the area of modern-day Provincetown; it wasn't until much later that that name was reused to designate the entire region now known as Cape Cod.

On November 9, 1620, the Pilgrims aboard the Mayflower sighted Cape Cod while en route to the Colony of Virginia. After two days of failed attempts to sail south against the strong winter seas, they returned to the safety of the harbour, known today as Provincetown Harbour, and set anchor. It was here that the Mayflower Compact was drawn up and signed. They agreed to settle and build a self-governing community, and came ashore in the West End.

Though the Pilgrims chose to settle across the bay in Plymouth, Cape Cod enjoyed an early reputation for its valuable fishing grounds, and for its harbour: a naturally deep, protected basin that was considered the best along the coast.  In 1654, the Governor of the Plymouth Colony purchased this land from the Chief of the Nausets, for a selling price of two brass kettles, six coats, 12 hoes, 12 axes, 12 knives and a box.

This tower, the Pilgrim Monument, was built between 1907 and 1910 to commemorate the first landfall of the Pilgrims in 1620 and the signing in Provincetown Harbour of the Mayflower Compact. This 252-foot-tall bell tower is the tallest all-granite structure in the United States, and you can see it all the time we were out at sea.

The tower design was based upon the Torre del Mangia in Siena, Italy, built in 1309.  In 1907 the cornerstone for the monument was laid by President Theodore Roosevelt.

As we left the quay there were several Eider in the harbour, all in eclipse plumage.

As we left the harbour we began to pick up terns on either side of the boat, and plenty could be seen fishing along the beach of the tip of Cape Cod.  There were Least, Forster's and this Common Tern.

But there was always the chance of a surprise like this Black Tern.

The boat followed the shore of the tip of Cape Cod, then we headed out towards the Stellwagen Bank, and area of shallower water in the Gulf Of Maine.  The depth of the water out of Provincetown was about 300 feet but on the Stellwagen Bank it rises to a plateau of around 80 foot.  The steep sides of the plateau cause deep-water currents to rise up when they hit the bank; this upwelling brings with it nutrients and minerals from the bottom, upon which small fish such as sand eels feed, and then they bring in larger fish, birds  and the whales to feed on them.

As we turned out into the Gulf we started to see Cory's Shearwaters along side the boat.

While others sit back and wait I am constantly scanning the water for something, this was rewarded when a Sooty Shearwater passed us, it was a little distant, and this only serves as a record shot.

A moving boat and a large swell are not the best conditions for photography, so a lot of images were taken to get presentable photographs, this a Cory's Shearwater again.

The further out we started to see Great Shearwaters, slightly smaller than the Cory's despite their name they have a distinctive head cap and a white band around the neck.

As well as the shearwaters there were also the odd Gannet passing by.

It was a beautiful clear day when we left, but ahead of us was a bank of sea fog, probably caused by the colder water hitting the hot air, we could see the sky above us, but around the boat it was misty with reduced visibility.  This was a passing Great Shearwater.

Then the boat slowed, which is a good sign and soon after that we drifted to a stop, a head of us was a Calf Humpback Whale, and it was in a playful mood.

despite the fact that this was a calf, and probably around nine months old, it was a big animal, weighing about one ton when born this youngster made quite a splash.

It then became evident that there were two calves, and then the adults appeared, three of them, who were identified as Pele, Jabiru, and Cajun.  The two calves were not named.

The calves would fall in line with the adults as the whales seemed unconcerned by the presence of the boat.  The mist though does wash the colour out in the photographs.

Seeing the tail usually indicates a deep dive, and that maybe the whale is gone, but here they just kept diving and then coming back.

here you can see the large pectoral fins under the water.  The fins are white but with the enormous amount of algae in the water the fins show up as turquoise blue.

The pectoral flippers are very long, between a quarter to a third of the length of its body, and have large knobs on the leading edge.

We wondered when the young whales would tire out, every so often one would return to probably its mother.

But the show just kept on going, the calves launching themselves out of the water.

Then coming close along side the boat, as if to "human watch"

But also joined by the adult whales too.

The calves then were back to diving and then launching themselves out of the sea.

If you took your eye off the sea for a moment you ran the risk of missing something.  we were at the back of the boat and had to keep going from one side to the other, the show just kept on running.

Then the calves would lie just under the surface waving and slapping its pectoral fin and tail on the surface of the water.

Every one wants to see the tail, this is the shot they want to get, and while it is dramatic it does signal the possible end of the show.

It is the pattern on the tail that allows the whales to be identified, the patterns are as unique as a fingerprint.

When the whale dives there is a heavy flex of the tail that forces the whale down, this leaves a distinctive patch on the water, known as the "footprint".

But while some of the whales were diving others stayed on the surface.

Because we had been engrossed in watching the whales, I hadn't realised the mist had lifted, and we were back to technicolour, a fact also celebrated once again by one of the young whales.

With a real splash

The adults now were swimming close to the boat, at one stage we were looking down at them and could make out the huge shapes and luminous fins as they just cruised under us, Helen likened it to the scenes you get in Star Wars films where the huge space ships move slowly past.

The boat and the whales turned and the whales were once again swimming towards us, as they breathed the spray from their blow holes creating mini rainbows.

head on they just kept coming towards us.

And then they dived beneath the boat all three adult whales.

Leaving a footprint and a calf nearby.

An amazing show, but like all shows this one had to come to an end, it was time to head back to Provincetown, and as we turned away the whales remained to entertain another whale watching boat that had turned up.

On the way back we were once again joined by Shearwaters, these two Cory's silhouetted against the sun dappled sea.

A better record of a Sooty Shearwater.

And a Cory's Shearwater demonstrating why they are called Shearwaters, because they shear the water very, very close, using the uplift of the air from the waves.

I saw a blow as we approached the Cape Cod tip, it was a distant Finback Whale, but unfortunately we did not have time to stop to investigate, lets hope its about tomorrow.

As we arrived back into quay the Terns returned, and the breakwater was still covered in Double-crested Cormorants.  It had been a wonderful cruise, a real welcome back to what for me is the best whale watching company we have been with, and the best whales to see, the Humpback.  As was pointed out as we docked, this was a special trip.  Not all whale watches are like this, in fact this was the first time we have ever seen a Humpback breach, and we have seen a lot of Humpbacks

Back in town the Carnival parade was coming to an end, 

There was then a mad dash to get to the car and to get out of the car park ahead of the crowds.  We made our way back to the hotel, where we changed and got our self ready for the evening entertainment.  Just a little way down the road from the hotel there is a Drive-in Movie theatre.  back in '99 this was our plan for the evening until certain events transpired to change the evening plans.  The theatre is only open in the summer, and for reasons we can't recall we never tried to go again.  Tonight though we were going, we had fish and chips in the grill, then queued and waited, the big show tonight was....

Once in we drove to a suitable spot next to the speakers.  The sound system is the same used back in the 50's, and while you can tune to an FM frequency it didn't seem right, so we rested the speaker on the car door. 

As it got dark the mist closed in which highlighted the projector beam.  It was a great end to a fantastic day once again.


  1. Great photos Chris. Shame we didn't get a running post holiday commentary with these. Love the pics of the bison, owl and whales, amazing! See you soon, All the best, James

  2. There is always time for the slide show!

  3. There is always time for the slide show!


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