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A Whale of a Time or A Load of Bull?

We are half way across the Atlantic doing the trade wind run from the Canaries to Barbados. In front and behind us are about thirty other boats doing pretty much the same thing: whiling the days away adjusting their course and sail plan to the current wind conditions. When not on watch, the people on board are sleeping, eating and doing lots of reading. During daylight hours most boats also troll in the hopes of stocking up the larder with some delicious tuna or Mahi Mahi. Then, twice a day we all tune in our SSB for a chat, fish stories and a position and weather status update. Dubbed the “Madlantic Net” by the originators who had sailed in company for several prior months and the NARC (=Not ARC as we were setting out ‘just’ after the ARC departure) by other members of the scattered group of sailors; nets like this are important for safety and peace of mind.

Fin Whale

One day on the morning net a boat in our loosely organised fleet reported that they had been watching a pod of “false killer whales” swim alongside their vessel when one of the whales turned and ran directly at them, crashing into their keel! It then swam back around and did it again as our friend and his wife watched in sheer horror. Fearing that the whale might hit their rudder, they ran through their boat trying to eliminate any squeaks or other possibly offensive noises. After a few more loud shuddering thumps, the whale finally relented and was seen swimming away with its friends.

“What color is your bottom paint?” someone inquires on the next SSB net session. “It’s red,” he replies, “and as a matter of fact, we just had the coat put on over our standard blue before we left.” It turns out that apparently there is a study showing that whales preferentially attack boats with red undersides – a point worth pondering when selecting your next color scheme. Once back ashore we found several incidences of similar behaviour, including a New York Times article dating back to 1905 describing an incident where a whale came straight at the steamship Multnomah terrifying the people on board as it rubbed its back on the ships underbelly. We don’t know of any large ocean predators that are predominantly red and would thus attract a whale’s fury, but we do know that red is characteristically considered to be a color connoting aggression.

So, is this all a load of ‘bull’? I think not. It would appear that it is not just bulls that “see red” and charge at the red cloth proffered by the matador. No, in fact we have also seen people do much the same. Our neighbour in a marina recently had his boat inadvertently rear-ended by a departing cruiser. To make his boat more visible he hung a red flag off its stern. I’ll leave it to you to figure out what happened then – suffice it to say that it was a bad decision. If you wish to be visible and attract possibly unwanted attention, then red is a perhaps a good color for you – otherwise... stick with a nonaggressive shade of say robin’s egg blue. It might save you a whale of a time.

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