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Off to the sea...

January 21 2001 fell within the peak whale watching season as the gray whales migrated from Alaska to Baja California. That was the day we picked to go on a 3-hour whale watching cruise into the Pacific Ocean. Mother Nature was on our side that day—she enhanced the viewing experience by offering cloudless skies and quiet seas, allowing us to see close to a dozen whales on our outing.

Buoy at mouth of San Diego harbor Sky, wind, and water come together as we head out to sea. Sailboats tack in the breeze, pelicans and gulls glide over the water's surface; sea lions waddle up on the buoys to sun themselves. The boat gently rocks as we clear the harbor, and we look back at the hooked finger of land protecting the harbor passage: Point Loma. This point, with its two lighthouses, is the southwestern-most corner of the continental United States. Our boat heads south toward Mexican waters to intercept the migratory highway taking the whales to the warm coves of Baja California.
Cherie whips out the binoculars before we even clear the harbor. Here she is checking out one of the aircraft carriers, the Constellation, docked at North Island Naval Air Station (actually, I think she was checking out the young sailors in their uniforms). Point Loma's hillside houses are behind her. As we throttled through the harbor, the captain pointed out the U.S. Naval presence, from the submarines floating in their berths, to the flag ship of the Pacific Fleet, to the oiler with its hoses suspended in mid-air, to the Navy's only marine animal training and development facility (watch out, Flipper!). Cherie eyes the sailors
Bird Bait A trawler returns from a fishing expedition. The gulls are attracted like bees to honey. On our boat, they ate out of the hands of passengers brave (or silly) enough to hold bread crumbs in their palms. I wasn't worried—my hair is already white, if you catch my drift.
The whales were the icing on the cake. The cake: the beautiful blue skies and calm ocean waters on a flawless January day. Though the photographer was inept at capturing the leviathans on film, we were entertained by the whales blowing spouts of water into the air, arching their tails prior to taking their food-foraging dives, and two even swimming close enough to allow us a good look at their gray and white mottled backs. And we were not just treated to the whale migration -- we were also entertained by the sea lions sunning themselves on the bouys and the porpoises surfing in the boat's wake, or zooming by us like torpedos. The oceanographer on board pointed out many porpoises frolicking with the whales, something he'd not seen before. Jamie and Cherie enjoy the ocean view
Sal is ready to roll Sal, my friend from the Army War College, joined us for the tour. Here he poses by the boat.
Returning to the harbor, the San Diego skyline is the backdrop for a leisurely sail. If you look through the haze, you can pick out the mountains that rise from the city's eastern front. Sails over San Diego

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