Orca-strating a Passage

November 10, 2023

I would imagine that hikers preparing for a long trip in the Canadian Rockies have long conversations with their friends and family about what to do should they meet up with grizzly bears.

If I were preparing to live in a tent in West Texas for a period of time, I would certainly be talking to my people about keeping scorpions and rattlesnakes out of my shoes.

Those of us preparing to sail keelboats near Spain, Portugal, or Morocco talk about staying safe from Orcas.

This week, a group of Orcas sank a sailboat near the Strait of Gibraltar. You've likely being seeing these stories for several months. They've attacked a couple hundred boats over there. Very often, they do little or no damage. A few times, they've sunk the boat.

In 2017, we paid good money to go out in a boat that would be next to the orcas. That was money well spent, and if I never see another orca, that will be okay.

This is nerve-wracking.

Everyone's got theories on how to handle it. A Reddit poster suggested getting in the water between the orcas and the rudder, on the theory that they won't want to hurt a human and will go away. I offered to bring that guy along as "designated swimmer" on that leg of the voyage, but he begged off.

Shelly is so sure that we should just throw Ko overboard that she only refers to him as "chum" now.

Jerry suggests that we swing by Libia and pick up some dynamite to drop overboard. And a lot of the "conventional wisdom" out there is suggesting fire crackers. I'm not sure whether they work or whether it's just our innate impulse to explode things that threaten us.

Is sticking to the green going to work?

I personally wouldn't mind seeing the governments of the world open up some limited, legal, orca harpooning over there. "But it's their hooooooommmmmmee," you whine. I can hear you. Outside of sailing forums, the people tend to be on the side of the orcas. The New York Times article about this week's sinking ends with this thought:

But the ocean is the orcas’ home, and conservationists say scaring the animals is not a solution.

“It is not about winning a battle, because this is not a war,” Mr. López said. “We need to be respectful.”

So we don't see eye-to-eye.

A strategy that seems to be working is keeping to shallower water. No attacks have been recorded in depths less than about 60 feet. So we do that over there for sure.

We'll also crank up the human noises, to be as unpleasant as possible.

Oh, and that might be a good time to dump the cat's litter box. Orcas can't possibly want cat shit in their blow holes.

("Cat Shit in Their Blow Holes" is not a bad band name. You can have it for free.)

I also have this idea that if they come to our rudders, I switch to full-throttle reverse. First, if they're approaching from the stern, and the boat passes their head, they have to circle around to get back to them. Orcas don't have reverse, do they?

Second, in reverse, the motion of the boat and the suction of the prop are going to pull the orca toward the prop. They're too strong to suck them in to the prop and hurt them, but it might well be annoying.

But hopefully, we don't see the orcas at all.