Saturday, July 10, 2010

No Whale Tale

July 8
Grand Manan Island (pop. 2,460 including seasonal residents, 1,800 year-round)
As we were taking a twilight drive last night, we noticed about six cars parked by the side of the road, and a crowd gathered at a cliff-top viewing area. We stopped to see what they were up to, and learned that this is Long Eddy Point, a popular whale watching spot at the northernmost tip of the island. Visibility was limited due to the fog, but in the fifteen minutes we stayed to watch, we saw a fin whale, which whet our appetite for more whale watching today.

All the morning whale tours were canceled due to fog, but Whales ‘n Sails rescheduled for 2 p.m., pending weather improvements. By 2 p.m., the fog had cleared on one side of the island, but was still rolling around pretty thick on the western and southern shores. The whale watching trip was a go. Our boat was a 60 foot double-masted sailing yacht, and there was plenty of wind to fill her sails. Even so, we traveled at a mere 7.4 knots under both engine and sail power, so we knew we weren’t going to cover a lot of territory or go chasing after a far off whale in our four hour sail.

We had some exciting moments,
but they had nothing to do with whales. The excitement, at least for me, was when we sailed into thick fog banks while the captain chatted with the passengers and seemingly paid little attention to the chart plotter or radar.

We did not see any whales coming at us out of the fog. But, the trip was not a total bust. The naturalist on board, Laurie, did share a lot of information about the geology of the island, and pointed out some sea birds, including one life bird for me, the Greater Shearwater. And, they served a delicious Pollack chowder mid-way through the cruise. By that point, we really appreciated a warm snack. When the wind was coming off the island, we were warm enough just wearing our sweaters, but when we got out into the sea wind, we needed our sweaters, a fleece layer over them, and raincoats with hoods up to break the wind. A few degrees colder and we would have broken out our winter hats and gloves. While we are piling on the layers and warming our hands on our mugs of chowder, our friends back home are sweltering in temperatures over 100 degrees, according to Weather Underground.

In addition to the fresh caught fish chowder, we had two other regional culinary experiences today. We lunched overlooking the wharf at the Compass Rose Inn, where I enjoyed a refreshing carbonated rhubarb punch with my meal. At dinner, we tried dulse, a deep purple seaweed that grows on rocks off the shore of Grand Manan. Islanders harvest it at low tide, sift out the shells and other sea debris, and dry it in thin layers in the sun. After it is dried, dulse is packed (whole or as ground flakes) and shipped worldwide.

When we sat down to dinner,
it was in a bowl in the center of our table, looking very much like potpourri. Our server invited us to try it, and we did. It tasted very much like the sea—salty and fishy—and its texture was a bit leathery, even though it was as thin as tissue paper. Dick spit his out. I nibbled several small bites before deciding that its flavor was interesting, but best savored in small quantities. When my mussels arrived, the chef had flavored the broth they steamed in with dulse, draping it decoratively over the heap of mussels, and I liked it much better that way. Nonetheless, I felt no need to buy a big bag of dulse to take home for my future cooking needs.

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