Three sightings of the Risso’s dolphin

We left Half Moon Bay just after daybreak for a sporty 88 mile sail down to Monterey. Time passed pleasantly with naps, snacks, and blue skies. The conditions were perfect for surfing the following seas and our boat speed was fantastic. I’d been holding this type of day in mind throughout the shuffle and hard work of embarking on this big journey. We made a new joke about setting our “speed limit” for life at 7 knots for awhile – goodbye highways, goodbye multi-tasking, goodbye late nights followed by early mornings.

As we got closer to the Monterey harbor, we saw some fins playing around the boat. The animals looked like a kid’s drawing of a whale with big eyes and a happy smile. After hours of joyful sailing and securing a slip over the VHF radio for the week, we were giddy with spotting these magnificent mammals. Scott later ID’ed them as the Risso’s dolphin – the only species in the genus “grampus”. We affectionately called them grandma and grandpa.

Photo credit: National Maritime Historical Society ( I was too in awe to think of snapping a pic.

Our foggy week in the marina included getting to know the sea lion neighbors, DIY haircuts, and a bounty of rockfish and lingcod from Scott’s day on a fishing charter.

Before I jumped into sailing, long-distance swimming had my heart. The flow of going as fast as you can, as long as you can, while seeing the ticker of yardage decrease is pretty comforting to me. During the 500 yd freestyle event, a teammate holds a sign with how many laps remain underwater at the wall. They might pump it up and down to encourage picking up the pace. The swimmer then somersaults at the wall and kicks off the other direction for another lap. I love that it’s not possible to sprint the whole way. Something about getting comfortable for the long haul makes my strength visible to me.

Ocean sailing has that electric feeling too, with a dose of uncertainty from Mother Nature and the inability of a sailboat to go directly into the wind. Losing sight of land altogether and watching a safe port grow in size on the horizon is nothing short of magic, and zig zagging towards a destination holds lots of learnings for meandering through life.

We have used Navionics charts for years and recently added an iPad to our toolkit. It sits under the dodger and the mileage changes as we make progress on our course.

Here’s a screenshot of the start of our next route which includes rounding Point Conception – the “Cape Horn of California”. When underway, the app includes speed and estimated time of arrival for way points and the destination. We’re currently sitting quietly on a mooring in Morro Bay.

Our sail from Monterey to San Simeon was more challenging. The seas were sloshy and we’d decided to experiment with forgoing Dramamine – our seasickness med of choice. We usually take it the night before and haven’t gotten seasick in years. The common side effect is sleepiness, and I wanted to avoid that for our 24 hour passage. Dear reader, I paid the price and tossed my cookies over the side countless times.

Sailors across the ages have used the phrase “holding fast” for these types of scenarios. When your only choice is to hang in there, you do! The ocean is relentless and with it as a mirror, I can practice being relentless while on shift and resting when off. The Risso’s dolphins popped up a few more times to smile at us, and it was a delight as my stomach started to turn.

Image from Research Gate.

My third “sighting” of the dolphin was in the later chapters of the novel Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh. I’m reading it along with the Book Club for the Planet organized by Jess Schreibstein.

For more marine mammal readings, check out Undrowned: Black Feminist Lessons from Marine Mammals by Alexis Pauline Gumbs.

Published by Ash

Knitter, sailor, and sewist on the move from San Francisco to the Chesapeake Bay aboard a 36' sailboat named Azimuth.

3 thoughts on “Three sightings of the Risso’s dolphin

  1. Have you tried seabands for seasickness? I actually wear them when I’m a passenger in a car – My eyes and ears don’t communicate with my brain very effectively and I feel like I’m on a rollercoaster in certain conditions when I’m just in a car. They work wonders for me.


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