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Gray pilot whale strikes yacht during cruise of the Caribbean

Antigua was one of the destinations encountered by Laura and Ron Robertson during their sailing trip to the Caribbean.

The Robertsons rented this yacht to tour the watery part of the Carribean.
October 05, 2005 - By BILL MILLIGAN

For the Mail Call

With nothing particular to interest them on shore, an Oakville couple thought it would be interesting to sail about and see the watery part of the Caribbean for their summer vacation.

It was June 1998 when Laura and Ron Robertson took their daughter Whitney to cruise the Virgin Islands to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary.

Along with two other families they had met sailing at Lake Carlyle, Ill., the Robertsons spent more than two weeks cruising among the islands.

It was during the passage from the Isle of Dominica to Guad-eloupe where their $500,000 rented yacht, the Privilege, was struck by a whale similar to the events of Herman Melville's novel "Moby Dick'' and the real-life experience of the Essex, a whale ship sunk by an enraged whale in the Pacific in 1850.

But unlike those two incidents, this whale seems to merely have bumped into them.

"Wham,'' Laura recalled. "The entire boat vibrated from being hit up forward on the port pontoon. We knew we had hit something.''

Unlike the crew of the Essex or the Pequod, the modern mariners had a different reaction.

"Whose credit card is the collision damage waiver on?'' hollered one of the men.

The women ran below and began lifting the floor boards to see if the boat was taking on water. All hands were contemplating a swim and wondering how much this event would cost them.

"I kept thinking I'll have to teach 64 years instead of 32,'' Laura said.

At first everyone thought they had hit a cargo container that had been washed overboard from a cargo ship sailing the same waters.

Soon came a cry from Laura's husband; when aboard ship she calls him "Capt. Ron.''

"We'd been attacked by a whale,'' Ron said. "I was afraid the environmentalists would be all over us.''

Soon everyone aboard was treated to the sight of a gray pilot whale jetting water from the blowhole on its back.

"We tried to shoot pictures, but we were laughing so hard the pictures were blurry,'' Laura said. "We figured he had a whale of a headache.''

After the incident they anchored in the closest harbor and dove overboard to assess the damage.

"There was not even a scratch on the paint,'' Laura said.

The family has taken nine cruises, the last one took place in 2003. They have owned four boats and believe that sailing has brought their family closer together.

"Our daughter wants to go to Murray State because it's 15 minutes from the lake,'' Laura said.

"Sailing has given her a different perspective. She looks at life as an international community,'' Laura added.

Ron said he enjoys the feeling of self-sufficiency he gets from sailing.

"There's no help for you on the ocean,'' Ron said. "It's just you and your skills. Once you leave sight of land, there's no Coast Guard to come and bail you out.''

Laura agreed.

"At Carlyle, if you sink, you can walk home,'' she said. "Not out there. It's like a gypsy lifestyle.''

"Every day starts with the same three questions,'' Ron said. "First, do I get out of bed? Second, what do I do today? Third, do we have enough ice to keep the beer cold?''

A lot has changed since Herman Melville sailed.

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