I first joined Odyssey when she was in San Diego having a haul out and paint job. As a volunteer I donned overalls and was put to work with power tools and a varnish brush, helping to get the boat ready for her long voyage. My friends and I slept on the floor of some guy’s house and ate the most awful take-away fast food every night, but we were working on Dr Roger Payne’s research boat, so none of that mattered. This was almost twenty years ago and the attention the ladies on our volunteer team got from guys working in the boatyard was quite funny, they had never seen anything like it. A whole bunch of young women (and some guys too) working for nothing every day just for the chance of seeing whales. Why? They could not comprehend it.

We had a fun team with guys and gals. Here I am eating pizza, all dressed up with some of the lovely male volunteers. 

I ended up becoming the varnisher, putting many, many layers of varnish over the teak table, handrail and other parts of this beautiful boat. Odyssey was built as a private yacht, so she was stunning, but she had to be made ready for slightly harder usage as a whale research boat about to sail around the world.

Sanding the propeller was my first real foray into the use of power tools!

We officially launched the voyage in Monterey, California sailing up there and I experienced my first battle (of many) with sea-sickness on board this beautiful, but rolly boat. On the way we saw grey whales and Dall’s porpoise, my first time seeing these Pacific species. Roger joined us on-board for the first time there and I was totally star-struck to meet him. We gave tours of our then state-of-the-art research sailing yacht and showed hundreds of people our tiny cabins, where many of us hoped to spend the next weeks and for some, months and years. After returning to San Diego to get her fully prepared, we finally slipped our lines off the dock with no one watching and headed out to sea; the first leg of the five year journey sailing from San Diego to the Galapagos Islands.

Me and my fellow whale watching volunteers turned Odyssey crew

As a thank you for all the hard work I had put in for no money, I got to join this part of the voyage just for fun. What an amazing experience. Yes, I did get HORRIBLY sea sick, but I was on Roger Payne’s research boat! What a privilege.

During that two weeks at sea I learned about real sailing, saw animals I had only dreamed of seeing, slept on deck rolling from side to side, and looked up at night skies that were totally without light pollution. Captain Bob Wallace, starting his third circumnavigation of the planet by boat, taught us about night watch, squalls and star gazing. We saw dolphins bow riding in phosphorescence at night, green dolphin shaped glows shooting through the water.  On our way down we also managed to catch a turtle that had a fishing hook through its mouth around the bow. We were only alerted to this by a banging on the hull, and when we investigated we had sailed over the line and caught it around the front of the boat. This has to be the luckiest turtle alive as we were in open ocean, but once we got it up on deck we managed to cut away the hook and line and release the turtle back into the water.

An incredibly lucky escape for a green sea turtle, entangled in fishing gear, but finding us in open ocean to disentangle it. 

Just north of the Galapagos we sailed across the equator and those of us who were Pollywogs (sailors who had not crossed the equator on a boat before) were brought before his highness King Neptune himself (aka Captain Bob Wallace) and subjected to a reasonably tame ceremony to become a Shellback. This is a seafaring tradition going back many years when sailors often also had their heads shaved and their ears pierced as the crossed the line. We just had old food thrown over us and were generally ridiculed, especially those of us who had already crossed the line, but on a plane, a heinous crime in the eyes of Neptune. After this we jumped in the ocean and swam across the equator in water thousands of metres deep, cleaning the food off our heads!

Paying our respects to King Neptune as we became Shellbacks, crossing the equator on a boat. 

As we arrived into Galapagos we sailed close to Darwin’s arch, saw hammerhead sharks, breaching manta rays and a huge pod of bottlenose dolphins mixed with melon headed whales.

I was hooked. This was the ocean, adventure, travel, nature as well as whales and life didn’t feel like it would ever be quite the same again after experiencing this. I remember going home and not really feeling like I fitted in with friends anymore, who chatted about the new invention ‘mobile phones’ and what tunes they could play, while I dreamed of Galapagos and the ocean.

I ended up returning to the Odyssey a further three times after this, and so the adventure continues…

Judith Scott

About Judith Scott

I am an international whale watching guide.


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