Jim Wilds was sailing solo off Florida in his 27-foot sailboat when in the middle of the night, he heard the sounds of whales singing and soon after heard one exhaling through its blowhole.
“It sounded like they were right behind me, and it turns out they were,” the 47-year-old told The Daytona Beach News-Journal.
Wilds was sailing from St. Augustine Inlet to Ponce Inlet and figured he'd get there at daybreak. But between 2 and 3 a.m. about 15 miles off Ormond Beach, he experienced a frightening encounter.
“I was scared,: Wilds told WKMG News 6. “I mean, I'm not going to lie. It was a scary thing.”
Suddenly, Wilds felt a huge tug from behind the sailboat and heard a loud twang sound.
“Someone hit the brakes hard,” Wilds wrote in a blog post.
Wilds was towing a dinghy with 30 feet of rope and a whale apparently surfaced between the dinghy and sailboat, and pulled down on the rope when submerging, snapping the rope and possibly sinking the dinghy.
“Before I could finish contemplating what the sudden and disconcerting loss of the dinghy meant when I reach shore, it got worse,” Wilds wrote.
The whale — either the same one or another, it was unclear — crashed into the keel of the sailboat, “instantly” turning the boat sideways by 45 to 60 degrees and sending Wilds face first into the lifelines. He broke his glasses, but he was still on board. He called that a “win.”
Wilds then went to check the keel bolts for damage. Another win.
“I was very happy to find that there was no water was coming in,” he told WKMG. “That was the first big concern.”
He wrote: “A keel falling off in the ocean is a trip to the bottom — every time.”
Wilds shared his story with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, which is attempting to verify the story.
“To me, his story's plausible and that's why we'd like to learn more,” FWC biologist Tom Pitchford told the News-Journal.
Pitchford visited Wilds on his sailboat on Monday and collected the remains of the rope so biologists can check it for whale skin.
“We do this in cases where a whale has been reported tangled in rope,” Pitchford told the News-Journal.
From the whale skin, biologists can determine the type of whale; Pitchford thinks it might have been a humpback or a right whale. There is also concern the whale might be tangled or injured. They hope to recover the nine-foot dinghy to account for all the rope.
In the meantime, Wilds plans to continue on to Palm Bay to visit family and fix his sailboat. The plastic rings connecting the mainsail to the mast, already hanging by a worn-out pin before the collision, broke during the encounter, leaving him with only the headsail. He was also left with a heck of a whale tale.
“It's been an experience,” Wilds told WKMG. “It'll definitely go in the book when I write it.”
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