Luxury whale-watching cruise: cocktails and consciousness-raising

January 30, 1994|By T. M. Shine | T. M. Shine,Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

The best way to save the planet, naturalist Doug Thompson says, is to make it pay.

time to stop hammering and preaching at people," Mr. Thompson says.

No, Mr. Thompson has decided, people will only save Earth when they figure out how to exploit it in a good way.

Take the whaling industry, for instance. What if Mr. Thompson could show the people of Norway they could make twice as much money as they do killing whales by taking boatloads of tourists out to see whales?

Who knows where to find whales better than a whaler? Put out a little cheese and chardonnay, he suggests. Make a day of it.

"That way you save the product. Because the whales are going to be gone and then what are the [whalers] going to do?" Mr. Thompson asks.

Which brings us to his latest endeavor. As a researcher, lecturer, and producer of such documentary films as "Friendly Whales of Baja," he has always wanted to make his ocean expeditions accessible to the public.

But, he says, "it's taken me 20 years to put something like this together."

What he has put together, along with a licensed captain, a marine engineer, a registered nurse and a documentary director, is kind of a Cousteau-with-cocktails cruise available to the general public for around $1,500 for eight days. "We'll keep things elegant in very remote situations," he says.

For the past several months, Mr. Thompson and his crew have been preparing a 72-foot Solaris catamaran docked at the Harbour Towne Marina in Dania, Fla. They'll be able to take up to 12 passengers on journeys being documented by James Deckard, known for such National Geographic specials as "Polar Bear Alert."

They'll also be equipped with everything from scuba gear to a mini-sub for moving among certain whale species without being too intrusive.

"We have underwater cameras and a hydrophone so you can also sit down in the dining area and watch and listen to the whales on a monitor while you have a cocktail," Mr. Thompson says.

"But we're still adding comfort to the whole experience," he says. Every stateroom will have its own bathroom and climate control.

Right now, he says, he's putting the finishing touches on the Serendy. "Short for serendipitous. Which is really perfect, considering the way we all came together on this," Mr. Thompson says. "This has all happened in the last 100 days."

Mr. Thompson's lifelong friend and now captain of the Serendy, Steve Arnett, was navigating another boat around South Florida when he spotted Serendy dry-docked in Riviera Beach and thought the boat ideal for what they envisioned.

Mr. Arnett contacted Mr. Thompson at his home base in Laguna Beach, Calif., and Mr. Thompson, in turn, tracked down the owners, Paul Evans and Linda Nicole, who live in England.

"We loved the idea," says Ms. Nicole, a nurse. "We're even talking about calling our little group SeaGreen."

Mr. Evans, a marine engineer, has been in the engine room of the Serendy for the past three weeks adding duplicates of fTC everything (two batteries, two generators, etc.) for the first voyage. For that trip, they will be documenting dolphin and whale behavior in the Sea of Cortez and Magdalena Bay between the Baja Peninsula and mainland Mexico.

From the beginning, they all decided that if they were to set any kind of example, the boat itself should become sort of an eco-vessel. So they are adding solar power and wind generators. They already have the capability to turn salt water into fresh water and have installed trash compactors.

"But there is still so much more we have to look into," Mr. Thompson says.

When in port they're going to invite manufacturers to come aboard to advise them on how to become more efficient when it comes to trash, sewage and detergents.

not a capitalist at heart, but I want to show those who are what can be done," Mr. Thompson says. "If you look at the boating industry alone you see all the toxics and chemicals in things like [hull] paint and varnishes. We've got to do better, and people will pay for it. We have to convince the corporations of that." His hope is that others will follow the Serendy's example.

"We want to lure people out here with luxury," he says. " 'Cause this is how you get people to see that it's not about being stuck in traffic on the freeway. You get out in the open water and you learn about sonar equipment and start to think about how the Earth is spinning at tremendous speed and the satellites are whirling above and the dolphins are signaling beneath us and you start to feel a part of it.

"You start to realize that the whales that are dying and moving farther and farther from our shores because of raw sewage are really a metaphor for us. And that's what we have to think about, our own extinction, not the planet's. We have to listen to the whales."

And have a cocktail.Serendy's first expedition to the Sea of Cortez is booked. For information on future Serendy voyages, call (714) 497-1055. Fax: (714) 497-9320.

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