Michael Winter might be tempted to use the name Ishmael for a character in his next novel.
The award-winning writer, who has featured a fictional alter ego in several of his works, had a near brush with a 12-metre whale this week while jigging for cod close to his Newfoundland home.
The jarring encounter Wednesday between Winter’s four-metre dory and the humpback whale was captured on his digital camera and posted to YouTube. On the video the shaken writer can be heard saying “that was it, he’s right under the boat, I’m out of here.”
In a phone interview Friday from his home on the Avalon Peninsula, Winter said that his wife and a visiting friend had nearly been hit Tuesday by a whale. The next day was a rare bit of good weather, and the author of This All Happened, The Big Why and The Death of Donna Whalen decided to go out for some recreational cod fishing.
Luck was with him at a spot about 45 metres from land and within minutes he had landed two fish. That suggested the presence of a school of capelin, on which the cod were feeding, which would also attract nearby whales. Adding to the risk, he was on his own and making little noise that would warn big mammals to steer clear.
Moments after catching his second fish came the encounter, sparking what he called a “moment of panic.” It was a scene that would be familiar to anyone who has watched Jaws, albeit minus the big teeth. The dory was bobbing placidly in a gentle swell when a leviathan suddenly surged up alongside, rocking the boat wildly and then vanishing beneath the surface.
“The immediate thought I had, when he’s coming up, was how much of him is going to come up, how much of the dory is going to come out of the water?” Winter said by phone. “It’s like the sea is rearing up to meet you. So it’s quite startling. But then it’s over in a second and you’re like ‘Did I just capsize?’ ”
Moments later the whale breached again, this time barely an oar’s-length from the boat, ending the fishing trip.
Winter hasn’t been out for cod since the encounter, but says that’s more because the weather has been unpromising. “They say you should get back on the horse,” he noted.