A whale of a time
Claremont seniors watched in amazement as the dolphins danced around the bottom of their boat. Every so often one of the sea mammals would surface to take a breath, which was met with a combination of gasps and silent wonder from the crowd.
“It’s almost like they’re playing games with the boat,” Cindy Sullivan said as the group marveled at the sight on a chilly March morning.
The whale-watching trip in Dana Point Harbor was one of many organized by Claremont Excursions, part of the city’s senior program, which gives Claremont seniors the opportunity to get away from the City of Trees and see what the Southland has to offer.
The program has put on the excursions for several years. A 10-person board meets every month to plan the trips every year, and in addition to Wednesday’s whale watching trip, Claremont seniors have gone to the Petersen Automotive Museum, Santa Anita Park, Catalina Island, and have seen legendary composer John Williams perform at the Hollywood Bowl.
“We try to make it not just fun, but intellectually stimulating,” board member and chaperone Dorcia Bradley said.
A key component is accessibility, board member Maury Feingold said—a bus takes the seniors to wherever they want to go, which Ms. Bradley notes is especially handy for those who don’t have a car or otherwise aren’t mobile. All locations are within a two-hour radius from Claremont.
Ms. Sullivan, the board chair, added that the group is a good mixture of couples and single people, and is an excellent opportunity to meet people and mingle with fellow Claremonters in an exciting setting.
The trip started bright and early—seniors were to meet at the Hughes Center promptly at 7:30 a.m. and leave in a brand-new Inland Empire bus at 8 a.m. The bus made it to Dana Point just after 9, and the seniors, wearing orange lanyards to distinguish themselves from the crowds, ambled over to the docks to get on the catamaran.
The skipper of the boat noted that March was a good time to see whales, and previous trips had been successful as of late. Jerry Feingold expanded on that, saying that this time of year, gray whales travel south behind Catalina Island and along the Southern California coast before going into the open ocean.
The first marine encounter occurred just after the boat taxied out of the crowded harbor and into the sea. Dozens of common dolphins—notable for their uncommon gray, silver and white markings along their body—darted around the boat, swimming alongside and jumping through the boat’s wake.
But the main goal of whale watching is to see a whale. About 20 minutes into the excursion, the skipper announced he could see signs of gray whale activity—still pools of ocean water he called the whale’s “footprint,” indicating a whale was just at that spot.
The crowd sat in enraptured silence as they scanned the sea, some holding up binoculars to get a closer look.
Then, a chorus of gasps as two massive juvenile gray whales made their presence known, surfacing for air for just a few seconds. They later made a closer appearance toward the end of the tour.
It was enough to get the entire boat buzzing. “They’re so big!” one woman said. “They’re so fast!” exclaimed another.
The group then sailed past a red buoy filled with lazy sea lions. As the land dwellers admired and took pictures, one sea lion craned his neck to catch a tired glimpse before lying back down.
The trip was bookended by a nice lunch at Wind and Sea, followed by the long trek back to the City of Trees.
Ms. Feingold noted that the excursions offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences for older Claremonters who otherwise would not have the opportunity.
“Most people appreciate going places they never would have gone,” she said.
Before and during every trip, the board puts in the legwork to coordinate the event—distributing flyers, making phone calls, dealing with emergencies and making sure everyone is on the bus.
After the trip, the seniors are asked to fill out evaluation forms, asking what the liked about the trip and for any ideas on how to improve them in the future. Around 98 percent of guests have ranked the trips “excellent” or “good,” Ms. Sullivan said.
Ms. Feingold noted that there are still openings for future trips, including an excursion to the Living Desert in Palm Desert and a docent-led tour of the Huntington Library.
Claremont Excursions is part of a senior program that has made an impact on the city’s older population, including Dorcia Bradley.
Ms. Bradley moved to Claremont six years ago from Pennsylvania with her husband John. Prior to coming to Claremont, the Bradleys lived in a town where the senior program involved nothing more than lunch and the occasional game of Bingo.
“Honestly, we feel younger here than we did six years ago,” she said.