Standing at the rail on a boat next to a forty-foot animal, you begin to feel a little bit inconsequential. There is something about standing next to an animal that outweighs you by more than 3,000 pounds that is extremely impressive. I had never been whale watching before, but I decided that after an entire life living within a relatively short distance of the Pacific Ocean, it was time.

Spurred on by a recommendation from a friend, I set out toward Santa Barbara Harbor to venture out on a cruise chartered by the Santa Barbara Sailing Center. On Tuesday of finals week I decided that I deserved a study break and that spending time with gray whales was the way to go.

At 11 a.m. I was welcomed aboard the Double Dolphin, a catamaran moored in the harbor, for a whale-watching excursion. We received the requisite safety briefing and were quickly on our way the Santa Barbara Channel. On this particular excursion we had a near guarantee of seeing a whale, as one had recently taken up residence at the mouth of the harbor. As spray burst into the air, our captain told us it had been there for a few weeks.

After a couple minutes in the company of our large friend, we sailed out of the harbor toward the buoy just off the end of Stearns Wharf that is home to about a dozen sunbathing sea lions at any given time of day. This coveted spot in the sun is completely covered with sea lions basking in the rays. When precious space does become available, and sometimes even when it is not, the sea lions charge through the water and hurl themselves toward the heaving mass in order to jump the three or four feet out of the water to sunbathing paradise.

After watching one of the sea lions attempt the jump more than a dozen times to no avail, we turned away from the buoy toward the open water. After about an hour and a half of nothing more than oil slicks, sea lions and one school of fish, we turned back to the harbor to visit our friend from earlier.

Despite the serious lack of whales in the channel, I felt that the day was still a success. The Double Dolphin, though a relatively small ship, is large enough to wander around and find a spot of open rail to take in the sights. It gave me an opportunity to check out the SB coastline all the way up to I.V. from an unfamiliar perspective.

However, the most attractive thing about the Double Dolphin is, by far, the price. Three different cruises – whale watching, coastal and sunset cruises – all cost 10 bucks a person with a valid student ID. This makes the trip worthwhile considering that it is one of the, if not the, cheapest way to get out on the water and check out SB from a different perspective. If you haven’t had the chance yet to do so, I highly recommend some sort of cruise. Whether you go with the Double Dolphin or not, it is an experience that you should have before leaving SB for good.