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Good Companions

by Richard Brown 

Posted: 03 June 2004
Word Count: 1117
Summary: An account of a very recent encounter. It's not part of anything, nor written for any purpose other than fun.


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Good Companions

Chloe spotted them. At the first cry I thought she was mistaking the peaky waves for fins but her sharp eyes had not been deceived. She shouted ĎDolphins!í not once but several times, having read somewhere that they respond to the call. Whether or not she was an agent of their movement, they came near the boat.

We were three in number on a ten meter, wooden craft, motor-sailing from Sitges on mainland Spain to Majorca. Bob, the owner of the yacht, is my friend of close on three decades. Chloe is his partner, They were planning to spend the entire summer, maybe much longer, living on the boat. I was there for a few days, on a holiday of course but also providing extra eyes and hands for the long crossing.

I knew Bob well enough to anticipate some nervousness about the journey. There was radar, an auto-pilot, radio, a global positioning device and just about every other aide to safe travelling on the sea but we were facing hours of darkness in water that, though far from raging, was choppy. It was mid-May; the day had been sunny and warm but the temperature of the heaving liquid around us had not yet risen to anything like its summer balminess. Though we were all outwardly calm, there was an underlying apprehension.

Glen Grant, crafted in Fife in Scotland, a fishing-boat style ketch, had often proved her sea-worthiness. She had survived Force 8 gales, she had crossed from England to France and back again many times, she had taken us to the Channel Islands and St. Malo but her transfer to the Mediterranean had been by road. This was to be her longest uninterrupted sea journey; eighteen hours. Our faith was in the noisy engine and in the modern systems but Chloe and I were sure that if technology failed, Bobís seaman skills would see us safe. He was sure of this too but I could easily understand his unease about having total responsibility.

Talking earlier about the possibility that we might encounter dolphins, I had regaled my companions with an account of the first time I saw them, as a young man, on a ferry from Algeciras on the south coast of Spain to Ceuta in North Africa. It had been thrilling then to see the creatures leaping from a cold grey October sea into murky mist and it had always been exciting whenever subsequently they had appeared.

Old hands in Sitges marina had said that the local dolphins would certainly not let us down this time but the fact of them was still a sweet surprise. Leaving me to keep watch, Bob hurried forward to join Chloe who was standing at the prow, pointing and calling out in uninhibited pleasure. For a time I could not see the animals clearly but then they began to leap clear of the water, flashing in the rosy rays of the setting sun.

My attention was on the watch duties but I could still witness the display of leaping and diving going on all around us. Yet I was puzzled, because my companions were not focusing on the show but bending over the rail at Glen Grantís prow and staring directly downwards. After a few minutes Bob detached himself and came hurrying back to the wheelhouse. He urged me to go and look.

I joined Chloe. She pointed and I saw at once that one of the creatures had stationed itself immediately in front of Glen Grantís hull. We were doing only six or seven knots but the parting streams of water made it seem as though we were racing. It seemed also that at any moment we would run into the dolphin, doing it damage. I was foolishly anxious until it quickly became clear that the animal was simply playing.

Can dolphins see backwards? This one certainly was able, through whatever sense, to ensure complete safety. It kept perfect time, its tail constantly hidden from my view by the overhang of the prow. Sometimes it flipped over and did backstroke and that made us laugh. As though encouraged by our approval, it then surged away, first left, then right before leaping into the air, splashing gracefully down and then returning precisely to its self-appointed role of forerunner.

Maybe there is some purely practical explanation as to why this dolphin, and only this one, chose to disport in this fashion but we supposed that the main motivation was a sense of fun. Perhaps Glen Grantís pushing of the water made for interesting swimming. Clearly there was no fear and the animalís uninhibited display seemed to dissipate our own anxiety.

Darkness came quite quickly. Bob blocked the lights from the various instruments as much as possible to maximise our outward vision. Apart from the glow provided by the navigation lights we were in almost total blackness. We had no way of knowing then if the dolphins were still surrounding us but it was comforting to imagine that they were.

Chloe and I took turns to sleep but Bob stayed awake, constantly checking the instruments and occasionally slowing or adjusting course to avoid large freighters. In the early dawn, he took an opportunity to snatch an hour or so of rest, leaving me to scan the horizon for potential hazards. Before closing his eyes he asked me to wake him, not just in an emergency but also if there were dolphins to be seen,

Though I had slept a little, I was tired too. Many times wave formations suggested a fin or an arching back but I refrained from waking Bob, fairly sure that I was seeing only water. But then, only once and all too fleetingly, I was confident that a tail waved in the air. A farewell? I waited for it to appear again but the creature was gone. I let Bob doze on.

In the pink dawn, in the steady roar of the engine, in the now familiar tossing motion, I wondered; was the animal I had probably just seen one of our friends from the previous evening? Had the group in fact as well as fantasy been with us throughout the hours of darkness?

I like to think that they had been so, persuaded to protect us by Glen Grantís shapely body and Chloeís friendly cries. They had been there, splashing, laughing and perhaps nudging large pieces of flotsam out of Glen Grantís way, saving us from holing.

Some hours later we made out the faint, misty shape of the Majorcan cliffs near where eventually, in a broad calm bay, we dropped anchor but of the good night time companions alas we saw no more.








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Comments by other Members



sue n at 18:13 on 03 June 2004  Report this post
I really enjoyed this piece Richard. You portray the excitement and wonder of seeing these amazing creatures in their natural environment.
It reminded me of my own experience of witnessing a similar display in the sea off Bali. I'm convinced dolphins enjoy showing off to us feeble creatures who need wooden edifaces to carry us through water.
Sue

crazylady at 23:01 on 03 June 2004  Report this post
A Lovely piece, sweet as a nut!
You capture and build the apprehension before sharing the wonder of the guardian dolphins.
A reminder that it's happenchances like this that add spice and hope to our lives.
Tahnk you
CL


Felmagre at 15:43 on 10 June 2004  Report this post
Tantalising! The expectation and excitement which comes through the piece leads you on in anticipations. One can almost taste the salt spray and feel the sun.

Thank you for taking us on the 'trip' of a lifetime.

Felmagre.

PS. Pity you did not sight andy Whales.

<Added>

'any' Whales of course they could have been named 'Andy'

Bianca at 12:57 on 03 July 2004  Report this post
Hi Richards

Bit late in commenting I know, but I loved this piece. I have never yet been fortunate enough to encounter dolphins but you did make me feel that I was there with you.

I felt that I could see them leaping in the sunligh and I'm sure that the one who stole the show was playing and showing off for you.

Scenes like this make us think about the fast pace of our lives and what we are missing out on seeing - wildlife is just amazing to me.

Shirley

Junie Girl at 05:09 on 16 August 2004  Report this post
Richard,
Just read Good Companions, a wonderful
memory indeed. Your descriptions of your friends and the boat made us feel as though we were with you. I love the sea and could feel the motion of the sea , the salt spray and then the
wonderful sighting and friendship of the dolphins. i have never seen a dolphin. In the U.S. one can always go to Florida and see them at special theme parks but somehow I don't think that would do it for me
The idea of those dolphins teaming up with you {especially your guide} is a great miracle of nature and one I am sure you will recall on the cold winters nights to come. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful tale.
Junie Girl

DerekH at 09:44 on 08 October 2004  Report this post
Hi Richard, This is good. Really good. After my first attempt at travel writing, I can doubly appreciate how well written this is.

I would love to know how much of the arrangement of the piece is consciously deliberate (if you know what I mean), and how much of it just flowed naturally, through experience? The reason I ask is that, I got the feeling you were deliberately pacing it...giving a taste of something, holding back, building it up and saving the best till last. Am I making sense?

By the end, I almost felt as though I'd been there.

Derek.






Richard Brown at 11:01 on 08 October 2004  Report this post
Derek,
Many thanks for the kind comments.
Years of writing memoirs and family history, often with some not very promising material, have taught me to use whatever there is to create some kind of intrigue or suspense (will they get together? will she have the baby? is the old man going to die? etc etc - the stuff of soaps essentially). So, yes, I did try to 'pace' the dolphin piece in an attempt to hold the reader's attention. I'm really pleased that it worked for you!
Thanks again.
Richard.

CheekyGrin at 16:31 on 27 November 2004  Report this post
Richard

This worked for me as well - you've certainly managed to capture the excitement and wonder of seeing these magnificent creatures and I almost felt I was there.

One small point and this is probably nit-picking. I felt there were a few too many commas in places that made reading it a bit jerky. Maybe this was deliberate to tie in with the motion of the boat, but for me it interrupted the flow of the text.

A couple of random examples:

"in water that, though far from raging, was choppy."
"We were three in number on a ten meter, wooden craft, motor-sailing..."

In both these cases I think it would scan better if the first comma was removed.

Anyway the piece overall is excellent and as I said I'm nit-picking. It's probably down to personal style as much as anything.

Simon

Richard Brown at 12:27 on 01 December 2004  Report this post
Hiya,

Thanks for the kind comment.

Tend to agree with the second comma comment - would probably stick to my guns on the first.

I think that I do tend to over-punctuate though - probably as a result of attending one of the country's grottiest grammar schools. I'll 'think on'.

Thanks again.

Richard.

Richard Brown at 17:47 on 16 November 2005  Report this post
Thanks for the kind words. You're most welcome on the mental trip!! Thanks also for the link. I wonder if the dolphins in that caligraphic jounrey were on guard duty? Warming thought! I must say, though, I don't fancy being in a small boat with whales in the vicnity...a playful nudge and goodbye boat I imagine.

I'll stick to the Med! (Though I gather that the big beasts sometimes venture into those waters too).

Richard.



Cornelia at 14:27 on 26 January 2006  Report this post
I liked the sense of admiration for the well-built boat and the skilled seamanship in this, as well as the way the story seemed to slow as effortlessly as a dolphin through water - it had a sincere, clear-sighted quality.

I hope you don't mind that I have picked up some point where I think minor improvements could be made:

'dolphin, doing it damage' read a bit clumsily

'chose to disport ' - should it be disport itself ?

uninhibited pleasure - uninhibited display - I think the repetition of the adjective attracts attention in such in a short piece

saving us from holing. - should it be 'a holing'?

This seems too much like quibbling in a piece that, as you say, you wrote for no particular purpose, but since it does involve the reader I am sure it could find a home somewhere.

Sheila


Richard Brown at 18:57 on 26 January 2006  Report this post
Sheila,

Many thanks for the comments. If and when I get a moment I'll maybe re-visit the piece but I doubt I'll ever get round to seeking a platform for it. I wrote it for fun and that's no doubt the way it will stay. Glad you liked it, though.

Richard

The Bar Stward at 00:27 on 26 February 2009  Report this post
You paint a really nice visual image of the event you experienced. As a reader I thought you described is well enough that I could vividly imagine being in your enviable situation. Lovely

Richard Brown at 16:06 on 26 February 2009  Report this post
Many thanks for the kind words. I'd forgotten all about the piece and it was lovely to re-visit it. It brought back some good memories which, without your comment, I would have missed.

Richard.


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