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.
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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