Posted on 26/11/2017 on World Cruising
Once upon a time, NOT in a land far away, but rather in an isolated part of the Atlantic Ocean, there lived a pod of magical dolphins. By day, they appeared no different to any of the other dolphins – graceful, speeding blurs of grey, playfully bouncing between the swell. If ever anyone were to spot them, they would marvel at their joyful elegance, without noting anything more. However, by night, these particular Stenella Plagiodon transform into mythical creatures, as if plucked from your wildest dreams. How do I know of their existence? Ah, O Best Beloved! For I have met them!
Not very long ago, on this very boat, in this very ocean, I was sat in the cockpit gazing at the stars. It was my nighttime watch, and the rest of the crew were snoring in their bunks. A cooling breeze played through my hair and kept Haji moving along nicely, the deep blue water chuckling beneath her bow. I was preoccupied waiting for shooting stars and searching for constellations when a sudden noise cut through my reverie. “Pppuchht” went the noise. I sat up. “Ppuchht” it went again. I sat up and gazed out through the darkness. The sound – one of escaping air – had come from port. I leaned over the guardrail and scrutinised the water’s surface. “Pppuchht!” Louder, and this time from starboard. The sound – like a balloon deflating – was followed by a splash. A slow grin spread across my face as I jumped to my feet. They had known where to find me and had come to get me. The dolphins were now surfacing more frequently, to port, to starboard, astern….
I reached into the cockpit bag, pulling out the spotlight meant for checking sail trim. Laughing, I shone its powerful beam into the depths. My friends all dived, twisting away from the reflections. I flicked the switch. The moment darkness returned, they surfaced in such harmony that any synchronised swimming team would have been jealous. I tried again, to the same effect. It was a light/dark game of hide and seek.
The pod pulled ahead, calling for me to come with them. Nimbly, I dashed along the familiar decks and crouched down low at the bow. I had been looking for shooting stars in the wrong place; that night they were all to be found beneath the surface! Their bodies glowed an unearthly silver as they dipped and dived, their wake a stream of stardust as they zigzagged to and fro ahead of the boat. I stared, mesmerised, before making the decision to wake the others. I discarded the niggling thought in the corner of my mind ‘what if you come back and they’re gone?’ They would wait.
I donned my life jacket rapidly to avoid being reprimanded, before shaking the Skipper awake. “Dad! Dad!” Weary eyes acknowledged me, slightly confused. “Come and play with the dolphins!” A rush of words tumbled out of my mouth as I led the way up on deck. I stuck my head through the forepeak hatch to rouse Devin, and he appeared like a slow-motion Jack-in-the-box from within.
We huddled together to watch the spectacle, our own watery firework display. The dolphins gained confidence, cutting closer and closer to the bow, jumping higher and higher along side us. Their splashes resonating across the empty ocean, prompting quiet cheers and squeals of delight from the audience. We sat and sat, and watched and watched. Half an hour passed easily. Eventually, those with later watches came to their senses. Some sleep was surely necessary, even if it was hard to pull your gaze from our glittering escorts. They retired to their bunks, leaving me once more alone with the magic.
Then they were gone. As quietly and suddenly as they had appeared. A single “ppucchtt” of farewell, and all that was left was a shining smattering of stars beneath the waves.