Dancers of the deep
By Alison Sollars
22 June 2014
With perfectly trimmed sails the yacht rides comfortably through towering seas. Swells over five, maybe seven metres, raise our small sloop only to pass beneath on their endless journey to nowhere. Almost stalled, Blue Heeler yaws in the deep trough, only to pick up speed as the swell rises seconds later. It’s now seven days since we left Chagos on our way to Mauritius and the wind is strong and consistent. Sailing across the Indian Ocean is slow as distances are vast. I’m with my husband. I’m not scared. There’s no reason to feel scared. We are free.
A confused sea appears on the horizon. With gloved hands I shield my eyes from the sun’s glare. I squint through polarised sunglasses searching for dangerous currents or whirlpools ahead. The hot sun emerges from behind fluffy white clouds warming my cheeks, but I shiver. As we close in on the swirling waters, a mass of activity encircles the slow moving vessel. Shapes appear. Dark shapes. Fins. Flukes.
“Dolphins!” I shriek. My bespectacled husband barely raises an eyebrow. He’s engrossed in Jimmy Cornell’s book of World Cruising Routes.
In one fluid movement I grab the Olympus Tough waterproof camera from its home on the binnacle, clip into the safety line secured along the deck and step quickly to the bow careful not to stub the toes of my bare feet.
A huge pod of bottle-nose dolphins gleefully surround our sloop like children outside a cake shop after school. Glistening shapes surf the bow wave, warm-blooded bodies pirouette from the cold ocean before diving down. I wave to them inviting them closer. “Hello dolphins, hello dolphins!”, the high pitch of my voice is shrill, like that of a neighbour calling across a bordering fence.
In sports mode, the camera clicks. One shot, then another. I try hard to capture that perfect shot. I step to port, then to starboard. They’re too fast! Camera flicks to movie mode. All of a sudden they disappear.
“Dolphins? Where are you?” I cry out. An explosion from the depths a large but elegant dolphin whirls high in the air before landing on his side with a big splash. Did he just wink at me? Dancing around the boat they waltz with the sea and each other. Our delicate depth sounder wildly fluctuates as dolphins frolic ahead of our keel.
Strong winds ease to a breeze. Captured memories set aside in the now exhausted camera. I sit dangling my legs over the gunwales, my hands gripping the safety rail. The sun is warmer now. Bare feet and brown legs are chilled by cold seawater.
I study the dolphins from the starboard bow. Smooth, grey skin. Shiny, dark eyes. A familiar grin curves at the corners much like a human. Calves swimming in complete unison with their mothers. Their strong yet fluid movements have the grace of a ballerina. Gliding along sideways they eyeball me. I gasp in wonderment, while watery eyes scrutinise me from below.
I’m in a different world. Oblivious to everything except the swoosh of the boat through waves and the sound of unintelligible yet cheerful whistles and clicks from the gentle creatures below. They are free. They are happy. I hold my breath as I sit and watch. I am also free. I am happy. I smile swinging my legs like an infant on a high-chair.
I look aft at my husband and he’s grinning. He knows I’m happy. Sailing the vessel single-handed he allows me this moment of unadulterated freedom.
The seas moderate. I hear the voices below. I expect them to grab my foot and coax me into their playful world. I want them to, but they don’t.
It’s getting dark now. My time is over. The afterglow of my intimate interaction warms me as the evening approaches. I leave the foredeck and return to the safety of the cockpit, while shapes of fins and flukes gracefully meld into the orange sunset. I hug my husband.
Plugged into power my camera glows with life. I click though the photos from that afternoon. Digital images are unfaithful, emotionless and cold. I place the camera down to prepare dinner.
I lean over a large pot on the compact gas stove. The spicy aroma of simmering curry fills my senses triggering my hunger. As I stir I hear familiar clicks, squeaks and whistles outside the hull in the cold depths. They’re still here. As I am. Free. I shiver. I smile.
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