Dolphins

We anchored off the Coromandel peninsula, beside a tiny island, in Elephant Bay. We had visited the island of Kerikeri, the bird sanctuary where over decades, volunteers had returned the land to its “original” state and repopulated it with indigenous birds. That island rang with bird calls. Strange, loud noises at night, and sightings of large flightless birds.

At another island we anchored at Mansion Landing, where Wallabies, small kangaroos, had been brought in by an eccentric former Governor. As we hiked along trails we would occasionally see one hopping along in front of us. We visited the island of Kawau where friends of the skipper invited us to a birthday party at the Kawau Yacht Club. We anchored and hiked along Rangitoto and then the winery covered island of Waiheke. Also Great Barrier Island. Great Barrier is very remote. Off grid. Beautiful coastline. The outer east side is rugged, with huge dunes built up by the winter southeasterlies. You can imagine the winter storms pounding in, having come all the way from Antartica. The wee cabins are few in number and set far back from the beach.

Recently, sailing at ten knots, dolphins crossing our bow. Penguins swimming around us, dining on fish. When we were going slower, we dragged a handline out behind us and caught a tasty Kawahai.

I swim most mornings. I tried free diving. I need to practice adjusting to pressure when kicking down head first, rather than feet first in scuba gear. Free diving feels very different at first, but soon becomes natural. Slowly floating up toward the glimmering underside of the sea, wearing no tanks, feels normal, even calming.

The boat is looking good now. Always things to do of course, but that’s boating.

We have ham radio on the boat using our backstay as antenna. From that we download weather reports anywhere we are. Grib files have taken over from the old weatherfax, with forecast models that are surprisingly accurate, even several days into the future. We use zygrib as the program to view them. We are hooking up bluetooth to our main computer, so all of our laptops will receive info and act as backups.

We have the electronic charts on our laptops with Opencpn as our program. They receive the boat’s gps from the bluetooth.

Opencpn also accepts AIS info which tells us about commercial ships traveling over the ocean. This is also streaming via bluetooth. And we have downloaded the full wikipedia, using the Kiwix program. We have all downloaded plenty of books on our e readers. Our time without internet should be bearable.

And now that smartphones carry gps capability, the boat suddenly has nearly a dozen gps machines on board. Redundancy upon redundancy.

I have learned that dolphins like to hear us, and seem especially to like it when we shout encouragement. They came up beside the cockpit at first, to make sure we saw them. Then when we yelled happily, they rushed up to the front of the boat to play. We ran up to the front and hung over the bow, watching them as they muscled their way back and forth across our bow, riding the standing wave, then leaping forward. They had always been around, but had never joined us until we finally got up to ten knots. Only then did we become interesting.

Most blue water boats are built for strength, not speed. Most blue water boats never saw speeds anything close to ten knots. Our McGregor 65 was not technically a blue water boat. Long and thin and light, she was made for speed. Later on, crossing the south pacific in winter storms, this would be a problem. But now, it was a delight.

Back on the dry dock, we had made efforts to make the boat look interesting. The anti fouling paint on her bottom was black, and Doug painted in white, the fins, eyes and markings of an Orca. The keel was the dorsal fin, so from below, our boat looked like an enormous Orca, swimming upside down.

But dolphins don’t seem to appreciate art. What they appreciate is speed. Up at our bow we were doing ten knots and they were showing us that they could do double that. We were shouting our praise and encouragement, which of course is what they wanted. A bit exhibitionistic, but then if you’re a dolphin, why not?

John Morrison Noble

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