There are few wild animals that are as overjoyed to see a human as dolphins.
I mean, they seriously lose their shit.
The first time I ever saw them in the flesh, I was sea sick and grumpy. I was sailing on my little boat across the Bay of Biscay. It’s a treacherous piece of water at the best of times, where Atlantic swell is corralled into the French bay.
It was choppy, late evening and I still had three more days until landfall. It was my first real offshore voyage and I was hating it.
And then the dolphins came.
They saw me first.
I spied their grey dorsal fins on the horizon and the pod were already heading for us. They were hurtling towards the boat so fast I thought we’d collide.
Alongside, they put on a frenzied acrobatic display, hurling themselves out of the water in pairs and doing absurd somersaults. As I leaned over the side, the dolphins streaming along the hull turned to look up, right into my eyes.
They stayed for hours.
It soon became the norm.
I’d miss them when the sea was empty. I’d watch the waves, wide-eyed, waiting for them to show up.
Once I stood on the bow and yelled, ‘where are my dolphins!’ and then, unbelievably, there they were.
They breached the surface and flew into a display Cirque du Soleil would be jealous of.
I’d lie in bed on the Atlantic crossing, trying to drift off to sleep and ignore the sounds of the angry ocean.
And then I’d catch something. Was it…? No, maybe my imagination. Wait…there it is again.
They chat away to each other relentlessly and I could hear them through the hull. I made my way out into the cockpit and looked over the side.
The exhalations give them away in the dark. They surround the boat and travel with us - no acrobatics at night, they like to be seen.
Dolphins would often rock up under ridiculous circumstances.
They’re arrive at dawn, glimmering in the new sunlight. Or they’d wait for a rainbow and perform somersaults underneath its arch. They knew. Dolphins love a cliché.
The games they play
I was anchored in a bay one evening and it was clearly playtime. A pair of dolphins were messing about next to the boat in 4m deep water.
One would dive down and scoop up a shell, balancing it on its snout. Upon surfacing, it’d launch the shell up into the air and the other dolphin would dive for it as it landed back in the water.
In the Bahamas, there was a dolphin who was enamoured with the anchored yachts. It’d noisily exhale, their way of announcing themselves if they’re not getting any attention.
With an audience accumulated, it would roll around and play. Nudging whoever was swimming in the water like an impatient puppy.
I was crossing a horrific piece of water, a busy shipping route with huge waves. I’d come to the very likely conclusion that we might not survive. Our radar was broken and the waves were so huge we couldn’t see the container ships descending upon us.
They sure as hell couldn’t see us.
The boat was repeatedly thrown over, waves slamming into the side. This is it.
And then, the dolphins came. They came like ambulances do, at speed and with a sense of reassuring urgency.
They flew out of the waves and danced around the boat. You are safe here.
And I thought, hey, maybe we are now.
They stayed for hours and hours. They swam with us across the rest of the channel, only leaving once we’d reached smooth water in the lee of the land.
Scarcely a week went by when I didn’t have dolphins alongside. For three years they showed up. Europe, the Atlantic, the Caribbean. They were always there, looking for a yacht to play with.
There was nothing that defined my adventure more that the sound of dolphins chatting away to each other. Nothing more relieving than their exhalations in the dead of night to ease my worry.
People ask me if it was frightening sailing across an ocean but the truth is, nothing can be that frightening when you’ve got 50 dolphins along for the ride.
Kitiara Pascoe is a freelance ghostwriter, content marketer and author. After three years of sailing around the Atlantic and Caribbean, she washed up in Devon, UK. You can find her on Twitter @KitiaraP and @TheLitLifeboat. She’s the author of In Bed with the Atlantic and The Working Writer and you can find her journalism and blog at KitiaraPascoe.com or her ghostwriting and content marketing services at TheLiteraryLifeboat.co.uk