Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Dolphins, The Sea And Me

The day had begun in utter darkness, no moon nor star shone this night.  The boat rocked and rolled over swells that swept in from the open ocean, heading towards land where they would become the waves that broke against the shore.  Before long, a line of grey had appeared in the sky heralding the approaching dawn.  Across the land, huge shapes emerged from the dark and slowly transformed themselves into the misty gloom of a mountain range.  To the east, out over the ocean a curve of orange light slowly rose from the water and became a perfect orb of pale light, more reminiscent of the moon than the sun, masked as it was behind a thick veil of cloud.  As it lifted, the day finally dawned and rays of light struck upon the surface of the water, creating glittering shimmers of gold.  And there, within that golden light, the dolphins came.

At 4:50am in the morning, when my alarm woke me from my sleep, I wondered what I was doing.  What had driven me to say that I would go and swim with dolphins so early in the morning?  As I lay there, in that time between sleep and true awakening, I asked myself what the refund policy would be for a no-show, so I could sleep on for a few more hours.  It was very tempting.  No, that was not going to be how my day would begin.  A chance to swim with dolphins, how often does that happen in life?  I threw back the cover and kick started myself into action.

Forty minutes later and I was at Dolphin Encounter, sitting in an auditorium, wearing two layers of 7mm wet suit to protect against the cold  16C water, and equipped with fins, hood and mask and snorkel.  A large group of people had assembled all with the same purpose and possibly all asking themselves why they are here at such an hour?  What is clear now though, is that the tiredness and lethargy so evident when we all first arrived, have been replaced with excitement and anticipation.  After watching a short briefing film for 15 minutes, that educated us on the dusky dolphins that inhabit the oceans that surround Kaikoura, we all board a bus and are driven the short distance across the peninsula to South Bay, where the boats are waiting for us.  Shortly, we are underway in darkness, the twinkling lights of the jetty and of the town that is gradually stirring to life, receding behind us.

Sitting at the back of the boat, leaning backwards over the port side, feeling the early morning air rush over me, I knew I was in that moment between dream and reality.  It is a time when all of your imaginings of how an experience might be cease and those of actual memory begin to replace them.  I was on the verge of realising a dream, all that was needed was a pod of co-operative dolphins to appear.  Although the sun had now risen, the day was dark and gloomy under a grey blanket of cloud that filled all the sky.  The breaking day and the sunrise are the triggers for the dolphins to return to the shallower water after their night time feeding, so this lack of light was keeping the dolphins away longer than usual.  I wondered if this would be a false start, whether there might be a need to return the following day for a second chance?  As I looked out in to the golden light that played on the ocean's surface, I saw the ocean come alive as dolphins leapt clear of the water and swam our way.

The day dawns
The dolphins, the sea and me.  That is all that existed.  We were caught in our own universe, held in an existence that was only ours to know.  Everything else was gone, shut out and put away.  I turned around and around, almost making myself dizzy, chasing a dolphin as it tried to swim around me.  I tracked it as best as I could, spinning myself through the use of my hands, pulling the water in front of me, over and over again, faster and faster, as the dolphin tried harder to evade me.  It was a game, our game.  I would play this game many times during the morning, it seemed to me that the dolphins enjoyed it as much as I did.  Cat and mouse, mouse and cat, which was which, I could not tell, it did not matter.  There were times when I was under the ocean, desperately holding my breath in my lungs, fighting to hold myself down, as the buoyancy of my wetsuits forced me back towards the surface.  For those few seconds under the surface, I was able to barrel roll myself around, to see dolphins swim over me, to the sides of me and underneath.

Perhaps the most precious part of the experience was taking a breath and duck diving down to see five or six dolphins speeding towards me, coming directly at me, their heads bobbing up and down as they pushed the water with their powerful tails.  Whoosh! They separated in time, swimming past me, to the left, to the right, over my head, beneath me. My mask filled with water.  Smiling and laughing whilst wearing a diving mask is not recommended since it breaks the seal, letting water flood in.  But what could I do?  I could not help myself.  I was happy, ecstatic, lost to the moment.

Dusky dolphins playing at the bow.
That moment.  A moment that you never wish to end yet it must.  It was time to swim back to the boat, time to share the smiles, happiness and the experience with the other swimmers.  Reluctantly, I pulled myself back on to the swim step at the back deck.  My time swimming with dolphins was over but I knew that the experience would live on.  This was a dream come true.  A tick I could place in another box.  But it's not only ticks in boxes, is it?  It is knowing that you dared to realise that dream and in do so, you discovered that the reality was indeed better than all of the thoughts and wondering.  Why?  Because you made it a reality.  Dream becomes experience becomes memory.  Memories like these become smiles that will last until the final breath, and accompany you on the next journey.

1 comment:

  1. Oh I would be out of bed so fast if I had a chance to swim with dolphins! You need to take more pictures too :)