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July 7, 2004

Dancing with Dolphins



Today I had an hour of sheer joy that likely would make my "Top 5 Hours Ever" list for my life. I have been taking sailing lessons at the Grenada Yacht Club (yes...this IS Peace Corps!) over the last couple of months. They offer them free to Grenadians and decided to extend the same services to a group of poor PCV's. We had a few weeks of classes "on land" and have now moved to learning to sail our 24 foot sailboats. They are surprisingly (to me) large and include a below deck cabin, 2 sails (main and jib) and a fair amount of complication which takes at least a few people to sail successfully. The boat itself fits about 5 or 6 people safely. Usually we stick to weekends to get our sailing time in, but today we went on a Wed. morning as we are all trying to just finish and get certified (which I am now!).

So this morning I met 3 other volunteers and our instructor and instructor-in-training to go out to sail. We set out about half past nine from St. George's and were headed up the west coast towards Gouyave. After a couple hours of practicing our seamanship skills, I noticed a large fin come out of the water about 40 feet out. I yelled to the others and we watched a bit and saw it again. We kept our eye on the area and saw a couple fins up and down and at first thought they were sharks. A few more minutes of observation and we saw it...a dolphin jumping out and back in the water. We all yelled and headed a little closer (as much as you can in a sailboat). We started seeing about 4 or 5 maybe 20 or 30 feet off our boat all jumping but heading the other direction. Our original intent was to sail all the way up to Gouyave, but after a very quick vote, we unanimously voted to tack and go back to the dolphins. Within minutes we were in the middle of a school of dolphins. They started coming closer and closer, feeding off the drag of our boat and very soon were jumping within feet of our boats! By this point there were about 20 or 30 of them. Some of us scrambled to the bow (front) of the boat and discovered that they were swimming along with our boat. At one point, I saw 8 of them about 1-2 feet off the bow swimming about 1 foot below the water. A few were swimming right along side of us as well--within feet of us! They were keeping up with the boat (about 20 miles an hour?) and apparently liking whatever push they were getting from us. We were essentially another dolphin in their school. They were so close we were dangling our feet off the edge, sure that we could touch them when they jumped. That never happened but the thrill was just as strong. We could see the scars on their backs and even started recognizing a few of them as they'd wander a bit and them come back. Most were about 5-6 feet long I'd say, but we did spot one baby about 2 1/2 feet. After our inital screeching and yelling "Look there...Wow! Did you see that?", etc. we fell into a speechless awe about this incredible discovery we had happened upon on a Wednesday morning in the Caribbean Sea. We ended up "dancing" with our dolphins for a good 45 minutes.

Now you may be wondering where the link to our pictures of these amazing creatures was. Well, my thought as I left this morning was, "I could bring my camera, but it's just a regular sailing day...nothing special". Sure taught me that anyday can turn out to be an exceptional day. You can bet I'll bring my camera next time!

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