Encounters with dolphins 

The sight of a sleek grey form gliding under the water always brings a smile to my face and immediately I shout “Delfines!!!” They come alongside the boat to play with the wake and jump up to see who is on the boat. 

Dolphins are truly magnificent animals. Even if you haven’t read about them, one sighting gives away the obvious. They are incredibly intelligent mammals. They have the perfect timing to dive under the boat to the other side without hitting it. They love the bow. I always fear they are going to get the timing wrong and be plowed under and harmed, but they just keep jumping and diving, happy as can be. They seem to know the fishing hook is not their food and leave it alone. 

Three families of dolphins came to wish me farewell on my last Colombia to Panama crossing. I was so happy! We saw two of the families come from afar as they were jumping so high as if to say, “Hello! We’re coming!” This was something I had never seen before. One group was so big I looked all around the boat and there were dolphins jumping on all sides. It was better than national geographic!

We jumped out twice to watch them under the water in their natural environment and wow it was incredible! The grey and white of the dolphins against the deep blue of the open sea is a picture no one could ever capture. The colours don’t exist anywhere else in the world. Watching them spin under water and preparing for jumps is a truly humbling experience. Even better they are not in a park, it’s just pure nature. 


This week, we came to Chichime in San Blas and some friends told us that a sick dolphin was in the lagoon and people were feeding her. We went for a look. CC jumped in and told me to go. I didn’t have my swimsuit on so said no. Then I saw the dolphin was letting him touch her and I thought, whatever, this experience is not one to miss.

I pulled off my shorts, put my snorkelling gear on and joined the party. She was cut badly and her eyes looked so tired and sad. She was slowly swimming in circles. CC took my hand to get close. I had never touched a dolphin before and was a bit scared of disrespecting her. I watched CC do it and she didn’t seem to mind, so I gently placed my hand on her back far from the cuts and felt a soft rubber. It was unreal. She swam away and came alongside us. She looked so sad as if she was asking for help. 


We saw she wasn’t interested as we had no food, so we went back to the dinghy. As I pulled myself on to the dinghy, CC said, “Look, she’s come back.” I couldn’t see her, so I put my mask on and stuck my head in the water. She came up to me and bounced her nose on the top of my head. I giggled and stuck my leg with my fin out. She came up to it and played with it on her nose. CC told me she was lonely. I said I would stay while he went to get our passengers and search for fish for her. 

And so began the most moving 15 minutes I have ever had with nature. She stayed close for a bit and then swam away. I started swimming towards her, then gave up because I was tired from hours of snorkelling over the past few days. She came up to me again and I placed my hand on her back. She just stayed there and I looked in her eye and told her that we would bring food soon. 


She had a pattern of swimming away and then coming back, nose first right up to my face. She kissed my cheek and then swam under me, brushing her back and fin on my stomach as she went away again. One time she came up with her mouth open and although the teeth are slightly dull, I was a bit afraid. I was alone with a truly wild animal, no matter how friendly they are. She seemed to sense my fear so left and tried again. I held my hand out and she opened her mouth again. I moved to her side and she gently put my fin in between her teeth as if tell me, “I’m hungry, can you help?” I told her I was sorry and food was coming soon. 

She seemed to figure out that I had no food and could only offer company. Her dance and time she spent with me became more frequent. All too soon, CC and the passengers came back and interrupted the intimacy we had developed. She went to check them out and sadly as there was no food, she went away, scared off by the new faces. 

I swam towards her and waited. She did her dance again, rubbing her nose along my arms and shoulders. The next time she came back, I held my arms out and she put her head in between my arms and allowed me to embrace her. We embraced for about 10 seconds while I gave her loving and healing energy. She swam off again. 

Luckily another dinghy arrived with a fish. I didn’t feel so bad leaving her as she happily took the fish and swam away to eat in peace. The beautiful thing about the sailing community is that we care not only about each other, but the natural life which makes this way of living so enjoyable. 


I have never felt so intimate with nature or life as I did when I was holding that dolphin. We returned the next day with a healthy portion of fish, only to find she had gone. I hope Elsie has taken a turn for the better and swam off feeling better and ready to return to her group!


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