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Encounter with Magic

February 20, 2017

Some of our best adventures are those that are unplanned. The island we anchor near because the weather turns crappy. The trail we take by mistake. The random turn of events that change our lives. And always, after one of these occasions, I wonder at the magic that is our lives. And I smile.

We had made plans with our friends on Three Sheets to sail from Christiansted harbor on St. Croix to Buck Island, the national park 7 miles to windward. It's a local's hangout, a Sunday Funday destination, and our mini-vacation spot when we need a change of scenery.


Buck Island

But like often happens when you live a lifestyle closely tied to nature, She didn't want to cooperate. It rained on us during our dinghy ride out to the boat, the sky was menacing, the winds fluky. We stood in the cockpit looking to windward, debating our options.
"We could just stay in the harbor, dinghy out to the reef if the weather clears, and snorkel there."
"Well, let's up anchor and head that way and see what happens. We can always come back. Even if we don't get in the water, it'll be nice to move the boat.”

Since we were guests, we let Jen and Mike on Three Sheets make the decision. If they were willing to go to the trouble to move their home in the hopes of the weather improving, we were glad to tag along.


The wind came in gusts or not at all. Frustrated, and not interested in working too hard on what was supposed to be a fun day, we motored the few miles, promising to sail on the way home. As we neared the leeward side of Buck Island, I went forward with Jen as she worked the windlass. Not having an electric windlass, I was curious to see one in action. As we watched the anchor slip into the turquoise water, three dark shapes entered our vision.
"Dolphins! I don’t want to drop it on their heads!"
Though we were sure they were smarter than to allow that to happen, we were still fascinated by how closely they stuck around the bow as the anchor settled on the sand bottom and drifted away from us as Mike backed down.
"As soon as we get this anchor set, I'm going to snorkel with them if they're still around!"

Jen's statement surprised me. I hadn't even thought of swimming with them. Wow, I could maybe swim with dolphins??? I left her on the bow and rushed to the cockpit, grabbed my mask and snorkel, and hunted for a camera.
"Use mine. It's right there."
I grabbed Jen's camera while she donned her gear, and without my usual ritual of getting my mask perfect, arranging my hair just so to keep it out of my way, without fins or my usual verification that the water wasn't too deep, that I wouldn't be alone, and that there were no scary creatures around, I jumped in.


Now, you have to know me to understand the significance of this. Dave's immediate reaction was to look at Mike and say, "Oh my god. She NEVER does that!" In fact, I usually hyperventilate and have to get out of the water if it's more than 20 feet deep. I have never snorkeled alone before, and I have certainly never jumped in the water in the HOPES of encountering large critters. But then, I didn't have time to think. I was too excited to swim with dolphins!

Except they weren't excited to swim with me. The guys stood on the side deck, pointing to where the dolphins were frolicking on the surface, hundreds of feet away. With no fin and my usual panic starting to creep in around the edges, I decided it wasn't meant to be, and got out of the water.

By then Jen was ready to join me, but there was nothing to see, so we brought out snacks and drinks, and settled in to relax in the cockpit and enjoy the view.


"They're right there. By the DPNR boat. They're headed this way." The guys were still on the side deck.
"That's it. I'm getting in this time."
I gave Jen her camera, knowing she'd be better able to capture any photo ops that may occur, we both donned our gear and jumped in.

I must admit, this time I was a bit less fearless. Yes, I had Jen to keep me company, but we immediately swam away from the boat as quickly as we could. We were swimming TOWARD large mammals, in the HOPES of getting close enough to see them underwater. My biggest fear when I am snorkeling is that I will see a large, dark shape swimming toward me. I'm convinced I'd probably have a heart attack right then. I'll never have to worry about getting eaten by a shark. I'll be dead by the time it gets to me. But here I was, in over 30 feet of water, swimming AWAY from safety, hoping to see a large, black shadow swim toward me. I guess.


Magic

We looked back at the guys on Three Sheets. They pointed toward the DPNR boat idling in our direction. We made eye contact with the captain. While Jen said, "You know we're here, right? Don't run over us" I saw the guys point to the water just off the side of Three Sheets and laugh. The dolphins were right there! I turned to Jen to ask if we should just head back to the boat. That's when I saw it. A HUGE black shadow speeding our way. I panicked, said, "Oh my god!" and then thought, "Duh, that's why you're here, stupid." And I put my head under water.

I immediately made eye contact with a very large, adult dolphin. He swam right at us so quickly that I instinctively put my hand out to protect myself. Jen put her hard out too, just as he veered away from us. She swept his side with her finger as he went by. As he swam away, I looked down and saw a smaller dolphin below us, hanging out near the bottom. Then another dolphin swam into view, between us and the smaller one below. Jen and I were both saying, through our snorkel, "Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god." Tears fogged our vision as the first dolphin completed his circle and came toward us again. This time I reached out to touch him intentionally, but I was afraid it would break the spell. I didn't want to scare him away. I wanted to stay in his magical circle as long as he would allow me.

Which wasn't long. After a few passes, he and his two friends dashed away, having stopped by to say hi, decided we were harmless, and swam on to more exciting grounds. Jen and I brought our heads above water, spat out our snorkels and immediately began talking over each other.
"Did you see him? I touched him!"
"Oh my god. I can't believe it. They were here because WE were here. They came by to check us out!"
"I should have gotten a picture of your hand reaching out to him. I didn't even think about it."
"Did you get any pictures? I forgot all about the camera!"
"I got a few. I don't know how good they'll be. They were too close!” and we both started giggling, with tears running down our faces.

We slowly snorkeled back to the boat, savoring the moment as long as we could. Once we got onboard, naturally, we relived the moment over and over for the guys. They smiled at us and endured our adrenaline high chatter that comes on again any time we talk about it.

I've heard of dive operations that promise dolphin encounters by feeding the dolphins. And of course everyone knows the "swim with dolphins" tanks. But these guys came to US. They went out of their way to check us out. Maybe because we were the only people in the water nearby, maybe because they knew we were seeking them out. Or maybe because there is such a thing as magic.

MONDAY we'll share a few of the more bizarre tropical fruits we have encountered lately.

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Connie McBride's work has been published in Good Old Boat, Sail Magazine, Small Craft Advisor, Cruising World, All at Sea, and Blue Water Sailing. As a full-time liveaboard cruiser for over 15 years, she has written several books and in her spare time, well, who has spare time?

It's here! My latest book, Years of Ideas from a Simple Sailor is now available on Amazon.

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