It’s 8:35 p.m., but knowing we will miss two hours of sleep for our night watches grants us the excuse we need to go to bed early. The boat is usually quite by 8:30 p.m., tonight is no exception. That is until Lauren’s shout cuts across the silence. I jolt up from my book.
“Everyone, quick! Get up!”
She’s on the evening watch and my first thought is something is wrong.
Then comes the words we’ve been waiting for: “Dolphins! Dolphins in the bioluminescence — get up here!”
I swing from my perch and charge up the stairs. Somehow Laina has already made it from her bed to the bow of the boat by the time I’m even to the cockpit. Clinging to the rope in the dark I follow the sounds of her and Lauren’s shrieks of laughter. Then I see it, alongside the boat sprays of stardust streaming from the backs of the dolphins as they leap toward the bow. Like underwater ghosts they come from afar, glowing beneath the black of the water and swooping towards us, growing brighter the closer they get to the to the boat, until finally they burst through the surface in a spray of glittering underwater stars. A plentiful pod is surging to the boat, coming to play. When I reach the bow the entire swath of water in front of us is teaming with glitter as the dolphins keep pace with the boat, jumping and dashing between each other, cutting and twisting back and forth from one side of the boat to the other. Mere feet from us, every move they make creates a trail of light. Their bodies are great silver shapes beneath the surface and their tails send a fin-shaped spray of starlight that stretches into a trail behind them. For a moment, I just stare. Then I fling myself to the net beside the girls adding a shriek of enthusiasm to their unstoppable bubbling laughter. Every move the dolphins make is accompanied by our shouts of excitement, punctured only by our yelling for the others to join us. Seth appears and stands at the cable rail. Soon Bob and Charlene (she usually doesn’t walk around on the boat at night with her shaky balance) also make their way to the net — it’s not as if they could sleep anyway with our involuntary cackling and shouts.
Charlene’s enthusiasm immediately matches ours, and the 70-year-old woman sounds like a school girl.
“Oh wow! Wow, wow, wow. This is amazing!” She giggled right along with us. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my life!”
For a moment I was so touched I stopped laughing. Hearing a woman in the last quarter of her life who has traveled to so many places, sailed for 15 years and seen so much, be so excited just made it sink in what a truly special experience it was. Bob too said he had never seen anything like this in his 15 years living on a boat full time. How lucky were we to see this after only a month on board?
My moment of retrospection was interrupted by a dolphin blowing water and a glistening stream of bioluminescent specks into my face. I was right back to cheering them on.
(Because we found it impossible to capture images of the dolphins swimming in the bioluminescent waters, here are photos of watching the dolphins by day. It’s a poor substitute, but hey, I guess you had to be there.)
The dolphins surrounded the boat for more than 30 minutes, and then as they started to drift away so did Seth, Bob and Charlene. But Laina, Lauren and I couldn’t take our eyes from the water. Even when the dolphins were gone the darting of little fish caused meteorites below the surface. When were finally about to turn away, chilled from the wind and being drenched in salt water from the spouting blow holes, we started to see from afar the ghostly shapes moving back toward us from all directions.
They were back.
We yelled for the others to come back out as the dolphins swooped toward us but apparently for some spending a half and hour staring at dolphins playing in the milky way is enough. Not for us. We stood at the rail watching as they returned and then until the glow of the last dolphin finally disappeared beneath the surface again. Still we couldn’t turn away for fear of missing something. Eventually, wet and tired, we forced ourselves to leave the rail. Together we counted to three and spun all at once so that one of us wouldn’t see something irresistible beneath the surface and call the others back.