Another day with not even a whisper of wind. Mariah gazed at the mirror-like surface of the expanse of clear, blue water all around her, shielding her eyes from the glare of the unrelenting sun. It was the hottest time of the day, between high noon and sunset. She sighed and picked up her journal.
“Day 14, 1600 hours: Fourth day in the doldrums. No measurable wind and none in the immediate forecast. Again. I should be in sight of land by now but without wind I’ll continue to drift aimlessly. Seriously considering starting the engine but afraid that I’ll run out of fuel and won’t have it when I really need it. And I’ll be disqualified from the race. No distress. All systems working well. Solar panels and water maker are doing their jobs and I have provisions for at least another month, albeit I am getting tired of canned food.”
It’s the monotony that’s killing me. It’s too damn hot to do much of anything and I’m bored out of my mind. It’s been three days since the last tanker passed and I realized today that I haven’t uttered a single word since hailing them on the radio to confirm course headings. Haven’t felt like listening to music or even reading. I just stare at the horizon and watch the sun and then the moon march across the sky. I eat, I sleep, I take readings on the sextant and record my position. I can understand why prisoners crack in solitary confinement.
Mariah jumped and turned towards the sound at the stern of her boat. There was a ripple where whatever had hit the water landed. Her eyes scanned the water and the sky but she saw nothing.
“Maybe I’m going crazy,” she thought. She’d read accounts of people adrift at sea that literally lost their mind. But she wasn’t in a life raft fighting for her life. She was safe; just bored and lonely. The excitement of solo-sailing from San Francisco to Hawaii had worn off quickly when the wind had died. Although there were more than a dozen boats that had started the race together, they had chosen different courses and she hadn’t seen another competitor in five days.
This time the sound came from mid-ships. She left the cockpit and ventured on deck to look over the side. She caught a glimpse of a dolphin as it swam away from the boat.
“Well, thank God. I’m not nuts,” she muttered. “Come on back, little guy. I could use some company.”
The dolphin surfaced near the bow and rolled onto it’s side, looking up at her with a huge eye. She noticed the two slits near the tail, indicating that it was a female.
“Hello, Beautiful! Where’s your pod?” she asked, scanning the flat water for signs of other dolphins. They always traveled in groups.
The dolphin dove under the water, disappearing from sight. Mariah made her way back to the shade in the cockpit and the dolphin splashed again by the swim platform. Opening the gate, Mariah sat on the ledge, legs dangling in the water. The dolphin swam up to her cautiously and nudged her feet gently with its nose. She slowly reached out and let her hand hover over the dolphin’s head. It tilted it’s head upward, encouraging her to touch.
She stroked the skin, tough like leather but with an almost velvety softness. It rolled onto it’s side again, barely moving it’s fin to keep it in place behind the still boat. Mariah’s hand glided over the shiny blue-gray sides and belly as the dolphin’s eyes followed her movements. After a few minutes the dolphin dove down and swam away from the boat.
Mariah felt a sadness wash over her. She was enjoying the interaction with another living being. She watched the water ripple in the dolphin’s wake and suddenly it leapt high into the air, doing a perfect flip before landing with a splash.
Mariah laughed and spontaneously dove into the ocean. She swam several times a day to cool off, attached to the boat by a harness and tether so that she would never drift away from her home, even in windless conditions. Now, she was completely free. She had become casual in her safety tactics as the doldrums dragged on, often moving from topside to below decks without her tether. And just this morning she had taken off the halter … she was hot and it chafed her skin.
Now she swam freely, taking a big gulp of air and diving deep to fully immerse in the cool water under the surface. The deeper she dove, the darker the water became, muting the unrelenting bright white glare of the sun and giving relief to her eyes. Turquoise gave way to indigo and then rich purple, shot through with crystal rays. She glided back upwards, feeling the coolness become warm as her hands broke water into air.
Mariah took in a cleansing breath and floated on her back. She felt bubbles floating and bursting from beneath and smiled. She rolled over, face in the water and found herself inches from the dolphin. Their eyes met and Mariah reached out her arms to hug the dolphin. The dolphin rolled over, taking Mariah with her, and flapped her tail, moving them forward. Mariah grasped the dorsal fin, now straddling the dolphin as they propelled faster and faster.
They skimmed over the flat water, barely leaving a wake. The dolphin never took them out of sight of the boat, circling with a gentle dip from a pectoral fin and occasionally diving down a few feet to immerse in the cool water. Mariah held on during these dives, sensing the dolphin would take her to air before she ran out of breath. They took breaks to float and swim side by side and Mariah chatted with the dolphin as she would a friend.
As the sun neared the horizon, the dolphin eased up to the transom. Mariah swam free of the dolphin for the first time in hours and sat on the swim platform. The dolphin launched itself out of the water to lay next to her, head in Mariah’s lap. Mariah stroked the dolphin and gently touched her lips to the tip of it’s nose.
“Goodbye, my friend. Thank you for the visit. I’ll look for you in the islands.”
Mariah watched the dolphin slip back into the water, swim alongside her boat for a few minutes, then dive deep and surface far ahead, launching high into the air for a flip. She smiled, picked up her journal and finished her entry.
“1830: The wind has begun freshening in the last few hours and I expect to be on track for arrival in Hawaii in three days. Can’t wait to begin charting my next solo sail.”
Written June 2018 for To Live & Write in Alameda’s monthly “Alameda Shorts;” Chosen to read at July’s event at Books Inc. but didn’t read due to needing to get some rest for GrandBoys onboard the following weekend. 🙂
Photos shot by Heidi and Aaron on their journey on Vela, a Catalina 42, from Cabo San Lucas to San Diego in 2009.
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