Dolphins – These are among the most beautiful and intelligent animals one will see in Florida and no matter how often, it is always a pleasure.
My very first close up sighting in Southwest Florida was actually quite comical… now that I have time to think about it. It was in the mid 1980’s. I had rented a small Sunfish sailboat and was tacking back and forth along Englewood Beach. The Sunfish is a flat boat, just under 14 feet long with a little indent for one’s feet but it is like skimming across the water. Because is is a small, flat boat, when sailing one is only a few inches above the water.
It was a beautiful, mid-winter day with just the right amount of breeze. I had gotten the Sunfish on a speedy run and was leaning way out of the hull to counterbalance the wind. I felt REALLY COOL. The way I was leaning over the water, my bottom and legs were in the boat but my torso was stretched out and my head was maybe a foot above the water. I was zipping along when suddenly a fin popped out of the water about three feet from my face!
A FIN! JAWS!
My heart jumped into my throat and I sank into the small indentation in the Sunfish cockpit and curled up. I don’t know if it took me two seconds or two minutes to realize it was a dolphin, not a shark, but for a short time I was paralyzed. My heart was pounding. I had let go of the sail and was just bobbing in the water. Then I saw a couple of other fins and knew. They were playing with me. Dolphins love to follow sailboats and try to race them.
In the years that followed I came to love their sight. I would see them when going to the beach. While sitting on the sand I would watch them swim offshore. One time I was with Greg Boland and his wife Cheri. We were on their very comfortable 28 foot Scout powerboat. We had motored from Punta Gorda, through Charlotte Harbor and into the Myakka River. We had just passed under the El Jobean bridge and were heading north when Sherry said, “Are there any dolphins up this river?”
The words had hardly left her lips when a pod began playing in the boat wake. They stayed with us for about a mile up the river and when we turned back they escorted us to the bridge. They were surfing the wake.
One time, when sailing to the Canary Islands on a 40 foot catamaran, a pod of dolphins followed us for a full day, playing in our wake and swimming between the hulls. I could lie on the bow nets that stretched between the hulls and watch them. They would pop up and breach, then dive again. It was almost as if I could reach out and touch them.
Dolphins are intelligent, playful animals. Maybe even too smart. I have heard stories about a female who taught her offspring to beg for food. According to the story, they would approach an anchored boat and surface, making noise until someone would toss them a shrimp or bait fish.
Dolphins have also been trained by the military to help locate mines and divers.
Whenever I am sailing I look forward to a sighting of these delightful, amusing mammals.