The day finally dawned when there was a place on a boat vacant for me to take out to sea to view the dolphins now living off the west coast of Sri Lanka. The two local boat men loaded us into orange life jackets and a bevy of people pushed the boat into the sea. Along the shores shoals of small white fish dart and weave. The local fishermen spin nets into the surf and haul them in.
Tuna eat the small fish and come to these waters to feast and along with them come the dolphins. The dolphins are found a few kilometres off shore. There are also whales majestically gliding by. You can find them by their breathing spumes.
We motored out, the 8 people in the boat, amongst the flying fish and the coal tankers waiting to off load their cargo. The wind was kind and it was only as the shore line disappeared that I remembered my last encounter with a motor boat. I was 12, my father took me fishing, an attempt at bonding maybe, hard to say why he thought I would remotely enjoy fishing. The boat was my father’s hobby and I thought I might be able to persuade him to take my brother and myself water skiing…never did happen.
I caught a squid, it jerked and slimed its way across the bottom of the boat, I was horrified, by its terror, by its pink colour, its size, well maybe it wasn’t so big, but at the time it seemed huge. I was summarily dismissed as a whimp, no disputes from me on that score. Then we went home and I remember the waves being big and the boat thumping alarmingly over them, I was green by the time I got to shore.
So to the ocean, off Sri Lanka. We passed the tankers and the wind was still, the orange plastic life jacket started to feel decidedly warm. I took long breaths into my lower lungs and let it out slowly. Okay so far, sip of water, all good. The wind picked up, we hadn’t found the dolphins yet. There were a few other boats with orange clad tourists eagerly looking. All the boatmen were chatting to each other above the noise of the engines and finally one spotted the pod.
The waves were swelling, my breath was slowing, sip the water and grip the edge of the boat, that’s best. If I let go the heat started to rise to my head, I already had a sweat going despite the breeze. The dolphin pod is huge literally thousands of dolphins. Occasionally they spin in the air, if they do it once they usually repeat it. Unbelievably beautiful. We circled around slowly trailing lines to catch tuna, cause that’s what the dolphins were gorging themselves on.
Then we saw the tuna leaping in the air, the dolphins had created a circular trap for them and had herded them. Leaping around them the joy of food, sushi with a tail, the sleek dolphins undulating and arching through the water were achingly beautiful.
I was gripping the edge of the boat, breathing slowly wondering when we would be going back. The boatman, driver guy got a phone call, a jangley electronic tune, One of the boats had spotted a whale. We were off still further from shore to chase the oceanic mammoth. Okay, I thought, I can do this, I can keep this together. I took another sip of water and felt the wind getting stronger at least the plastic life jackets insulating effect was ameliorated.
We didn’t find that whale but the waves got bigger, the clouds scudded in quickly to create a dark grey-green and blue mottled effect in the sky. The boat returned to the dolphin pod. I could see the land again, the distant spikes of the wind turbines and the vague outline of the coal fired power plant in the distance.
The boat finally turned for shore, the big waves bounced the hull hard, we jerked like fish on a line, thump, thump, thump. I felt my neck jarring and tried to ride the bumps by semi-standing but I did miss time a few rises and falls. Thumpety thumpety.
The boat mercifully quickly covered the distance to Udekki , approaching the shore at an alarming speed, “Brace yourselves.” We were advised the engine revved and as the nose hit the sand the boatman killed the engine and we slid gracefully to land.
So I took no photos of the dolphins, emerged as I was in the personal drama of keeping my morning cup of tea within normal bounds, but I was able to transcend my gut and look with awe and wonderment at the huge elegant, sleek pod sliding through the choppy waters. I stepped out of the boat and fell onto the sand, vertigo took over for a moment. No food passed my lips for 24 hours and the next day it took me about half an hour to loosen my neck.
Was it worth it, yes a thousand times yes, but I wish I had remembered before getting into the boat that I apparently get sea sick and taken some ginger or a homoeopathic remedy called Cocculous with me. Just sayin.