Dolphins help others

This is serious! I owe my life to a dolphin. Let me tell you about it.

We’ve all seen that US Navy ad on TV with the dolphin jumping out of the water ahead of the aircraft carrier but we sailors know that dolphins really prefer sailboats. They are so much faster than anything propelled by sail that they make circles around the boat and seem to laugh at how slow we are.

They come right up to the side of the boat and make that silly squeaky noise that is something like a baby’s giggle. Sometimes they seem to stand in the water and look right at the helmsman and gurgle at him.

Occasionally they seem like they want to have a chat and are just mystified that we can’t understand them. Sometimes it seems they’re thinking: ‘you humans are so smart why can’t you understand me?’

Dolphins are obviously very intelligent.


It was a cool morning in early December when we boarded the old DC-3 at Opa Locka airport in northwest Dade county Florida. When you live in south Florida long enough you come to think of 70 degrees as cool.

The flight from the mainland to Bimini took all of maybe thirty minutes. We landed on South Bimini. We got on a rattle trap bus which took us to the harbor that separates North Bimini from South Bimini. We took the little ferry across the harbor which is maybe 200 yards across. Then we prepared to wait. It was still early in the morning and we didn’t expect anything to happen much before noon.

There we three of us and I was by far the youngest just turned 30. Bob owned a big garden supply company. Jack was a lawyer. I was a rooky stockbroker with Merrill Lynch. We were waiting for Ted. All of us had sailed with Ted many times.

Ted was in a one-handed race. He had sailed from Miami by himself in his Morgan 30 sailboat. The earliest he could have gotten here would have been at eight or nine in the morning.

The winds had been light and contrary last night. At ten in the morning none of race boats had arrived in the harbor. Bob and Jack went to the Tiki bar and started drinking beer. I had another cup of coffee.

At one o’clock I ate some conch chowder with a glass of water. Most of the race boats had arrived by then but Ted wasn’t among them.

Bob and Jack weren’t even looking for Ted. They were very content to guzzle beer and drive the barmaid crazy.

By four in the afternoon even the race officials were getting concerned. Everyone was in except Ted.

Finally just before six p.m. Ted motored into the marina. You can’t sail against the tide in Bimini. In fact Ted’s little inboard diesel was having trouble making any headway at all.

He threw me a line and we got his boat docked. I asked: What the hell happened?

I may be the last one here but I was first to St. Isaac’s was his reply.

Aaah the Gulf Stream pushed you north faster than you could go east I said.

Yeah. He was beat you could tell. He’d been up since the previous morning.

We barely had time to get the boat in place and let Ted wash up before we had to go to the awards dinner.

After dinner we had to practically carry Bob and Jack to the boat. They were beyond ossified.

Ted and I discussed our options. Obviously Bob and Jack would be no help at all. We had to sail back because Ted needed to get home and rest up for work on Monday.

Ted decided that he should take the first watch until midnight by which time he’d be ready to collapse himself. Then I would sail the rest of the night until morning.

We had no illusions that either Bob or Jack would be of any use whatsoever.

I got a little sleep before Ted woke me at midnight.

Then I took the helm for the rest of another nearly dead air night. I knew we were drifting north with the stream faster than we were heading west toward the glow in the night sky that was Miami. The Gulf Stream flows north between Miami and Bimini and at midstream it’s rate of flow is about 4 knots. If I had sailed due south I would have gone exactly nowhere. So I headed southwest knowing very well that by morning I might be as far north as Ft. Lauderdale maybe a bit more.

Oh what a dead night – scarcely a breeze to be found. A tiny squall passed bringing a very welcome breeze and the rain was gone in no time. Then more hours of dead air.

Around six in the morning dawn’s earliest light brought a very welcome breeze from the east. I let out sail to go wing and wing. Oh it was great to feel the boat surge forward. Then I tacked the jib to reach south. I couldn’t see anything but canvas to my right. I was making great time now and heading a little south to make up for some of the latitude that the stream had pushed us up.

We were going on great for about an hour when suddenly I was surrounded by a very large pod of dolphins. This one dolphin was racing around the boat and every time he passed me at the helm he chattered at me seemingly more and more insistent each time.

I paid him a little attention and talked to him. He kept chattering and then jumped high out of the water sharply to starboard. I followed him with my gaze. He didn’t go far. Then he did it again fairly screeching at me and jumping even higher out of the water.

If he hadn’t jumped so high I would have never seen it. A tanker with 40 feet of red hull looming out of the water was bearing down on us and I had only seconds to react. I threw the helm over and we stopped dead in the water. I was watching all that red steel passing by when Ted emerged from the main salon. What’s up he said?

I pointed aft. My heart was in my throat. I couldn’t talk. My whole body was shaking.

Oh my God! You didn’t see it coming!

No I said. And if he hadn’t told me to look I would have never seen it. I pointed to the dolphin who was standing in the water chattering at us.

The dolphin came alongside to be petted and we thanked him. He stood in the water and seemed to nod his head as if chiding us to be more careful.