Monday, November 07, 2011

Close Encounter of the Dolphin Kind!

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Close encounter of the dolphin kind

It was a crisp, clear and windy October day. The first strong cold front of the season had swept through the Coastal Bend of the Gulf Coast and had dropped the temperature considerably, offering cool relief from the long, lingering heat of summer.
I eagerly ditched work on this morning, calling in sick of course, and loaded my gear onto my van and headed to Port Aransas.
I parked on the beach between the Horace Caldwell Pier and the south jetty of the Aransas Pass Ship channel. The windsurfing conditions were superb. A north north east wind was blowing around 30 mph and gusting a bit higher. The waves were small but well formed as they swept in towards the beach in long lines wrapping around the jetty. The wind was parallel to the beach helping to give the waves their clean shape.
After quickly rigging up I lifted my board by the rear foot strap and took the mast in my left hand while raising the rig off the sand. The boom was pointed down wind and I slowly backed my way to the water dragging the nose of my 12 foot six inch F2 Lightning over the sand. When I reached the water I pulled the rig towards myself and simultaneously turned the nose of the board out to sea. I let go of the boom and the wind blew the rig so it flipped over which kept the end of the boom downwind. You never want to handle a windsurfing rig by pointing the boom upwind, bad idea!
Now I took the boom by both hands while pushing the board out into the water. As soon as there was enough depth I quickly performed a beach start, stepping up on the board and sheeting in on the boom.
This quickly put me under power and I headed out into the waves.
Sailing on a port tack I pulled in on the boom and my 6.8 sq. m. sail shot me over the wave face, and I skipped over the wave, getting some air, and into the next and the next repeating the action.
Once I was outside of the line of breaking waves I kicked down my center board and sailed as close to the wind as I could intending to tack upwind for a while so I could return to the beach in close proximity of my launch spot. This would also allow me to sail on a broad reach giving me the maximum speed possible.
The conditions were perfect, I thought, and I sailed in and out riding the small waves and getting my little jumps going out, great fun!
The wind seemed to be picking up a bit so I decided to sail further out to sea and ride the swells. As I came about even with the end of the 1,000 foot long Horace Caldwell Pier I saw the splashing of a small school of mullet as they raced along the surface in an apparent panic. Soon I saw the source of their fear as a medium sized bottle nosed dolphin was in hot pursuit.
I realized that I was on a collision course with the sea mammal and the dolphin, concentrating on its prey, did not seem to see me. I held my course until I was very close. The dolphin then looked at me in what I thought was a startled expression of total surprise. It broke off its chase and dove down into the water.
I thought it was pretty funny, and continued sailing. Shortly after I was surprised to see the dolphin again, this time it was swimming straight towards me, on a collision course, moving very rapidly! Suddenly I didn’t think it was all that funny. Just as the dolphin closed in it again dove down into the water and harmlessly passed right beneath my board! Wow!
That wasn’t the end of the encounter. The dolphin appeared again and it came close by and swam on a parallel course right beside me. It was very close; I could have reached down and touched it. We looked each other in the eye. The animal’s expression seemed one of amusement as it let me know who was the real master of the waves.
I talked to it. I said the same things I said to my pet parakeet. “Pretty boy!” I had no idea if it was a male or not. “Good dolphin!” And I whistled to it. It took no notice of my vocalizations but its calm demeanor and expression made me comfortable and unafraid. It followed me for a few hundred yards until it broke formation and swam away. I felt very fortunate to have had a moment of play time with the beautiful cetacean.
I returned to the beach with reinforced admiration for these magnificent animals.

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