Choosing a sailor's life
Updated: 2013-09-03 08:02
Dolphins keep the conversation flowing
What's the best conversational icebreaker when you are on a cruise?
The weather? No. That's really only the concern of the captain, and the rest of us were usually in our cabins avoiding the heat anyway. The meals? No. They're all pretty similar; defrosted meat and tinned vegetables. Movies and the news? No. They're not available in the middle of the ocean.
Remember. The answer is and will always be this: Dolphins.
Even for the most experienced mariners, seeing dolphins is a delight. If you ask sailors for the most exciting moment of a voyage, nine out of 10 will give you the same answer: Seeing dolphins.
When I had exhausted my range of topics and was struggling to keep an interview going, I would toss in the dolphin question. It worked every time. Even the shyest sailor would tell an amazing story about seeing dolphins and other marine wildlife.
I once spoke with a very depressed soldier. He had been sick for a long time while on deployment and he came to the Peace Ark for surgery. During our 60 minute interview, the only moment I saw a sparkle in his eyes was when he talked about a large school of dolphins that "almost filled my entire field of vision", and a turtle "as big as a dinner table".
I wasn't immune, either. I remember that I cried out too when I first saw a whale spray and beat the water with his tail. It was like watching the Discovery Channel, but for real.
It has nothing to do with how much time you have spent at sea, either. I have seen a captain, who has been on deployment in the Gulf of Aden many times, pointing at the water like a 12-year-old as dolphins glided across the surface.
I guess the crew's obsession with observing the wildlife, especially dolphins, is the result of living a long, changeless existence at sea. After repeating the same chores, the same schedule for more than two months, any unexpected event is welcome.
Actually, there were lots of surprise guests at sea. Whales were the most magnificent and dolphins were the most adorable. People like them in the same way they like dogs.
Flying fish were the most common sight in open water, always scuttling forward furiously as the ship crashed through the waves. Seagulls circled and petrels rode the wind, swooping down and then soaring up again before the waves could catch them.
When we were about 50 nautical miles off the coast of Somalia, I even saw a small yellow butterfly resting on a corner of the deck. It was strange to see this delicate creature after at least a month without a glimpse of an insect. People quickly gathered around to take photos before the poor thing was blown away by the wind.