Once in a lifetime

?Kiwis in the Bahamas???

Jenny’s nephew, Ethan, and his fiancé, Penny joined us in Georgetown, from New Zealand. We met them at Emerald Bay Marina. We waited in the marina for a couple of days, waiting for some strong NE winds to blow through. The marina has a horrible surge in these conditions, and Southern Star tugged on her dock lines constantly.

We walked all over and to Steventon Village about 2 ½ miles each way. We sat at the beach bar and gazed at the incredible turquoise water colours that exemplify the Exumas. Ethan and Penny were star struck with the scenery while we enjoyed cold beers and introduced them to conch fritters.

We managed to get off the dock after another day, and headed over to Georgetown, about 12 miles further south. The seas were pretty calm and we tried to catch some fish as we shadowed the drop off. No luck today.

Entering Georgetown from the north through Conch Cut is an amazing experience. The water’s so clear, and the sandbars reflecting the amazing colours. We anchored off our favorite anchorage off Sand Dollar Beach. The area is pretty uncrowded, and we have good space for us. Jenny did not even complain about anyone too close. We took the kids snorkeling on some of the nearby reefs. They are pretty beat up with the pressure of so many boats, but we managed to play with a friendly hawksbill turtle for several minutes.

But Penny was feeling increasingly unwell since we’d left Emerald Bay. After two days with no improvement in the pain or discomfort in her belly and back, we had decided to dinghy over to Georgetown where she could visit a doctor. Unfortunately we struck some outboard problems which meant having to take a water taxi, then a land taxi to get to the clinic. But it was worth it, as the doctor quickly diagnosed an allergy to conch, and prescribed pain killers and some pills and potions to fix it. After another 24 hours there was a huge improvement and she was almost back to normal.

The weather improved even more as we went ashore in town, and had a beer at the Exuma Yacht Club.

The visit for the kiwis is pretty standard so far, here in paradise, until …

We were back on board the boat. No breeze, water flat calm and clear, we can make out the shapes of scattered coral and rocks under the boat at 5 metres.

Off to the port side of the boat I spotted two dolphins travelling towards us. They were 6 feet long, and passed right under the bow of the boat. I sent out the dolphin alert, and all eyes were on deck to see what the pair would do. They passed by, headed over to the snorkeling reef, and then they turned and headed back toward the boat. They seem to have some interest in the hooting tourists on this funny shaped boat.

I decided to see if they were interested in playing, and donned my mask and fins. I entered the water and headed off toward the reef, stopping to look around to try to see where the dolphins were.

I could not see them, but heard Jenny shout at me. They were right behind me. I turned and was startled to be only about 5 feet away from the pair. They headed straight at me. I kept my hands together and tucked alongside my body, careful not to reach out or to appear aggressive. I swam on my side facing the pair and headed back toward the boat, to try to keep them close to our guests.

As I neared the boat, the dolphin split, one stayed on one side of me, the other went around to the back of me. The dolphin in front came closer, his dolphin smile came within a couple of feet, until I stopped and went vertical to face him. The one behind me circled around, also smiling.
We swam around the boat; or rather they swam circles around me for several minutes, getting closer and closer to me, almost herding me. I spent many years in my past in the water, as a dive instructor. I have had the honor of swimming with sharks, turtles, rays, and dolphins. But never have I seen such an amazing encounter with wild dolphins. It was an emotional experience.
I went back to the boat, and climbed up on the swim platform and encouraged the kids to jump in the water with the dolphin. I felt that there was no aggression of any kind from the dolphin, only curiosity and playfulness.

Ethan and Penny got into the water timidly, but soon they were enjoying the encounter. Penny lay faced down, and one dolphin mimicked her body position, and lie face to face with her. We took photos from the boat, documented the play time.

We handed Ethan his GoPro, and he videotaped the encounter. Ethan attempted a couple of splashy surface dives, rushing back to the surface after a short dive. One of the dolphins mimicked Ethan’s return to the surface, and jumped out of the water a few feet from Ethan.
There really seemed to be a connection with the kids and the dolphins. I encouraged Jenny to get in to enjoy the encounter. She did, and at one point, Ethan was videotaping her while on of the dolphins swam toward her, and it dived at the last minute, his tail splashing the water, and nearly hitting Jenny in the facemask.

The three of them played with the dolphin for a long time; the encounter continuing for over 45 minutes.

Finally the humans grew a bit fatigued and came out of the water, and our dolphin friends swam slowly off to see if there was anyone else around to play with. It was by far one of my most amazing encounters with any marine life, and I am sure that Ethan and Penny will long remember this.

We have had some great fun with the photos and the video we shot. Ethan was able to freeze frame some of the video clips for amazing still shots of the dolphins as they jumped alongside the boat.

It was a once in a lifetime experience for all of us, but this time with several cameras on hand to document the experience forever.


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