Wild Dolphins off the Hanky Panky
By Jeanne Arnold
Barbara writes: 3.24 GREAT NEWS!! Boating for Women magazine came in today’s mail and I immediately glanced through it. A short article, “Bahamas—Swim with the Dolphins Project” jumped out at me. What a neat trip! I hollered to J, “Let’s swim with wild dolphins!” Jeanne almost ran to me and we talked of how it had been a dream of each of us and we made up our minds on the spot. We’re Going! Whoopee!
Six weeks ago, Barbara spotted a story about the Oceanic Society Expedition taking passengers for long-term underwater research study of wild spotted dolphins forty miles off shore of the Bahamas. We explored the organization on the internet, invited an excited Luan to join us and we signed up right away.
Unfortunately, after many months of coping with atrial fibrillation issues, Barbara finally underwent a “common” procedure: ablation. By threading tubes to the heart, a team of eight cardiology specialists are to find a source of the problem and send “energy” to that spot to stop the arrhythmia. But with Barbara, after the first three of twelve hours without success, they gave up and installed a pacemaker.
Barbara is a challenge to all.
She must now recover from two entrance wounds in her groin areas, one puncture on her neck vein, a swollen three-inch gash under her collarbone where the pacemaker went in, and a nasty “burn” on her left chest—a circle the size of a toilet plunger from three adhesive patches stuck on her that made her skin look like crop circles. She must not lift her left arm or put any pressure on that side. We immediately thought of our dolphin trip and she remarked, “Just try to get fins off my feet and board the boat with only my right arm to pull me up the ladder.”
Two months later in the Bahamas, the three of us, five more passengers, two women scientists and two crew pulled out of Freeport’s sheltered harbor on the Hanky Panky, a 70-foot motor cruiser. Barbara and I took our one-hour turn holding on to the metal railings of the bowsprit to look for dolphins, the first of our three shifts each day. Though our boat was tiny compared to Heroine Rose’s perch in the Titanic movie, Rose didn’t bounce on the water like we did. Still I felt like Rose reaching out to the universe anticipating the thrill of what could happen, but we weren’t worried about icebergs.
Barbara writes: We had four dolphin sightings and encounters. Everybody went in the water—except the crew and me. Putting on gear with nine other people at the stern and jumping in with them would be a problem. Getting back on the boat too. I spotted. Lots of excitement.
Luan got her dolphin hit right away. She was trembling from her experience when back on the boat. She felt their touch as they swam passed her. The dolphin pod included a calf. She cried when I helped her on the boat and heard her excited story. Her heart stilled pounded.
While anchored in peaceful waters for the night, two brawny bronze Bahamian guys pulled up to us in their dory full of lobsters. Co-captain Peppie bargained and bought 13 Bahamian lobsters (crawfish) to cook for supper. J ate 1 ½ tails. Peppie is Captain Lynne’s boyfriend. He reminds me of Whoopie Goldberg with a big smile, except Whoopie doesn’t’t have scruffy beard and an artificial leg like Peppie’s—when he wears it. The colorful, talented character snorkels extremely well with one fin.
Barbara rehearsed chantey songs for the trip and sang them at sunset. All were happy, especially me. Later at night, Lynne turned off all the boat lights and, with only a large flashlight, she fixed on stars, traced their alignment and told us what it all meant. Her light cut through darkness and focused on single stars among millions in the night sky until 12:30 as we rocked to gentle movement of the peaceful waters.
On Wednesday, Barbara spotted the five dolphins that were soon being chased by our other swimmers. I knew I couldn’t catch up with the group by the time I got on my gear and into the water so I thought, “Let the dolphins come to me.” After swimming a bit from the boat, I floated quietly, my arms tucked at my sides, riding the sweeping swells of the Little Bahama Bank.
As if the dolphins heard me, they turned toward me, moving more quickly than I imagined. Five spotted adult dolphins in formation like the Navy’s Blue Angels burst around me, their noses and their eyes flashed by me, their bodies passed around me, even under me. I’d been buzzed by these under-water jet aces exploding into five directions and I was in the center of it all.
My heart almost exploded and I thought they’d passed me and were gone, but when I looked deeply into the clear blue water, I saw them dancing on their tails as if to give me another gift of their pirouetting for me, their tails stirring the sand.
I don’t intellectually remember all the details to tell our scientists, but I do know how thrilled I was—and am still in writing this. I was the last swimmer off our boat—and the first one back after I realized my mask was taking water. Did I jar it or did it have a leak? Barbara kept a watchful eye on me from her perch on the bowsprit. I wasn’t far from the Hanky Panky where Luan helped me onto the boat. When I took off my mask, expecting to taste salty water, I realized the water in my mask came from my tears. Luan witnessed the dazed expression on my face and more tears on my cheeks. “Luan! Barbara! The water is from my tears!” Luan hugged me and cried with me this time.
“It was like they’d used sonar to find me—as if they sensed my thoughts and swam to me like meeting a friend, a spiritual person on similar wavelengths. What a gift! Can you hear me Barbara? That’s what I felt from their flashing around me and dancing beneath me, a gift from Mother Nature. An interspecies connection! That’s it! Joy! Playfulness! Gratefulness!”
When I calmed down, I wondered if it would change me, make me a better person, more thoughtful, more loving, more understanding, more joyful? Perhaps I’ll be more at peace with life, more thankful. Perhaps I will mine this golden memory to become a more creative spirit.
I tossed about all night reliving my encounter and when awake, I was quiet and absorbed in it all. Barbara told me she was happy about my dolphin experience with her watching from the bowsprit and cheering me on. It’s the entire trip that she loves, she said. She’s quiet too. I can’t imagine how she must feel not to swim with the dolphins; her dream is not coming true because of her new life-saving pacemaker. I’m sure we both thought about what if something did happen to her on this small boat over forty miles out on the ocean.
Together we took our morning watch and sang Goddess songs out to the azure-colored ocean under the blooming white clouds in the crystal-blue sky.
I have taken my life in my arms—
I embrace the world and sense its pulse
As I feel in oneness
With the best of life.
My legs stretch to keep the pace—
My heels vibrate with each determined step
As I dance each moment
To the meaning of life.
My self reaches out to be itself—
I risk loving those who accept that self
As I live, as I consume
The full measure of life.
Graphics by Mary Nelson
Next week—Being transplanted from your roots
UNsung Women: the UN-known Herstory History
Loreen Greene Mohr and Samiera Gdisis are our SUNG woman for March and April. Nominate more UNsung women to be selected for May & June, 2022.
Submit written nominations about past or present women from Racine/Kenosha whose contributions to the wellbeing of our families, churches, schools, communities and beyond who have not or have been UNder acknowledged.
The nominator is asked to provide:
• answers to Who, What, When, Where, How and Why details of your nominee’s herstory in a document or resume format.
• photographs, drawings, illustrations to enhance herstory;
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Please do not nominate women who have already been “sung.”