Day 35

21st November 2001

The weather is good and we are fishing once again, but the fish have gone elsewhere. We have sailed north to target Greenland halibut, but the season has barely started, and as yet they are illusive. Not much fish means that there hasn’t been much work for me to do, and off the back of several days of bad weather, boredom levels are reaching critical.

Just before packing in for the night at about 11:30 I went down to the mess for some supper. I finished my bread and ovaltine and looked out of the porthole to see an amazing moon. It looked like a segment of a tangerine in both shape and colour. It was low in the sky hovering just above the horizon. At that moment I heard the winches stop, indicating that the trawl doors had reached the deck. I thought I might as well go and check the catch before going to bed. As expected, the fish bin held less than a tonne of fish; about half of which was Greenland halibut and the rest were mainly discard species. There were a few transparent octopuses amongst the catch and so I loitered a while to have a good look at them. Utterly bizarre creatures.

On my way out of the factory I went onto deck for some fresh air and to have a look at the orange moon; it was a surreal sight. The night was crisp and clear and there were so many stars that it reminded me of the sky in the desert. As my eyes adjusted, I could see more and more stars appearing until my head was spinning with them. The milky way stretched over the ship from port to starboard.

Something in the sea caught my eye. I looked over the port side and saw what looked like a bow wave speeding along beside the ship. The wave was only about 3ft long and instead of breaking and dissipating from white, back to the black of the surrounding sea, the wave kept moving. It was quite eerie and I thought my eyes were playing tricks. Just then I heard a snort and as my eyes adjusted to the dark further, I saw that it was not a wave but in fact a dolphin which had been swimming just below the surface. I scanned the sea and to my amazement I noticed that what I had previously taken to be white horses in the chop, were dolphins leaping out of the water! It was fantastic!

“Like children playing under a starry sky,
they danced and sang in the glowing waves, free spirits.”

I think they were common dolphins, but it was hard to say for sure in the dark. There were hundreds of them for as far as I could see, and the most amazing thing of all was that they left luminous streaks in their wake as they disturbed the bioluminescent plankton in the water. They looked like comets! I went up to the bow where it was darker away from the ship’s lights, and the luminescence was even more pronounced. Dolphins were bow riding in a luminous bow wave and I could clearly hear their squeaks and clicks as they communicated with each other.

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Dolphins illuminated by bioluminescent plankton

I looked back at the ship, all lit up with a blanket of stars reaching across the sky broken only by the expansive horizon, seabirds briefly illuminated under the deck lights looked like shooting stars as they swirled around the ship, an orange moon still and surreal, and around us in the water a megapod of dolphins with luminous comet tails, I knew that I’d never forget this moment. Just when the North Atlantic grinds you down with days of storms and boredom, it chucks you a bone to remind you why you are here.

 

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