Dolphin's fin

Close encounter

Ever since I learnt to sail, at the age of 10, I’ve dreamt of having my own sailing boat. Part of the appeal of sailing was the thought of seeing exciting marine wildlife up close. Last year I finally took the plunge and bought a 14 ft sailing dinghy.

My parents let me keep the boat with them, down in deepest Cornwall, so I only get to sail it on visits to them. That means I’m still getting used to the boat, and, more tricky, the cove I launch her from. Last week was my first opportunity of the year to take the boat out.

The weather was perfect – sunshine, with the right amount of wind coming from the right direction. The wind swirls around a lot in the cove, but once you’re out from the cliffs things get a lot easier. It was early on a weekday morning, so not many other boats were out.

Within 15 minutes of setting sail, Dr C spotted something in the water some way off – the sedate roll of a porpoise’s fin breaking the surface before disappearing. We continued in that direction, hoping to get another glimpse. We were in luck, with the appearances of the fin getting closer and closer to the boat.

But there was something strange about it. On one sighting it looked small and dark, and the next time taller and light grey, then again small and dark. We worked out that it wasn’t one animal we were seeing, but at least two – some kind of dolphin (most likely common) as well as a harbour porpoise.

I’m not sure how long the encounter lasted – not long. But it was the closest I have come to a harbour porpoise, who are generally quite shy and tend to keep boats at a distance. I suspect that us sailing, rather than being propelled by a noisy engine, probably helped us to not alarm the porpoise too much.

I had decided to leave the camera ashore (one less thing to worry about, and I was sure we’d see something exciting if we didn’t have the camera with us). So I don’t have any photos of it. You’ll just have to picture the scene: a quiet, sunny morning in a marine conservation zone off the south Cornish coast; blue sea fading into blue sky; just one small sailing dinghy and the gentle glimpse of the backs of a couple of cetaceans. Living the dream.

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