With the wind in my fur and the rhythmic splashing of the water hitting the sides of the boat, I felt like nothing else mattered except the wild spirit of the open seas and the marine-life that lived within it. I couldn’t believe that an ordinary black moggy like me was about to head out to sea and witness nature, in its own environment, and on water too. How brave am I?!
I was sitting in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat with orange sides and wooden benches to seat 12 people, courtesy of a great bunch of guys at Bristol Channel Charters in Ilfracombe, Devon. As we chuntered out of the harbour to the wide-open sea, John held on to me and the skipper pulled back the throttle, much to the delight of the passengers who whooped and cheered as we zoomed along at 20 knots towards Lundy Island. John shouted “I feel the need”, and someone else cried, “The need for speed”. (Famous quote from an iconic Tom Cruise movie made in 1986 for those of you too young to remember).
The shimmering sapphire sea twinkled all around and there was not a cloud in the pale blue sky as the shoreline disappeared behind us and an outline of the island emerged in the distance. Suddenly the engines stopped which could only mean one thing – something interesting had been spotted. We floated for a couple of minutes before the crew pointed to one of the best sights I’ve ever seen, dolphins hopping in and out of the water. What a privilege to see these magnificent, inquisitive creatures playing and interacting with us, so friendly and trusting. The boat engines started again and as we moved slowly towards them, they swam alongside us, weaving back and forth across the bow, leaping and diving. This is known as porpoising – spectacular jumps alternated with swimming just under the surface of the water in a high-speed surface piercing motion.
We continued our journey towards the island which is only a mile across by 2 or 3 miles long and surrounded by high jagged rocky ridges. According to the crew, there is a population of around 25 on the island, as well as a few thrill-seeking visitors that come to climb the sheer cliffs. We took a tour of the island and as we cruised past the west side, the skipper said that there was nothing but ocean between us and America. It brought to mind images of the first settlers that sailed across the Atlantic, possibly wondering they might fall of the edge of the world! The seals favoured the eastern and southern aspects of the island which were dotted with rocky pillars and ledges perfect for the seals to bask in the sun, much like this seal splayed on its side like a mermaid. Some of the seals were so well camouflaged that it was hard to spot them until they moved. They were quite curious but kept their distance, poking their marbled grey labrador-like heads up out of the water to watch us, like some kind of sea-faring meerkats!
A friend of mine told me that his elderly owner went to Lundy Island way back in the 1940’s and saw a rich variety of bird-life there. Unfortunately many of these birds have disappeared, but we were lucky enough to spot a handful of puffins in the water sporting their distinctive orange beaks. There were also razorbills,oyster-catchers and guillemots, as well as kittiwakes, a small silvery gull with black wing tips and a yellow beak.
As we began the 12 mile or so boat trip back inland, I wondered how these animals survive in the wild and couldn’t help but admire their tenacity and resolve. It makes me think how lucky I am to get my dinner out of a packet from the supermarket while nature’s wild inhabitants work so hard to be self-sufficient and make the most of the limited resources their environment provides. But despite all the effort of surviving in the face of dangers such as predators or human threats, those dolphins had the time and the inclination to play with us and show us their beauty and agility. I was most definitely impressed.