Dolphins Danced That Day

This poem is in memory of Martin Colfer. Skipper of the Rebecca C, who often took me out to search for the whales off the Hook Head in County Wexford.  The video was shot at a reading of this in The Troubadour London, during an evening organised by Coffee House Poetry.

 


 

Dolphins danced in the harbour that day

 

in memoriam Martin Colfer, Skipper of the Rebecca C

 

They were good, those days together, easy

sailing, easy talking, easy in each

others company.  He taught me how to

watch at sea for birds circling, then diving.

He showed me the seals spying on us,

the dolphins playing games around the boat,

then, wonder of wonders, we would reach where

we had seen the great whales blow.  At times we

would come so close we could hear their very

breathing.  Together we saw mighty Fin

Whales, majestic Humpbacks, playful passing

Minke.  Once, sailing from our own harbour

at Duncannon we set a Northward course

to Ballyhack he gave me the tiller

to hold her steady while he cleared space

for photographers, waiting for their chance

to see the sights that we had often seen.

It happened then we went through pods of

Dolphins swimming in families of three.

At one hundred we stopped our counting.

Small wonder so that the day they buried

him in the graveyard overlooking the bay

the dolphins danced in the water, plain

enough then, that all who mourned could see.

Here be whales

It’s not often you get a chance to get so close to whales, dolphins or even seals in their natural habitats.  Depending on where you live it could be the result of a once-in-a-lifetime experience, or something completely unexpected.

For others it could be relatively common, something almost unnoticed.  I posted a poem, “The Tholsel, Kilkenny”, here on that very topic, one person’s exotic being another’s normal.

http://wp.me/p1x8WB-9R

This was my response to a painting by Paul Henry RHA of the ancient Toll House (Tholsel) in my native Kilkenny City, Ireland.  The first time I saw this I was astonished that a sight as familiar to me as a wristwatch could be seen and painted in such a beautiful way by someone from elsewhere.  The poem includes the couplet

So my familiar seems exotic to you,

as my exotic is your familiar too

Perhaps this is an uncommon call to be prepared for astonishment in a wonderful world.

whaling-map

Searching for ‘whale watching tours’ will direct you to various scattered locations such as Alaska, California, Boston, Hawaii.  Perhaps other evocative names appeal to you?  How about Madagascar, Newfoundland, Vancouver Madagascar?  Ireland will be familiar to some, distant and imagined to others.

skipper-martin-colfer

Walk down the street where I live and you will come to a busy fishing harbour.  Trawlers come and go, fish are offloaded and truck heavily-laden pass through the village carrying the haul to the next destination.  Two piers make up the harbour.  The outer one is larger and is built in deeper water.  The inner pier creates a small harbour generally used by the smaller craft, including charter boats.

‘The Rebecca C’ is a catamaran which is moored in our inner harbour when it is not at sea or berthed in similar ports along the coast.  She has a yellow hull, white deck and cabin and is skippered by Martin Colfer. In season ‘The Rebecca C’ is chartered by angling groups who spend time at sea pursuing their passion.

There is another season in Martin’s work.  He is also a leading light in the Whale Watching World.  Nature enthusiasts, TV crews, photographers, both professional and amateur, pursue their prey with his help, out beyond the Hook Head Lighthouse.

ships-photographer

January and February seem to be the best months to catch sight of the migrating whales.  Travelling out towards likely viewing sites you can often pass through large pods of dolphins or be watched by curious seals

One trip in 2016 brought us through a pod of dolphins so large we gave up trying to count beyond a hundred.  What was particularly touching that day was that they seemed to be clustered in family groups, trios mainly of mother, child and father.  Playful animals that they are it is easy watch them race the boat, chase each other towards or sometimes simply showing off.  We have even seen individual fish skimming along beside us, escaping from their pursuers.

dolphin-families

Without a doubt the most memorable experience to date has been meeting a Humpback Whale in January 2017.  We were so close not only could we hear her breathing but even see the droplets of water falling from her body, her flukes, as she disappeared into her other home in the depths below.  Gone for now, out of sight, but lingering in our memory for a long time to come.

fluke-humpback-2017

There is a ferry

There is a ferry on the water

 

here nearby where she crosses

over the ever changing tide,

carrying all who travel

safely side to side.

 

An old Knight’s castle stands solidly on rock,

there she still looks out from Ballyhack,

watched in turn from Passage East by wide

eyed goats perched on cliffs high above the

waves where white winged seabirds glide.

 

Keep to the western shore, to find the deep water

keep to the western shore, the old sea shanty sang.

 

Sailing in to port with the rising tide

upstream first, then later down, fine ships ride

back and forth to sea.  Distant places call them,

Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Honduras,

but day by day from rising dawn to dark of night

our faithful ferry churns her way across,

always and ever back and forth,

back and forth ever and always

always and ever.

 

The wild goats roam and ramble, the sea birds

skate across skies where fresh winds blow.

Day by day the great ships come and go,

no ferry journey is ever the same, is ever dull.

 

The waters depth beneath forever changes,

passing dolphins leap in greeting cheerful.