We set sail from Almerimar shortly before 9am on Sunday. We were forecast easterly winds, light at first but getting stronger through the day. The first half of the day was overcast and chilly, and the girls and I piled on the layers to keep warm.
Last year common dolphins were our regular companions as we sailed south from Plymouth to the Mediterranean. Common dolphins are small, dark grey on top, lighter grey underneath, with a distinctive curved dorsal fin. So I was thrilled on Sunday when some bottlenose dolphins came right up beside us and rode our bow wave. I gasped when I saw the first one, so much larger than their common dolphin cousins. Bottlenose dolphins can grow to 3.4 metres – a metre more than common dolphins. They are a lighter shade of grey and their dorsal fins are bigger and less curved at the back. The dolphins that swam close to us on Sunday had ragged dorsal fins, suggesting they’ve had come close encounters with boat propellers.
A couple of hours after the bottlenose dolphins had dropped by we were joined by a few common dolphins, who looked tiny and delicate in comparison.
We were just past Adra, Julian at the helm and the girls and I sitting in the cockpit with our heads stuck in our books.
‘Flamingos! Flamingos!’ Julian yelled excitedly. I looked up from my book, thinking he’d finally lost the plot. But there, between us and the shore, flying low to the water, was a flock of shockingly pink flamingos! We watched as they flew in the opposite direction to us, never more than a couple of metres above the surface of the water. Due to their bright plumage we kept track of them far into the distance.
About six miles out from Almuñecar, Julian drew our attention to something else in the water. Swimming so close to Carina that I could have touched it with a boat hook, was a reddish-brown sea turtle, about 30cm long. Later, after we had settled into Marina del Este, we did some online research and we’re pretty sure it was a juvenile loggerhead turtle. Loggerheads range in colour from green to reddish-brown, they are found throughout the Mediterranean, and they have nesting sites in the south and east of the Sea. I’ve seen sea turtles a couple of times when SCUBA diving, but this was the first time for all of us to see one while sailing. Many sailors write of sea turtles bumping up against their boats, and we were thrilled to see our very first turtle from Carina’s cockpit.
Our final visitor was a bumble bee that landed on our deck about four miles from shore. It rested for a while, exploring the deck, and then went on his way.
It was a memorable day, with so much incredible wildlife visiting us. It was also a reminder of the care we need to take of our fragile ecosystems. The BBC recently reported on new research that found that the Mediterranean is an accumulating zone of plastic debris. The research found 1000 tons of plastic floating on the surface of the Mediterranean. Many animals ingest plastics, mistaking them for food, leading to slow and painful death through starvation. However, 80% of the plastic in the Mediterranean is micro-plastic, less than 5mm in length. These potentially release carcinogenic and other chemicals into the gut.
On Sunday we came close to so many spectacular animals. They were a reminder of the staggering diversity and beauty of the world around us. They were also a reminder that their continued existence hinges on us humans taking care of the world around us and not treating our seas and our atmosphere as dumping grounds for our endless waste.