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Dolphins!

Source: Personal experience (Sea Story)

Read this and other stories in the book, Noticing Nature, by Chuck Bonner. Also available in e-book format for Amazon Kindle.

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USS Truxtun was a rather fast ship, with an official rated top speed "in excess of 30 knots." Now, virtually every warship in the U.S. Navy since before World War II has been rated "in excess of 30 knots," but some ships go more "in excess of 30 knots" than others. Truxtun was no record-breaker for speed, especially considering the gas turbine-powered Spruance-class destroyers that were coming on line when I was on the Truxtun. If you want to talk about endurance or endurance at speed, well Spruance can just stand aside!

Due to some odd technical quirks that were discovered after her latest reactor cores were installed, Truxtun had some particular procedures that had to be followed to shift from normal, relatively economical operations, to "in excess of 30 knots." The details may have been declassified since then, especially since there are no operational D2G nuclear power plants in the fleet anymore, but I won't go into the details anyway. Suffice it to say that if we wanted to go "in excess of 30 knots," we could, but it took a little getting ready.

One morning in the middle of the Pacific, my watch team spent much of the four-to-eight watch getting ready to go "in excess of 30 knots." By the time we got off watch, we were steaming along "in excess of 30 knots," and the ship was rolling from heel to heel in a particular shimmying pattern that always told us we were going "in excess of 30 knots." It was a fine morning, so we held Morning Quarters on the weatherdecks for a change.

My division's position for Morning Quarters was on the port side of the flight deck.

Now, the usual routine for Morning Quarters is something like this: Everyone who is not on watch assembles in formation by about 0800. The various workcenter Leading Petty Officers (LPOs) read the highlights from the Plan of the Day (POD) and ask if anyone has any particular items to bring up, which nobody ever has. Then the Division Chief takes charge of the formation and adds any information he may have which he thinks is important but which nobody else does. He then asks if anyone has any particular items to bring up and again, nobody has. Meanwhile, the officers are in the Wardroom for "Officers' Call," where they hear the highlights of the POD and any other information which the Captain has to put out. Officers' Call nominally ends at 0815, but always runs late, so the crew (except those on watch) stands around at Morning Quarters for another five or ten minutes. Fashionably late, the Division Officers arrive at their respective divisions' stations and read the highlights of the POD over again, and it drones wearily on. At long last, the Division Officer leaves, and the Division Chief gives the traditional command, "Post!"

This particular day was different. Shortly after the LPO began his eloquent proclamation of the POD, we began to notice a commotion on the sea behind us. This commotion quickly overtook us, and resolved itself as a conglomeration of literally thousands of Pacific white-sided dolphins. In no time, we were surrounded in all directions as far as the eye could see by dolphins bounding in and out of the waves.

I can't tell you what was in the POD that day. For one thing, you have no "need to know." But besides, I wasn't paying much attention. Like virtually everyone else on the ship who didn't have to read the POD to some group who didn't want to hear it anyway, I was watching the dolphins.

I can't tell you how fast these dolphins were going, but it was well in excess of "in excess of 30 knots." They overtook us from the horizon in a matter of minutes, then each one seemed to loiter a few seconds, watching the ship and the formations of Sailors, before zipping off on their own business somewhere ahead of us.

The sea was rather heavy, and we were rolling more than usual due to our speed, so I could often look straight out and see a dolphin inside a wave at eye level less than 50 feet away. As they swam, they would occasionally leap clear of the water for a breath. This leap was just a simple change of direction that took them above the ocean's surface, and didn't seem to require any extra speed or extra work at all.

It was amazing to see them moving so fast with so little apparent effort. We had spent a couple of hours working up to this speed, and the motion and noise of the ship made it clear that this was fast. Yet these dolphins were just idling along, giving an occasional little flip of the tail.

The usual boring interval between the Chief's "Anybody got anything?" and the arrival of the Division Officer was not so boring this day. Even the LPOs and the Chiefs took a few looks at the passing dolphins.

The Division Officer's spiel was a little shorter than usual. He kind of knew he didn't exactly have our undivided attention, and that we'd already heard the highlights of the POD anyway.

When the Chief concluded Morning Quarters with "Post!" nobody went immediately to their posts. Everybody, the Chief included, just turned around and watched the dolphins for a while.




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