A wonderful bird is the pelican
His bill will hold more than his bellican
He can take in his beak
Food enough for a week
But I’m damned if I know how the helican.
– Ogden Nash
Oct 1, 2013 – Solomon’s Island to Deltaville, MD
We started out early on the first of October, heading east into a brilliant sun. As we turned south we found something unexpected: wind. Enough wind to sail. We hoisted both jib and mainsail and turned off the engine. It’s a wonderful silence at first, and then you realize it’s not silence at all, but the sounds of wind filling the sails overhead and the water splashing the bow as we cut through the calm waters. We are doing a very respectable 5 knots when we first spot our two companion ships sailing behind and to the east of us. They are pale twins in the distance, side by side like graceful dance partners.
Waking up this morning next to Phil in the V-berth, I remembered the first-of-the-month ritual. I whispered “rabbit, rabbit” to ensure a month of good luck. I don’t know where I picked up this weird custom, but it has to be the first thing out of your mouth on day one of a new month. I forget most of the time. But as we sail south on this perfect day, I am overwhelmed by my good luck. I couldn’t dream up a better partner, better friends sailing the boats behind us, or a better time. I don’t need rabbits this month.
When Phil sailed south from Maine, he said the pelicans started showing up around Cape May, New Jersey. To him, they were a symbol of the south, or at least of the migration south. So I am on the lookout for pelicans throughout the morning. I have never seen a dolphin in the wild, and constantly scan the blue-gray water for dorsal fins. Our friends tell us they have seen dolphins in this part of the Chesapeake, but we can’t seem to find them. On the radio, we hear a captain hailing the Coast Guard. They want to report a dead dolphin floating in the bay, and give their position. I am hoping my first sighting of a dolphin in these waters is one of a smiling, jumping, Flipper in very good health. I have read that dolphins are suffering from a flu-like virus.
Our friends, in their faster boats, motor-sail by us. They are headed for Deltaville, and want to get there first to help us navigate the very strange entrance to the anchorage. We watch them sail by, and shortly after, the wind dies down and we have to start the engine. With the engine on, we can make six knots. My attention is on the water. The sun is so brilliant, it is painful to remove my sunglasses. I take them off anyway to avoid the raccoon look in my developing tan.
Then Phil spots one sitting on the water just off the port bow. It is unmistakable. A little farther on, we see groups of them in the air. First one, then two soar past us majestically, slowly like pterodactyls with their prehistoric beaks. Pelicans, our symbols of migration. We imagine palm trees in the distance, and still scan the water for dolphins. But here, there be pelicans.