At school I was voted the guy least likely to tear off his clothes and run into the sea. That’s not actually true. But it could be. I don’t do crazy impulses. I’m the man who holds up the coffee shop queue before ordering the same latte as ever. I use SatNav. On the train. You certainly wouldn’t catch me braving the English Channel in October, without so much as a towel to hand. And yet, on one autumn afternoon several years ago, I did. And I’m still trying to understand why.
My wife and I were in Lyme Regis, in Dorset, walking along the sea front. We spotted a commotion in the water. In the midst of a group of swimmers, something dark kept bobbing up. We saw a fin. It was like a scene from Jaws, except the screams were not of terror but delight. Then shouts from around us confirmed it: ‘A dolphin!... A bottlenose dolphin!’
My first fear – that the creature must be in distress, to be so close to the beach – vanished almost at once. The dolphin was clearly reveling in the attention, scooting from one bunch of kids to another, splashing them, letting itself be stroked, and generally showing off.
At that moment I realised that I’d probably never have this chance again. To swim with dolphins is often held up to be one of life’s great experiences. Some polls have even voted it, ‘The number one thing to do before you die’. And this wasn’t some captive dolphin in a pool, or some purchased, pre-packaged ‘experience’. This was the real deal, a wild dolphin, an utterly random stroke of fortune, quite literally out of the blue. And I didn’t have any swimming things.
Why? What possessed me? For a long time afterwards I struggled to answer that question, and somehow these efforts resulted in a book. The Storm Bottle is a tale of humans and dolphins, an adventure story as full of thrills and perils as my other books (The Cat Kin Trilogy), but drawing for inspiration on that magical experience. In the story, Michael nearly does lose his life when he tries to swim with a dolphin – before discovering what it’s like to be one. The action unfolds in Bermuda and its surrounding ocean, where we learn that it is not just human beings who tell frightening legends about that lonely archipelago. And maybe we come a little closer to answering that tantalising riddle: why is swimming with dolphins the number one thing to do before you die?
The Storm Bottle is available from Amazon at http://amzn.to/X2eITc.