Saturday, 12 September 2015
Before Pytheas set out from Massalia on his way to these northern waters in 320BC, I wonder if he made an offering at the temple of Apollo? I feel sure he would have appealed to Apollo for good fortune and safety on his journey as many sailors did. His name suggests a link as well: the Oracle of Delphi, the priestess of Apollo's temple, was called Pythia.
One of the main symbols of Apollo was the dolphin, because he changed himself into one in order to escape the island, Delos, where he was born (see here) and then leaped onto a boat and guided it to a safe harbour. So Greek sailors believed that dolphins swimming alongside a boat were bringing good will and wishing them safe passage. It's easy to understand why.
On our first sea trip this year in our new boat, Each Mara, from Inverness Marina to the mouth of the Caledonian Canal, we were accompanied by dolphins. It felt like a good omen, as my aim was to spend a lot of time aboard writing about Pytheas' travels. I was sure Pytheas would have been pleased!
Many times over the summer we encountered pods of dolphins in the Minch and the Inner Sound. It is invariably exciting to see them. Often they have come when the weather has been dire, after hours of rain, or when it has not windy enough to make good progress, or in rough seas. They never fail to lift our spirits as they surface with a friendly 'pff', and then course past the boat.
What do they think we are, in our slow-moving vessel? They play around the boat, racing past us, leaping across the bow, diving under the keel and surfacing with a head-turn and what seems like a wink. Sometimes we've seen a pod of dolphins passing and they have changed direction to come and investigate us, as if inviting us to join them on their journey.
They are humbling to encounter, because they move so much more swiftly than we do, with such utter grace and elegance. Plus of course, they need no oilies to withstand the wet and cold and they don't care at all if it rains!
And if they are, indeed, responsible for safety out there on the ocean, I'm very grateful to them for taking care of us. And if not, well, I'm still grateful to them just for being there.
[Thanks also to http://www.marineconnection.org/ for use of the photo].