We leave the Skeleton Coast with a sense of relief. I don’t even look back at the place, knowing that I will never miss that land of bones.
The mist soon rises, and Delos flies through the ocean with a sigh of liberation. The dark green waters turn to a deep blue, the air warms and soon the crew are laughing and joking with music playing.
I take my watch first thing in the morning, enjoying staring out into the ocean, keeping my eye on our location as Brian sits across from me and reads my book. I had The Contract of Maddox Black published at the start of the year and it means a lot that he is reading it. In fact he’s the third member of the crew who is currently reading it. It’s very special to me that these people are taking an interest into the workings of my mind. That with every page they’re becoming more and more enwrapped in this world I created.
Trying and not very successfully keeping the smile from my face, I wait until my hour is over and then return below deck.
I am exhausted. I barely slept the previous night and my neck and shoulders are cramped from the lack of rest and tossing and turning. I rub them as best I can before sinking onto the lounge and preparing myself for a small snooze.
Mr Brady is already asleep, his headphones in and a blanket over his face.
If that’s not a do-not-disturb sign, I don’t know what is.
Alex and I are working away, trying to come up with an idea baby between us. Alex is a fiery individual I’ve learned already. But the great thing is that I always feel safe with her. I know she takes no shit from anyone- least of all when we go out. We went out several times in Luderitz and danced like crazy people. It was a good feeling, just letting go to wild abandon. And it was good to do it with someone who’s a yes-man.
Alex is someone I have already gathered knows what she wants and knows who she is.
I think that’s pretty special. To know who you are. To be able to live with that belief in yourself. To have conviction in your life.
I know I need more of that in mine.
Which is why she’s good for me.
I read a book back in Australia and it said to get the most out of life you have to surround yourself with people that inspire you.
I feel as though that’s what I’m doing.
Lisa jumps down two steps from the cockpit, her eyes wide and excited.
“Dolphins!” she shouts.
Alex and I look at each other and then to Lisa dumbly. “Eh?”
“Dolphins!” Lisa repeats. “Lots of them! Come outside!”
For a moment I wonder whether I should continue to work below. I’ve just got into my creative zone and it takes me ages to get back into it. I stand up anyway and walk above deck.
She wasn’t kidding.
We were surrounded by at least twenty dolphins, more and more joining then as they swam in and out and around Delos as she sliced through the water. I fell to my knees at the bow, my mouth agape as yet again words failed to express what I was feeling.
How could someone experience all of this?
How could I experience all of this?
Thoughts of Brady still asleep downstairs flashed into my mind and I jumped down to wake him up. I hesitated for a moment, wondering whether I should or not. He saw this all of the time, surely? Would he be mad that I disturbed his snoozing?
My hand reaches out, waits a second and then I think, “fuck it.”
I gently rub his knee and he mumbles.
He opens his eyes and blinks at me from under the blanket. “Whaaa?”
“There’s so many dolphins outside, mate- you’ve got to see this,” I say, eager to get back out there.
He shuffles to a sitting position, and nods in a slow motion eager way. “Ya, ya, sounds good.”
I come back up deck and rush back to my viewing spot.
They were dusky dolphins, dark and light grey twisting around their bodies like a streak of smoke. We stayed on the bow, whooping as they jumped in and out of the water, my arm outstretched in the hope that I could touch one.
Water sprayed onto my fingertips as I stretched further.
Just once, I thought. Just once!
But of course- one, I wasn’t stretching far enough in the fear of falling overboard and two, I didn’t trust myself to not dive fall into the water in the hope of being accepted as one of their own.
Imagining what it would be like to hug a dolphin, I remained there lying on my belly as my arm dangled over the side, a silly grin on my face.
Whilst the others stepped over me to take a better shot on their cameras, the dolphins soon withdrew as we went out of their territory. I was sad to see them go but content on going back to work- after viewing all of our photographs and footage of course.
I apologised for waking Brady but he pointed out that waking up for dolphins was a pretty good thing.
Failing on doing any more work, we managed to finally cruise into Spencer Bay. I was called back onto the deck to find ourselves surrounded by sheer gold stony islands, no green in sight.
I stared, mouth agape as we turned into a bay, all of us swearing in unison as we gazed up at an island covered in penguins. But that wasn’t the most bizarre thing about it.
There, clinging to the rocks was a small rickety house. Decaying and old, it looked ready to fall off the cliff-face. Steps covered in penguin and other bird poop led up to it from an ancient looking iron bridge. To the left was what appeared to be the original docks, the ocean wreaking havoc on the metal work. There was no way that bridge or docks had been used in a very long time.
The waves crashed mercilessly against the rocks as we tried to figure out if we could safely take Maggie across with us all inside. But the risk of it in this swell without it flipping was dangerous.
Preparing to explore, we got ourselves wrapped up.
“You all ready, team?” Brian said, a big and excited smile on his face.
Suddenly, the radio started to crackle.
Brady picked it up in confusion, listened and then stared back at us. “It’s from the house!”
Astonishment that someone lived there hit me. How could anyone live out here in this deserted bird poop palace?
The guy’s name was Reon and he worked as part of a penguin and bird preservation society from the government. We couldn’t dock on his island unfortunately without a permit.
We were gutted.
“We understand,” Brady said on the other side. “But, would you like to join us for dinner, tonight?”
“Well, yes of course! I’ll have to contact my wife first though…”
The surprise and joy in his voice was unmistakable. We arranged to meet him for 7pm. Brian and Brady would pick him up in Maggie and treat him to one of Karin’s home cooked meals.
That’s one of the things I love about Delos- sampling everyone’s cooking from around the world. If you want a fat piece of meat or a curry to shiver your timbers, Brian is the one to go to. Karin makes the most amazing Thai dishes, and Brady always manages to put the triple X into Mexxxican. Lisa is the mother of all soup creations and Alex can make the meanest breakfast to send you on your way. But Alex has a special skill. Every time we have a night out and return with a song loud on our lips and our steps representing something similar to a contemporary dance, she pulls out the big guns.
That’s right. Grilled cheese toasted sandwiches. And in the morning she’ll bring you the best egg and cheese omelette with avocado you could wish for.
We have plenty of time for rum on Delos. But no time for hangovers.
As Samual Jackson would say: “Bitch, please.”
The day was still fairly young so we decided to take Maggie out for a little explore around the island and mainland coast regardless. It was all abandoned and we were keen on another adventure.
Getting into our dingy required a bit more care than usual and I clung onto the side as we sped off through the foam of penguin poop.
Foam of penguin poop, you’re wondering?
I am not even joking.
The smell of this place was incredible. And I don’t mean incredible in the sense that it smelt of freshly baked bread, clean linen and lavender strewn forests.
It stank of shite.
“Oh god,” I muttered, pulling my jumper over my mouth just to have a different smell of breathe in.
“Whatever you do,” Brian said as waves of green and white goo lapped against Maggie, “keep your mouth closed if you fall in.”
Not knowing whether I was more taken aback at the thought of falling out of the boat or getting penguin poop in my mouth, I held on tightly with my mouth firmly shut.
Ain’t nobody got time for bird poop.
We head onwards against the waves and head around another protruding cliff-face.
What we saw there took us aback.
For there sat in the sand, concussed, forgotten and rusting was a huge ship, cracked in two on the beach. Seals hobbled around, diving in and out of the surf and rubbing themselves in the sand. Waves crashed violently against the rocks, barring any chance of landing the dingy.
Dialogue is pointless here. We swore. A lot.
I shook my head, dazed as my brain struggled to process yet another amazing view.
“This is mental,” I managed to stammer. “This is absolutely bloody mental…”
My sentiments were felt by all. We sent the drone out to investigate for us, seeing it was too dangerous to get any closer. After filming, we were all too excited to get back to Delos to see what lay within the wreck.
Once we were back within the safe warm belly of Delos, the boys had to head off again shortly to pick up Reon. They returned with a short smiling man with long grey hair and a bushy beard. A woolly hat sat atop his head, and he wore blue rubber sandals stained with white splotches.
We all liked him immediately and bombarded him with questions about the island.
He had been living on the island for twenty five years, working for eleven months at a time to return home to his wife for one out of the year.
“Isn’t that hard?” Alex asks curiously, a can of beer in hand.
Reon shrugs and laughs. “You could say it makes for a happy marriage!”
We all laugh and finish our beers, switching to red wine.
Karin’s meal is delicious and a lot of us, including Reon, help ourselves to a second portion. We then follow with cookies, another glass of wine and finally sample some of Delos’s famous moonshine.
Reon researches everything about penguins, He records their diets, their decline in numbers and mating. He’s also on guard in case anyone tries to steal them. He talks about boats coming past the island at night and taking thirty penguins to use for their zoos in their home countries.
The idea is alien to me. Abysmal.
“These people have polar bears in shopping malls, you know?” he says sadly. “They don’t think anything of a few penguins…”
It’s clear he loves what he does. Of course he loves it. He’s been on the island in close isolation for twenty five years. You only do that when you have a true burning passion for something.
It’s wonderful sharing life stories with someone who is so happy with where they are. He obviously doesn’t care what the outside world thinks. For him, it’s just about him, his wife and the conservation of wildlife he is so passionate about.
He talks about penguins breaking into his house, about saving chicks, giving mercy killings to animals far too injured to save and about his life as a photographer before all of this.
The moonshine burns my tongue and it isn’t long before we have the guitar out. I’m being given requests for songs about penguins, about Delos and the island.
I do my best, with Reon singing along heartily.
I breathe in the freezing night air, mixed with the stench of bird poo and exhale, smiling at my crew and our new friend.
It’s these moments that make a story, I think.
And as we wave Reon goodbye with a care package of beer and biltong, I finish the last of my moonshine and help the others tidy up, wondering what the hell the next day would bring.
Surely tomorrow couldn’t be any stranger than today?
I was very sorely mistaken.
Read more from Elizabeth here! www.earlewrites.com