SCRAPS by Mark D’Ambruso

By Mark D'Ambruso

Jan 21, 2022

In a deserted Venezuelan anchorage,
a cruising couple has a one-of-a-kind encounter

In 1988 my wife Caron and I spent 10 weeks cruising the lower Caribbean. A gentle sweep­ing arc took us and two parrots from the Grenadines to Belize aboard our Cheoy Lee 44, roam­ing on the way through the Venezuelan Islas Los Roques, where the weather and fishing were spectacular.

One day, we decided to ex­plore some nearby sand flats and a fringe reef by dinghy, maybe go around to windward and drift-fish across the flats for bonefish.

Caron got her rod set up while I searched for signs of fish. Sud­denly she said, “I saw a big school feeding, near the base of that pole sticking out of the wa­ter, 60 yards ahead.”

The trades were steady at 12 knots, which precluded a leisure­ly drift, so we paddle-sailed to­ward the pole. When we were 30 yards from it, the water explod­ed in a boiling frenzy. Then I saw the fin. “SHARK I yelled”.

Caron grabbed the binocu­lars, and as she watched, the water exploded again, this time more violently. Then we heard the whistle. It took 10 seconds for us both to reach the same con­clusion because we both said at once, “DOLPHIN!”

Still watching through binoc­ulars, Caron said, “Mark, I think it’s stuck. At least it hasn’t moved since we got here.” The bottle­-nosed dolphin raised its head out of the water and shouted, presumably to us, “Wee-aht, wee-aht, wee-aht. “We decided to get a lit­tle closer.

At 10 yards away, the dolphin raised its head again and whis­tled. “I think that means, ‘close enough, people,”’ Caron said. I dropped the anchor and we came up with a plan. Below us was about three feet of water with a clear run to open ocean. I’d start the outboard, idle it, and we would drift in to inspect. If the animal became aggres­sive, we’d exit at full throttle.

Our adrenal glands were in overdrive while we tried to slow the drift with our hands. Ten feet away from the pole, the mo­tor stalled. “You going to start it?” Caron whispered, sweat stream­ing down her face. “Not yet,” I whispered back. Without the motor, the only sound was the dolphin breathing. As we float­ed past the pole the dolphin brought one eye out of the wa­ter and watched.

“I saw a baitfish net wrapped around its tail,” I said. “Me too,” Caron agreed, “and a white cord, nylon braid. I thought part of it was pink. Maybe it’s cut into the fluke - not deep, but proba­bly painful.”

Conventional Wisdom says: Don’t try to help a wounded wild animal, especially not an an­imal of this size.

Short on conventions of any sort, we decided to try: idle the motor, drift downwind, grab the pole, free the dolphin. Any trou­ble and we’d run.

The plan worked. Caron grabbed the pole and I cut the net away while the dolphin just stood there, so to speak. I pulled the cutaway fishnet into the dinghy and the dolphin swam away. The whole rescue took less than 15 seconds.

The next morning, I was fixing a wobbly charcoal grill and Caron was sunning in the cock­pit when we heard it: “Wee-aht, wee-aht. “ Before long, Caron was hanging through the life­lines, petting the dolphin on the forehead. It swam, did some low jumps, and even raised its tail out of the water, seemingly to show us the cut was healing.

A while later, Caron asked, “Did you leave the winch handle in the dinghy?” I checked the two holders. “Nope, they’re secured,” I replied. “Then what’s that?” she asked, pointing.

“It’s a winch handle,” I said. While we were having this ex­change, the dolphin rose out of the water with a green glass beer bottle in its mouth. It rest­ed its chin on the side of the inflatable for a moment and dropped the bottle in the dinghy. The first day we got: One slightly corroded winch handle, one red plastic sandal (minus the toe straps), and the green glass beer bottle.

The next day we did even bet­ter: Another green glass beer bottle, a four-inch stainless steel pin to something, a white ce­ramic coffee mug (encrusted), and a large gold coin. Each time the dolphin brought us some­thing we’d jump up and down and applaud wildly. Thank God it was a secluded anchorage; we must have looked like lu­natics. By dinnertime, the dol­phin had a name: Scraps.

On day three the call, “Scraps is back!” went out six times. We got a length of PVC pipe, a glass instrument dome, two alumi­num beverage cans (small ap­plause), a wire door to a fish trap (no applause), and a gold medallion with a cut emerald in it (big applause).

The next morning we had to sail on to meet friends in Bonaire. Scraps was a little confused when we put the dinghy on davits, but with a wave and a flip we said goodbye.

We never miss when we tell people how we met our most unique cruising friend, espe­cially when Caron ducks down below to retrieve the gold medal­lion from its hiding place. Thanks again, Scraps, wherever you are.

Mark D’Ambruso is a toy inventor and avid traveler. He and Caron make their home in South Florida, where they are planning to build a 47-footer to carry them on an open-ended South Pacific to Mediterranean cruise.

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