Saturday 30th May
December 2006 was our first visit to the Keys. My father had sailed down from South Carolina, and was spending the winter in Boot Key on Marathon, living aboard his 42 foot yacht. We didn’t need too much persuasion to join him. We had spent a couple of Christmas holidays in Orlando, with all the family, prior to this trip, enjoying the over-the-top Mickey Mouse world of theme parks, shopping and food. Given the option of the Florida Keys was something we couldn’t turn down. We all love travelling, and visiting such a beautiful place was a perfect choice.
We landed in Miami a couple of days after Christmas, picked up the hire car, then began the drive south, first on the mainland, then across the numerous bridges linking the Keys. A spectacular drive with the Atlantic ocean on our left, and the Gulf of Mexico on our right. The temperature was in the eighties, the herons and pelicans flew overhead and countless watercraft were making their way across the sparkling, azure water.
Just before we reached Marathon we stopped for a break at the Worldwide Sportsman on Islamorada, to stretch our legs, and to have a bite to eat in the Islamorada Fish Company restaurant. What a fabulous setting. Tarpon and nurse sharks swam by as we sat taking in the amazing views.
It was almost dark when we arrived at Boot Key Marina, and both my father and my cousin came to meet us in tenders, to transport us, and our luggage onto the yacht. I really don’t know how they navigated through the buoys and sandbanks in the dark, but we made it safely. You were so tired after a long flight, and then the drive, that you went to bed straightaway. We all stayed on deck, talking, laughing and drinking until the early hours, with much to catch up on.
We spent our days exploring, whether swimming at Sombrero Beach, walking through Bahia Honda State Park, or having fun in the spectacle that is Key West. At night we marvelled at the magnificent golden sunsets, and were awe-struck by the dolphins dipping and diving around the boat. You were mesmerised.
A few miles back from Vaca Key, where we were staying, is Grassy Key, and having driven up and down US1 a number of times, you had excitedly spotted the Dolphin Research Centre. We called in and you immediately decided you wanted to swim with the dolphins. You had read about autistic children and adults being able to interact with these creatures, and the beneficial outcomes to be gained. We booked you in for a session the following morning.
It was a gorgeous blue-sky, and having parked the car, we made our way into the facility. There was a little paperwork to fill in, and having discovered you had Asperger Syndrome, a special needs coordinator was assigned to you. We sat in the shade and watched you getting ready for your dolphin experience. Suddenly you turned to us, saying you didn’t want to do it, that you were frightened. All credit to the young lady with you; she spoke softly, telling you what to expect, calming your fears. She did an amazing job in keeping you focused, that you soon changed your mind.
You listened to the dolphins ‘speaking’ underwater by putting your ear below the surface, you held out your hands to touch the creature as it swam by, you had a handshake with it’s flippers, gave it a kiss, and for the finale, you clasped it’s dorsal fin, and were taken for a ride back and forth. Your smile was huge. You exhibited no fear at all, putting your trust in such a gentle but intelligent sea mammal.
This wasn’t a Disneyland ‘swim with the dolphins’, in a man-made, plastic-landscaped environment, but an experience with these animals in their natural habitat. Your dolphin was called Kibby, and it was truly wonderful to watch. Your demeanour changed, you were so happy and care-free, and we loved you for it.
We bought the requisite photo, t-shirt and cuddly toy. And that blue and white, plush dolphin toy, is with you now, my darling Angel son. We decided to put it beside you, in your coffin, so you could continue swimming with the dolphins in heaven. We hope you are having fun, and they are looking after you.
We miss you every day; today more than yesterday, but not as much as we will tomorrow.
Love you xxx