Getting eye contact with a dolphin must be one of life's great experiences, but the truth is out - dolphins are not like cats - they can, and might, make a mistake when playing around your sailing boat. A school of dolphins made a mistake this week when keeping pace with a sailing boat off the west coast of Ireland, colliding with, and badly damaging, the boat's rudder..
Dolphins at the bow - one of sailng’s great experiences
The school of dolphins triggered a sea rescue operation involving an Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) lifeboat when they collided with the yacht off the Co Mayo coast.
The two crew found they had lost steering and control of their 29ft boat because of their damaged rudder after the unusual incident off Achill Head.
In another example of why one should practice sailing by using the sails, the crew felt they could do nothing else but call for assistance. They told the lifeboat's volunteer crews that their vessel had been surrounded by a number of dolphins and it appeared one or more of them had struck the rudder, damaging it.
Tom Honeyman, operations manager for the Achill lifeboat, said in his experience such an incident involving dolphins was very unusual. and was 'purely an accident'.
'There were a lot of them swimming around at the time. The two sailors on the yacht were enjoying watching the dolphins until they got a big bump and their rudder was damaged'.
Dolphin excitement - but they could damage your rudder
Luckily the boat was not very far from the coast and the yacht was towed to port by the rescuing RNLI crew.
There are many incidents when the loss of steering has caused yachts to be abandoned when they could not steer after the loss of a rudder. There are also records of yachts who have sailed thousands of miles to cross oceans after their steering was damaged, just by using their sails, and saved their boats.