This story is by Marc Revere and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The sloop bow plunged into the wave, rolled wickedly 45 degrees to port, and then went into an uncontrolled jibe. The jib swung violently. It was a cross between riding a roller coaster and being inside a washing machine. Thor Kronmuller reached the waters north of Point Conception six days after leaving the Straits of Juan de Fuca. He was five miles from Devil’s Jaw, making for Point Conception light.
The winds exceeded 40 knots with 20-foot greybeards, called Point Conception rollers, and rogue waves tossed his sloop from swell to swell. Mother Nature was testing him.
An hour earlier, the ocean went from near flat seas and calm winds to 30-plus knots in a timeframe not calculated by intervals measured in minutes or seconds but by two basic psychological emotions: calm and panic. Kronmuller, a boat delivery captain repositioning the sloop from Seattle to Marina Del Rey, knew sailing around the Point often can be the emotional equivalent of witnessing a priest give the last rites to the living. Or watching Poseidon and Zeus get into a cosmic argument. For those reasons, he always sailed through at night when the gods slept. But on this night, it didn’t make a difference.
Rounding Point Conception Light, he shot out of the maelstrom and entered the tranquil ebony waters of the Santa Barbara Channel. As the moon slid below the horizon and as the stars intensified their brightness, Kronmuller knew he was paralleling history. While Christ walked and fished on the other side of the world two thousand years ago, Chumash fishermen paddled wooden planked boats up and down these waters.
According to legend, the First People, the Chumash, came from Santa Cruz Island. The Earth Goddess Hutash decided the island was too crowded and had some Chumash leave the island, directing them to walk to the mainland using a rainbow for a bridge. The rainbow stretched from the tallest peak on Santa Cruz Island to the towering mountains near Carpentaria. But some Chumash got dizzy and fell into the ocean. Hutash felt bad and didn’t want them to drown, so she turned them into dolphins.
Many legends tell of dolphins rescuing sailors from drowning and even guiding them into the afterlife. Kronmuller was familiar with Roman literature, including a story about dolphins carrying souls to the “Island of the Blest’ for safe passage into the afterlife. The timeless fables of the Greeks, Egyptians, Hindus, and lesser-known mythologies like those of the Chumash in California have one thing in common: dolphins.
In 10 fathoms of water, Kronmuller followed the kelp highway, the mystical waters of the Chumash, and others who crossed xxx and worked their way to Tierra del Fuego. At one time, the Chumash, the seashell people, had over 150 villages up and down the coast before the Spanish came. But tonight, the shoreline was dark, and there were no canoes, fires, or villages, just an enormous expanse of darkness of Hollister Ranch. The first people’s canoes, villages, and language disappeared. But their mythology survived, especially their connection with dolphins.
Inside the sloop was an eerie reddish glow in the salon and a faint green light in the cockpit, which grew dimmer as the sun came out.
After anchoring for a short nap, Kronmuller set off on a port tack in the late morning sun. Dolphin’s dancing, clicking, and squealing alongside seemed to beckon him to follow. Then he noticed something eclipsed the sun, casting a shadow across the boat, stretching to Santa Cruz Island. Shading his eyes, he could see the shadow was from contrails. Ice crystals formed from a jet heading to LAX. Then, suddenly, a glint of light caught his eye. It was just above the surface, triggering a bifurcated image, a faint recollection, causing a bombardment of forgotten memories. Contrails, dolphins, jets, and flashes from shore. While trimming the jib, it came to him like a wave breaking over the stern. Two parallel events happen here, one mythical and one real. “It was here,” he said, cleating off the jib.
Binoculars in hand, he located mirror-like flashes from the shore but knew it without seeing it. He had visited on two occasions. Santa Barbara artist James’s “Bud” Bottoms designed a giant sundial at Hueneme Beach that cast a shadow on a specific time and date. Accurate just once a year. The precise date and time when the passage of souls occurred, instantly, 88 of them.
He was very familiar with the story on January 30, 2000. Captain Ted Thompson and First Officer William “Bill” Tansky had just dropped out of the sky. Literally, in an extreme “nose-down” position, a nosedive and plummeted from about 31,500 feet to 23,000 feet. It must have been a terrifying 80 seconds for the pilots and passengers. In a superhuman effort to regain control, the pilots eventually stopped the 6,000-foot-per-minute descent. The jackscrew for the stabilizer jammed. And they were able to unjam it. But no good deed goes unpunished. Soon, the jackscrew failed completely. The aircraft rapidly pitched into a dive, and unable to raise the nose, the pilots attempted to fly the aircraft upside-down.
Inverted and nose-down, 81 seconds later, Flight 261 impacted the Pacific Ocean, Latitude, and Longitude: 34° 3′ 30″N, 119°20′48″W, 14 miles off the coast between Port Hueneme near Anacapa Island, a few seconds before 16:22. There were no survivors. Today, Alaska Flight 261 no longer exists.
The memorial lists the names of the passengers and crew engraved on the perimeter. Above are three dolphins supporting the bronze arms of the sundial. And on January 31 every year, the arm casts a shadow, darkening a special plaque on the sundial’s face at 16:22. Designed to honor the dead while convening hope and meaning for the living.
Again, a murky shadow appeared overhead, aligned with Santa Cruz Island and Carpentaria. “The rainbow bridge!” He whispered. This revelation came as a gust precipitously snapped the jib and main taut. He wondered if spirits were pushing him to that magical place where the sacred narratives about the origins of the first people. Where the distant ancestors of the Chumash fell from the rainbow bridge, becoming dolphins? And could this the spot where 88 more, separated by time, culture, and reality, descended from the same sky to join them? Could these dolphins be them?
Kronmuller’s years at sea had allowed him time to read about mythology and his favorite ocean mammals, dolphins; he knew the Chumash believed dolphins were related to the divine, seen as people in a different form, and considered kin.
For years, he followed the work of Neurophysiologist John C. Lilly, M.D., who once wrote, “The dolphin is the first living creature on earth to establish conscious contact with a human being.” Lilly attempted to apply science to the myth. Kronmuller read Susan Casey’s writings, including an article about her dolphin encounter. She was in Maui, Hawaii, grieving from losing her father. Swimming one morning, she was circled by a pod of spinner dolphins. She recalled “a definite sense of presence.” One dolphin approached, and they looked at each other, which she described as “a profound cross-species greeting.” Casey openly wondered if they sensed her feelings regarding the loss of her father.
The Scattered light beams streaming down from the heavens dissipated. Kronmuller took notice, wondering if mythology and reality could coexist. And he got an answer.
A mega pod of dolphins appeared from below the surface. Their silver-blue skin simmering in the sunlight, fins high in the water, splashing and jumping, and they were swimming straight toward him. He suddenly recalled the first anniversary of the Alaskan crash families that were ferried to the crash site and reported: “A pod of approximately 1,000 dolphins surrounded them.”
Setting the autopilot, he worked my way up to the bow. Spray curling over the hull stung his face as the windward rigging strained and creaked as leeward cables slapped about, resonating a harmonic hum from the lines and rigging.
Mesmerized, it was the largest pod of dolphins he’d ever seen; glancing at his GPS watch, he did a double-take. Latitude:34° 3′ 30″N, Longitude:119°20′48″W. the same as flight 261 last coordinates.
Now acting as a prism, the contrails revealed dull pastel colors stretching from San Cruz Island to Carpentaria. “It was here!” he said to himself. “It was here the merging of reality and mythology, the assimilation of souls.” As the sloop pitched and yawed, the ocean rushed along both sides of the hull, forming a wake that countless dolphins surfed while passing through that mythical portal; the Earth Goddess’s words echoed, “…, not wanting them to drown, she turned them into dolphins”.
And while on the bow pulpit leaning into the jib, hundreds of dolphins below, Kronmuller had a profound personal connection beyond explanation and couldn’t help wondering who they were.