Chapter 2: Swimming with Freddy. Freddy the Legend
It is an important and popular fact that things are not always what they seem. For instance, on the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much - the wheel, New York, wars and so on - whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man - for precisely the same reasons.
After the rally in Morecambe, my friends and I intended to drive up to Amble in Northumberland. The reason for the trip was I had heard there was a wild dolphin, which was interacting with humans. In fact I had heard vaguely through the media that the dolphin was becoming aggressive and there was some talk of it displaying sexual behaviour. Like most reports of this nature in the press, I gave it little thought. With hind-sight I would become aware where the reports were emanating from at this time, I would later suspect that it was Peter Bloom, a dolphin trainer, feeding a tabloid press, eager to cover types of story like this. We arrived late at night and camped at Wirksworth, a couple of miles from Amble. Amble isn't the most attractive of seaside towns and the sight of a dolphin between the two piers was at odds to the beautiful back-drop of Dingle Bay that Funghie had chosen to live.
The north pier was wooden and looked as if it might collapse at any time. The south pier was concrete and solid, and this was fortunate as it was the side of the town from where the dolphin was accessible! The next morning we soon spotted the dolphin. It was March 1990 and there was no one else around. We put on our wet suits and eagerly crept into the North Sea. The dolphin came, scouted around us, but appeared pretty indifferent to us. He did however seem more tranquil than Funghie, who had appeared and disappeared like a frantic bullet and I never felt that Freddie might explode over my head!
We repeated the process the next day and the same thing happened. The dolphin seemed quite indifferent to three blobs in his environment. We got out and started to change. It was cold, in the water and out. I had observed the dolphin and he seemed to swim between the two piers. We had attempted to introduce ourselves to the side of the south pier, mainly because there was less current.
I decided to re-enter the water, but my two friends declined to because they were chilled. I had decided to be more 'chilled', myself, with Freddy. I understood that a bit like dogs, dolphins can pick up moods and emotions, such as the tenseness I had felt when swimming with Funghie.
As soon as I jumped in the sea Freddy came over by my side and said hello by rubbing against me. This took me completely by surprise as my only experience in the last two days with Freddie had borne out what I had seen with Funghie. I stayed in the water for only half-an-hour because my friends were becoming slightly impatient to leave now they were changed. I think we were all taken aback the way the dolphin's mood had changed, I was literally amazed.
I got back home and phoned my animal rights friend Russell Spencer with all the details. Russell had always wanted to swim with a dolphin and probably felt a little bit jealous that I had been over to swim in Eire. He needed no persuasion when I suggested we go back up the following weekend for an encounter. We did, and the dolphin seemed even friendlier towards me. I figured that he had recognised me. We went up over the next few weekends. It was about a month after my initial swim that a remarkable thing occurred.
Russell and I were our usual distance apart in the sea (about 10-15 yards). This distance allowed the dolphin the choice of whom to interact with. Freddy seemed a bit more energetic than over the previous month. The first time he leapt clear of the water, he landed with a thud, a couple of feet to my side. With my head bobbing about like a cork it felt quite an adrenalin rush to have that happen! At this point I wasn't unduly worried as I had the belief that dolphins were exact in their positioning.
On his second leap I was underneath the waves as he had landed on top of me. Well, he got that wrong I thought. A minute later I was under again and as I resurfaced I realised the only jump he got wrong was his first!
In a five-minute spell I had the dolphin jumping from behind my back, from the side of me, and from in front of me. He caught me several times more and on one of these I felt my neck hurting, hardly surprising with an 11 foot animal weighing around a quarter of a ton. After each jump, I had been edging closer to the pier, to make an escape. Russell told me later that on at least one occasion, he didn't expect me to resurface and in that case his thought had been that Freddie may start jumping on him! Cheers mate I thought. In the three hour drive back to Manchester we discussed what had happened and couldn't explain it. However the following weekend we were back again. I was anxious to reacquaint myself, albeit with trepidation. Freddy was his usual friendly self but not frantic as he had been in the previous swim. Amble was an unlikely spot for a dolphin to have set up home. The river Coquet flowing into the sea was a great spot for Freddy with salmon trying to return upstream to spawn. I speculated that one of the reasons he stayed was because of the easy pickings of the fish. Freddy set up home at the entrance of the piers, a few hundred yards from the harbour.
Amble was a grey town, perhaps not ready or willing to accept the influx of the visitor numbers that Freddy was to bring as his celebrity spread. After a few months in Amble I produced a leaflet entitled 'Please help keep Freddy safe'. I would approach shops in the town and ask them to display it, such was the enthusiasm I might as well have asked them to give me £5! Around this time, I also visited the Mayor and made some suggestions. They were; open the locked gate on to the pier, so people didn't have to swing round a potential drop on to rocks; open the public toilets to a later time than 6pm; and get a local artist to paint a dolphin mural on the beacon on the pier's south end to cover the existing graffiti. Although the Mayor was friendly, nothing became of our suggestions. It seemed to me the only person in the town who realised they had a gold mine and a unique treasure was Gordon Easton. He had a nice little earner, taking groups out to swim with Freddy. I liked the man and he did have a genuine interest and curiosity in the dolphin. Sometimes I would call round at the lifeboat house for a chat or see him on his boat.
I continued to visit Amble, but Russell stopped going as his interactions with Freddy hadn't been so close. Russell was more involved in the campaign to free Rocky from Morecambe dolphinarium than me. I was combining my swims with Freddy with a supportive role in the campaign by attending pickets. I was working as a gardener and so I was able to be quite flexible on the days I chose to go to Amble. Sometimes I went up on the train to Alnmouth on a Thursday evening and came back the following Tuesday, or a variation of that. I was clocking up the hours getting to know Freddy really well. Gordon Easton, the lifeboat man, was running trips for swimmers at a £5 a head. Often he would come out with a group of swimmers, but whilst I was in the water the dolphin paid them little attention. Often I would leave the sea, so others could experience Freddy's presence. I didn't own the dolphin after all. Freddy seemed to know the sound of Easton's engine or his dog barking and would often tail behind the propeller blades, enjoying a jacuzzi.
Easton was a canny Northumberland man, it seemed to me. On one occasion he came out with a boatload of swimmers. I swam over to the boat. Two elderly men from the London area were on board and before one of the men jumped in the sea he said to me, "You are a good swimmer, could you go in with me, don't worry about the money". He was referring to Easton's charge. The two men got in separately. they seemed more keen on getting a photograph of themselves with the dolphin, than actually enjoying swimming with Freddy. They were only in minutes. Later I joked with Easton; I told him that the man had offered to pay for me, to which Easton replied "Ay and he did". Apparently they were driving expensive cars, so he had no hesitation in taking an extra £5!
On another occasion I got on to his boat and a woman swimmer asked me if I'd go in with her as I was a good swimmer. I did and we jumped in. She grabbed my hand. I thought she must be a poor swimmer. Freddy had gone from the boat area and I pointed him out 100 or so yards away, apparently feeding. With that she broke free from me and started swimming around the boat. It dawned on me it wasn't that she was such a poor swimmer, but rather nervous of the dolphin. Unbeknown to her, Freddy had doubled back, and as she swam he came out of the water and ducked her under the water with his body! So much for dolphins being understanding, patient and healers, I thought. The woman got out quickly!
On another trip we bumped into Stefan Austermuhle. He was campaigning against dolphin shows in Germany. He had heard about Freddy in Germany and had come to see for himself. However, Freddy gave him a hard time. Stefan came a bit too close to the dolphin and me, and the dolphin started pushing him under the water and grabbing his arm. As soon as he freed one arm from the dolphin's mouth, Freddy had the other one. Stefan looked frightened, unsurprisingly, and there was little I could do. It was a similar situation to the hard time Freddy gave me, when Russell had been helpless. Eventually Stefan got close enough to the pier wall to clamber out. He recovered his composure and said jokingly "I think I prefer captive dolphins". We saw Stefan the next day and had wondered if he would brave another swim. "Sure" he said, "I went in early this morning and Freddy was fine". Some months after that we met up again by chance with Stefan again on another of his visits. I lent him my wet-suit because my suit was better than his cheaper one and afforded better protection from the cold water. After my swimming with Funghie and noticing he seemed fond of yellow I had a suit made to measure with distinctive yellow arms and hood. It was really interesting to see what happened. Freddy approached Stefan, in the same way he did me, gliding by on his side, just beneath the surface. He then turned, lifted his head, then realised it wasn't me and swam away. I had sort of wondered if my distinctive wet suit had any initial bearing on the friendship that the dolphin and I had developed and this seemed to answer that question with a maybe.
After Russell stopped going to Amble, another friend, Andrew, started to visit quite regularly and we had some good swims with Freddy. The dolphin had started hooking people behind the knee or in the crook of the arm with his penis. He did this often to both of us and many other swimmers too. The hooking would last only for short periods in our regular four-hour swims and neither of us gave it a huge amount of thought. We certainly didn't think it was of a sexual nature. It was just what happened for short periods in a swim.
On one swim with Andrew, I got in first and he watched from the pier. I could hear a bit of noise and voices from the pier but couldn't figure what was going on. Two swimmers swam straight out to within feet of where Freddy and I were. I thought this was bad etiquette, so on this occasion my usual generous spirit of sharing the dolphin's company with others vanished and I decided to swim further out to sea. Freddy would surely follow me I thought. As I swam another 100 yards out the dolphin left me, I stopped and looked back and he was with the two swimmers. I couldn't understand it. Then I saw the dolphin snapping his jaw and I heard the two swimmers say "Freddy stop it". I realised the dolphin was probably grabbing their arms, something they probably hadn't expected. They started swimming the short distance of around 100 yards back to the pier, short, but not so when you've got an irate dolphin chasing you! Freddy then rejoined me as if nothing had interrupted our swim. Later Andrew told me the voices I heard were coming from the two men getting into their wet suits as they had been trying to impress their friends about the swim they were going to have with a dolphin. They got more than they bargained for indeed!
I tended never to leave the water when the dolphin wanted me to stay. If he stayed around me I knew that was the case, if he lost interest then I would start to think about getting out. It was like a drug though and the longest time I clocked up in a one day swim was ten hours in two sessions. I came out looking like a dried prune!
In the hundreds of hours that I swam with Freddy there were many exhilarating times and some deeply moving ones too. Freddy tended usually to be what could be termed as extrovert, as if he was well aware of his fans that were regularly watching his antics from the end of the pier. I had been in the water for several hours one summer evening and it was getting late and starting to go dark. I usually thought about getting out between 9.30pm – 10.00pm so I could change quickly and rush off to the pub to mull over the swim with a pint, or occasionally talk with Gordon Easton about Freddy and what he had seen the dolphin do that day that I hadn't seen. As it grew dark, every time I swam to the shore to leave Freddy, he blocked me very gently with his body, he was patently telling me, don't go please. I would then hold on to his dorsal fin and he'd pull me the 100 or so yards to the end of the pier. This happened many times and I couldn't bear to leave him, until finally I said out aloud, "I'm a human Freddy, I live on land, I have to go now, I'll see you tomorrow". With that I got out and I heard the dolphin blow air as he swam away. Of all the memories I have of Freddy, this is the one that is deeply etched into my soul because I really thought he felt lonely.I usually thought about getting out between 9.30pm – 10.00pm so I could change quickly and rush off to the pub to mull over the swim with a pint, or occasionally talk with Gordon Easton about Freddy and what he had seen the dolphin do that day that I hadn't seen. As it grew dark, every time I swam to the shore to leave Freddy, he blocked me very gently with his body, he was patently telling me, don't go please. I would then hold on to his dorsal fin and he'd pull me the 100 or so yards to the end of the pier. This happened many times and I couldn't bear to leave him, until finally I said out aloud, "I'm a human Freddy, I live on land, I have to go now, I'll see you tomorrow". With that I got out and I heard the dolphin blow air as he swam away. Of all the memories I have of Freddy, this is the one that is deeply etched into my soul because I really thought he felt
Something else which also sticks in my mind was the time I swam with him in winter when there was quite a rough sea. I was so rough it took me a few minutes to decide if I should jump in and if it was safe for me to do so. I eventually plucked up the courage and hit the water and Freddy appeared really quickly by my side and seemed to look quite surprised, as if to say, today's sea is bad enough for a dolphin, let alone for a human who can't swim!
The swims with Freddy were marvellous and I came out on a terrific high, but I was obtaining this drug from a wild animal that was allowing contact with humans. One day though I knew Freddy didn't want my company. Andrew had been swimming with the dolphin, and before him a woman from Easton's boat, and they both had good swims. When my turn came and I got in Freddy poked me in the body a couple of times with his beak, it was a definite go away signal, so I did. Even the best of human friends have little tiffs and that's how I viewed it
I had a strict code with the dolphin and one rule was never to intrude directly on his life by swimming over to him. Sometimes when I entered the sea he would come over in minutes from between the piers to greet me and other times it might be much longer. I always resisted the temptation to swim across to him. He had to choose. He was always the 'master' of the situation and I just fitted into his mood. There was one exception to this. I had learnt that if Freddy was feeling in the mood for frolics then by placing one hand on his dorsal fin and my other hand other on his belly, it would encourage him to dive down, with me holding on and then we would both shoot up towards the surface and both explode out of the water. This could happen several times in succession and it was highly exhilarating. In contrast, when he was in a quieter mood, I practised 'acupressure' by rubbing close to his dorsal fin and this he seemed to enjoy. He seemed to like this soft touch on his caudal fluke (tail) as well. He also liked a rub under his chin and to rub himself against my diving fins, which were stiff plastic. Perhaps he was ridding himself of parasites. The first time he did this, I wondered what the heck was he was up to and imagined he was gripping my fins in his teeth. It was only when I got used to wearing a diving mask and goggles a few months after our first encounters that I realised what he was doing. It was at this time I first looked into his eye underwater. It was a beautiful experience, his eye was brown, full of wisdom, love and mischief. I got the feeling he was 'looking at me, looking at him' and examining me very closely. When he pulled me through the sea by me holding on to his dorsal fin, I thought his eyes would be looking straight ahead, in fact at least one was turned back, looking at what I was doing! This really amazed me.
Dolphins are incredibly intelligent not because we know they have a brain size comparable to humans, but, unless Freddy was exceptional, because they can display humour. Freddy often used to startle me by appearing behind my back and with an exhalation or blow of his breath to make me jump. He got the same reaction by banging my leg with his beak, and Freddy probably knew that I could sense him giggling beneath all the layers of blubber or fat that insulated him from the cold North Sea!
I used to try and mimic the dolphin kick, this is the power dolphins use to move through the water. He came alongside me and mimicked me by raising his fluke tail out of the water and clumsily swimming himself as if to say, you look stupid trying to do that!
Freddy had other tests too. One occasion he took my arm in his mouth and started to dive down, it was total trust and I never feared that he would harm me, or forget that I was an air-breathing mammal like him. Another time he propelled me backwards with his beak pressed against my chest.