Dolphins dazzle in paradise

Le Barge cruises rank high on this writer’s list of top county attractions

Harriet Cuthbert. Contributed photo

It is amazing to me how many long-time residents of Sarasota I have met who have never heard of Le Barge cruises or have never been on one.

In my opinion, these wonderful outings belong near the top of our attractions list, right after Mote Marine and the Ringling Museum of Art.

The Le Barge business — based at Marina Jack in downtown Sarasota — offers three different cruises, each lasting two hours and each with a different theme. I am writing about my favorite one, the dolphin cruise. Just seeing the two words together — “dolphin cruise” — puts a smile on my face. Sailing around stunning Sarasota Bay, in search of dolphins, admiring all the other wildlife along the way and waving at fellow boaters: You just cannot find another activity as enjoyable and relaxing.

It was another spectacular, cloudless day when I called to reserve a spot for my latest cruise. I never thought Le Barge would be at capacity, but when I arrived at Marina Jack about 10 a.m., I was greeted with bad news for me but good news for the Le Barge folks. I decided to wait on “standby,” and my prayers were answered. The captain came over and said the crew members would make space for me. It did not hurt that I had told them this would be my 16th cruise.

As the passengers boarded the boat, I observed multiple generations and heard a few foreign languages. Many little children would be enjoying their first sailing trip here on Sarasota Bay and getting to see dolphins in the wild for the first time. I had a prime seat in the rear corner, and I immediately made friends with two children, ages 8 and 10, accompanied by their parents and their grandpa.

We embarked promptly at 11 a.m. and Tina, our knowledgeable and excellent guide, began her narration. Tina’s enthusiasm was infectious as she pointed out the dolphin families and told us much information about their lifestyles. I learned, for example, that a female takes one year to give birth to a baby.

There the dolphins were — flipping, jumping, splashing and probably showing off for us, demonstrating how happy they were to be living in Sarasota Bay. The kids and even the grown-ups loved it. Many dolphins circled around our boat, seeming to greet us with smiles. It was fantastic.

Suddenly, overhead, Tina pointed out two eagles. She said this was our lucky day because she had never seen eagles before during a cruise.

We sailed along and around Bird Key and were rewarded once more by being able to observe two manatees, which were lolling around as manatees do. Still, the visitors were amazed. Many of them had never even heard of a manatee.

The snacks and rum drinks that were available added to the tropical flavor of the excursion, along with the two palm trees sprouting up on either side of the bow.

Circling back to the dock, we gazed in awe at the man-made “mega mansions,” but I think everybody would agree that in the contest of life, nothing beats the masterpieces of nature.