What is it that compels a man to vow to ride a shark? Mere braggadocio? Boredom with suburban survival? A desperate measure to break free from the middle aged grind of failed marriages, careers, and chemical free virility? Too much Animal Planet? Or is it something else all together and nothing more than a failure to recognize the computer generated graphics in that old Mountain Dew commercial?
In any case, the man said he was going to ride a shark and since I’ve seen my share and respect them for what they are I wanted to do everything I could to make sure that my blowhard coworker had the chance.
I’d told the Captain beforehand that it was a yahoo party and that one of the guys was keen to kill a big shark as he wanted to dry the jaws and hang them in a place of honor in his bedroom above the king size waterbed and next to the wall sized rebel battle flag…. or maybe on the other wall between the Bruce Lee and Nolan Ryan prints…in any case if he was buying a ticket to go out a vicious beast’s death was the prize. The Captain, amiable as ever, said, “Sure, sounds like, fun.” and mentioned a particular bait he had been holding back for such an occasion.
Saturday morning heading out of POC I apprised the Captain of our intended shark dressage and explained that as Captain he was unquestionably the complete Master and Commander of his boat but that in the event that the action shifted to the area outside his boat it would be beyond his purview. His look was quizzical but he smiled. The man’s preferred pursuit is Tarpon so outside the mainstream is a familiar current.
It was a good day. Early drifts brought Bull Reds and much tugging and whooping followed. The clouds began to look iffy and we held back before leaping into the open Gulf hanging out at the jetties to wait and see. It looked liked we would be able to pull an end around the storm and angled toward the closest platforms (keeping an eye out for Tarpon) and after watching a leaping Spinner shark the rain began to build off the back and we fled before the storm. The water was contrasted against blackness of the storm over the coast and was very near chartreuse and glowing seeming unreal. Back inside the jetties to wait the storm out then to the end of them for a few more reds and to be taunted and tormented by a small school of 3 to 4 foot Tarpon rolling off the boat at 5 minute intervals. An hour of pitching and rolling at the jetties brought the sea sickness to one of the parties’ junior members who launched first, his PB &J lunch, and then, the ginger root the Captain had given him, off the back of the boat.
I suggested we head in to the bay to find our loud mouthed associate a mount.
The Captain agreed and to the Espiritu Santos we went. The Captain had a 35 lb Jack Crevalle for bait and 5 pound slabs were hooked and drifted under a balloon, bumped on the bottom, and free floated. Tag with the Gafftopsails then commenced with the big catfish being drug aboard every now and then and the fished bounced until they disgorged the meat chunks they had swallowed whole but were not hooked by. During this time I began a mantra borrowed in equal parts from “Jaws” and the “Thunderdome” movies.
“Shark in the water. Man in the water. Two go in. One comes out.” Repeated again and again in the low cool tones of coffin salesmen and drug abuse counselors.
The shark jockey wannabe drowsed. The phrase was repeated. The conditioning continued.
After a couple of hours we moved to the Pass Cavallo where the Captain knew of a hole. All stops were pulled and a long line of tiny fish chunks were all that separated us from the open Gulf. After about half an hour it was on.
The harness was attached and 5 minutes in to it the line became slack and the Sharkman commented on how easy it had been. The Captain suggested that the fish was just coming to take a look at the boat. The Captain was right….the tussle continued for another half hour with the fisherman exclaiming the shark was “leaving” when the backing on the reel presented and then “LOOK AT THAT FISH! LOOKAT THE SIZE OF THAT FISH!”. We encouraged him by saying, “I don’t see anything.”& “I think I might have seen a shadow.”
Finally, the fish was boat side a rope was around it’s tail and it was time to saddle up.
The fish was a Bull Shark or about five and a half feet and was a nasty toothed brute.
It was time.
The crawfishing began immediately. First of all, the shark needed to be shot….twice. Even with the fish gaffed and motionless the hesitation continued. The Captain offered an out: the shark’s skin was rougher than coarse sandpaper and would remove the skin from any contact point. Naw, I suggested, a day in the sun had rendered our Sharkman’s uncovered skin like leather and while it might look sensitive because of the apparent sunburn in actuality it was coarse as a cob. Still tentative the subject was presented with incessant insults and threats of being thrown overboard until fear, anger, belligerence, and testosterone collided in a single magic moment when the blowhard jumped over the side.
From the look in his eyes you could tell that the water was deeper than what he had imagined. When he bobbed to the surface he had realized that the current was dragging him to the Gulf at a crisp 12 miles per hour. At that point he panicked and grabbed wildly for the only thing attached to the boat he could hold on to: THE SHARK. In the process the shark’s skin caused a major abrasion on one of his thighs.
He pulled himself to the boat’s edge and clinging to the edge began to cry out in a little girl’s voice, “HELP ME!”
I comforted and supported him by crying out in a firm loud voice, “DON’T HELP HIM! NOBODY HELP HIM!”
Peals of hysterical laughter and loss of muscle control prevented any completely accurate photographs from being taken (kept dropping the camera). Our hero somehow made his way to the back of the boat and drug himself aboard. Bruised, beaten, and with the posture of a drowned rat and then…..then….then, he began to crow that HE HAD RIDDEN THE SHARK.
The male ego is a strange and horrible thing.
One last fact to conclude this sordid tale. All involved were sober.
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