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Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Memorable Moment While Free Diving...

I happened to be sipping on a cold one while idly watching a television news channel the other day when a news report of a shark attack suddenly flashed up upon the screen.

Featured in that news report was a surfer who went on to describe his harrowing encounter with a sizable shark and of his good fortune of having emerged unscathed from that experience.

Also featured in that news account was the fellow's surfboard and of the large bite sized piece of fiberglass that was now missing.

All of which had me thinking back to a time and place when I too once had somewhat of a memorable shark encounter of my own.

For you see, it was while previously cruising aboard S/V BratCat and while at anchor in Little Farmers Key in the Exumas, Bahamas that I was invited by a local fisherman to accompany him for a day of free-diving on the offshore reefs.

Our agreement simply consisted of me assisting with the anchor lines and of any other sundry boating chores as requested. Also explained to me was that the first five lobsters that I might happen to spear would be his but any after that were mine to keep.

So it was when Hallan showed up early the next morning alongside of BratCat's hull in his large power boat propelled by two massively-sized outboard motors.

The low roar of those two powerful motors could be heard a mile away as that boat slowly approached. And It goes without saying that Hallan didn't have to bother knocking on the hull of my boat to announce his arrival either.

I had my gear ready when he arrived and was soon climbing aboard his boat after exchanging a few pleasantries. No sooner had I stepped aboard his boat when Hallan suddenly opened up the throttle causing that boat to immediately accelerate on out to the offshore reefs.

I in turn just as suddenly, found myself desperately looking out for something to grasp on to lest I be flung off the stern of the boat. In hindsight, a little forewarning would have been appreciated but that's a power boater for you.

Within but a few minutes we reach our first reef and I'm soon being instructed to drop an anchor and let out plenty of scope. In the meantime Hallan puts the boat into reverse thus ensuring that the anchor has snugly dug itself well into the sandy bottom.

It's yet another bright, beautiful, sunny morning in the Exumas as we both don our masks and fins in the cockpit of that boat. Hallan doesn't bother using a snorkel. I in turn do. Moments later we are both going over the sides and splashing into the water along with our Hawaiian slings.

The water is crystal clear and the bottom can be readily seen from the surface. Lobster feelers can be easily seen extending out from the crevices of the coral heads. Before long Hallan is expeditiously spearing one lobster after another.

No sooner would I spot a pair of feelers when Hallan would spot them as well and make a bee-line after them. I soon figured out that I had little chance of spearing any lobster of my own while following him around so I made it a point to look elsewhere from wherever he might be.

So that's how our morning went. There was little if any loitering going on at any one particular spot. We'd arrive at a reef... clear it out... and head off on over to the next reef. It soon became apparent to me that Hallan knew those offshore reefs like the back of his hands.

Occasionally Hallan would spear a grouper or some other fish. I in turn would spear an occasional lobster but not as many as to exceed the five that I'd previously agreed to fork over before I could claim any for myself.

But while diving on a reef at a depth of twenty-five feet or so, I happened to spot a large grouper lingering just inside a rocky crevice.

That ugly yet potentially tasty fish could have been nursing a hangover for all I know as it remained motionless beneath that coral ledge. Nevertheless I also happened to be in need of yet another breath of air at that moment and felt compelled to surface before making any attempt at spearing that lethargic fish.

So after slowly and methodically surfacing, while constantly equalizing the pressure exerted upon my eardrums, I paused at the surface long enough to fill my lungs full of air.

Unfortunately for me however, Hallan also happened to discover my grouper while I was up at the surface and proceeded to nonchalantly spear my grouper. In hindsight I gotta believe that he had a set of gills hidden behind his ears to compliment his scuba-tank type lungs for he seemed to be able to stay submerged forever.

Hallan could have easily passed for an NFL lineman for that's how big his arms and legs were. In addition he also had a massive girth belying his ability to dive.

In any event that big lug of a fish was obviously wounded and profusely bleeding for I could now see the water suddenly clouding up from where that fish must have been attempting to hide.

It took Hallan another two well-aimed stainless steel shanks to finally retrieve that mortally wounded grouper from deep inside that rocky crevice.

But it was on his third and final attempt at spearing that grouper that I happened to catch sight of a shark circling ever so slowly in the vicinity of Hallan.

Hallan was obviously completely oblivious to the presence of that shark when he too starts to surface. He's got his arm fully extended while gripping one end of the shank with the lifeless yet bleeding grouper resting upon the flanged tip at the other end.

It was then in but an instant that I suddenly see that shark speeding directly towards Hallan after but two swift swishes of its tail.

But at the very moment, I also happened to catch sight of yet another shark. Only that this one appeared to be speeding towards me whereupon I instinctively spun around and pointed my shank in its direction causing that frenzied shark to sharply veer off much to my good fortune.

A moment later I break the surface of the water and wait for Hallan to appear. Upon seeing him I immediately shout out to him while flashing two fingers... "Hallan!, Two Sharks"!! upon which he promptly shouts back, "I don't know about two but I know about one because he took my grouper"!!

After that brief exchange I immediately swam to the boat in what had to be a record time. I also seem to remember launching myself out of the water and into the cockpit in but an instant.

I wish I could tell you just what type and how big those sharks were but I didn't feel inclined to stick around any longer than I already had. Besides, if the truth me known, all sharks are bigger than they really are when one happens to be in the water along with them.

Hallan also immediately followed me into the boat. He did nevertheless wait a good ten minutes or so before venturing back into the water to retrieve a shank that had gotten left behind.

Needless to say, I was still quite rattled after that experience as I'm pulling up the anchor. Hallan on the other hand appeared to be completely composed and measured.

It was then that I suddenly blurted out a question, "Hallan... Did that scare you"? Whereupon he immediately turned to me, and with his eyes bulging out, he exclaimed, "It Scared the SH*T Out of Me"!

After a brief nervous laugh he went on to explain that only twice in his previous fifteen years of free-diving did he ever have a shark come after a fish that he had speared.

It later became somewhat routine for me to see a shark whenever I'd go free-diving in search of lobster. It also somehow got to the point that if I didn't happen to see one while free diving that I'd somehow been shortchanged out of a momentary adrenaline rush.