Spearfishermen often have their own catch phrases and sayings about the dangers of spearing, but these are the most chilling; “Dive alone, die alone” and “There are only old divers and bold divers, no old bold divers.”
People often ask me if I’m scared of diving alone or of being attacked by a shark. I always respond that I am way more afraid of being taken out by a reckless taxi driver on our roads. Needless to say, they always respond by looking at me as if I’m crazy. I used to think that I was comfortable out in the ocean. I truly believed I was safe in my own tiny bubble, diving within my own capable limits and reaping what the mystical depths had to offer me. After all, I have been doing it for the last 20 years, so chances are I would continue to do so unhindered. Or so I thought.
This is where the story gets interesting in a “Final Destination” kind of way. Many inter-related, macabre events tried to ruthlessly conspire against me and lead me towards my demise. Kind of like the grim reaper, merrily leading me down the path of my own destruction! Those of you, who are familiar with the “Final Destination” series, know that the chain of events leading to a person’s bloody death will begin with something entirely random, such as a brief gust of wind or a leaking tap. My audition, started with the predicted gale force westerly not rearing its ugly head. This non-happening of an event started a trickle of happenings, which ultimately set the scene for me being 500m out to sea. I was all alone awaiting my final act and this is how it all began…
I was at work, thinking about the strong westerly wind that hadn’t pitched up. I immediately knew there was no chance of a good dive or surf. However, my WhatsApp was going mad, with my friends taunting me about the good waves and clean water. I started to get the feeling that I was missing out. The function I had spent my entire morning preparing for was going to be delayed and my frustration levels had reached boiling point. Just then, I got a call from my wife asking if I could drop my son off at my mate’s house to play with his son. I agreed and ended up spending over half an hour chatting to my mate. He started telling me about cooking waves and water that was “crystal meth” clear. I stole a glance at the wind reading for Durban harbor on the net and noticed it was still sitting pretty at 10 knots SW.
Another link in the chain was forged! I made a speedy exit and cruised past the beach on the way home. It looked so good, I couldn’t decide between going for a surf or a dive. Then I remembered that my freezer was empty and I needed fish for a braai the next day. I hurtled home, loaded the dive gear in the back of my 4×4, and tried to convince my wife to let me go. It was tough. She mentioned something about me promising to paint a cupboard, which I immediately lied about doing as soon as I came back.
As soon as I had made my escape, I shot over to my secret dive spot, but to my surprise there were 3 floats bobbing in the vicinity. I decided to try further north and continued to my next spot. Straight away, I managed to catch a few decent sized crayfish, a solid Rubber Lips and a smaller Bronze Bream. Just then, I looked up to find the 3 floats from earlier, headed in my direction. They were followed by a flotilla of surf ski’s racing their way towards me! A jet ski sped past me and I decided to get out of there, because the space definitely wasn’t big enough for all of us. All these random events had led to me being on my Pat Malone, 500m out to sea with two bleeding fish hanging from my dive buoy.
I reefed up in red bait and set about stealthily trying to snuff out one or two tasty Tassel Fish from one of the deep cracks. Once I reached the opposite end of the crack 30m away, I turned to check on my float to see if it was still where I left it. I noticed that it had come loose and had drifted 20m northwards. “That’s weird,” I thought. I was pretty sure I had hooked up properly into the red bait. The buoy should not be drifting north! My mind moved into overdrive when I noticed that the buoy was not entirely drifting, it was moving rapidly through the water like it was a ski boat in gear! Shit, that could only mean one thing.
At that precise moment, my float decided to stand up straight and shake violently like a rag doll! I remembered that a pesky Raggie had snuck up on me at the exact same reef last week and I thought it must be the same shark. If it was, it wouldn’t be much of a problem to grab my reef hook and pull the 60kg shark over to teach it some manners.Man, wasI wrong. I carefully pulled myself over to see what was feeding voraciously on my catch. I got the shock of my life when I noticed that the medium- sized Raggie was in fact a monster Black Fin shark!“What the hell am I gonna do now!” My mind raced through a maze of ideas! I wondered how I was going to intimidate this brute of a shark to let go of my fish. I had my reel gun in my left hand with a float line in the other and I was crapping myself! I braced myself and decided that I was not going to let this shark take all of my catch. He had already swallowed the Bronzie and my stringer whole. I had to save my Rubber Lips! Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, they did.
On closer inspection of the excited shark, I noticed that a small portion of its stomach was protruding from its mouth, as well as the Bronze Bream’s tail. That meant that the damn shark had my double strand wire stringer stuck down its gullet and couldn’t let go of my fish even if it tried! I thought about throwing a couple of left hooks and jabs, but decided to yank the brute over to me and give it a solid blow with my spear instead. One thing I hadn’t noticed, was the proper birds nest of float line gathered around me and with the next passing of the shark, I gave it another strong jab that nearly bent my spring steelspear in half.
Bad move! The agitated shark took off straight down like a missile, towing all my stuff behind it. The birds nest of float line had lassoed me around the chest, neck and face. I was instantly 6m underwater and travelling at breakneck speed. That’s when I thought I was toast. Even if I had tried to reach for my knife, it would have been useless. I was being choked to death by a flipping shark! My mask was pulled off my face and I had dropped my reel gun, but those were the least of my worries. I had to get these deadly nooses off my body, but the more I tried to loosen one, the more the next would tighten.
In a fortunate twist of fate and what seemed like an eternity, the tired shark stopped and floated back to the surface, thanks to my Rob Allen 11lt float. There I was, still 6m down and dying for air. I was frantically choking, while trying to burst free from the float line. I was also unable to see without a mask and couldn’t guess the whereabouts of the shark. It took me a few seconds to free myself from the line and get to the surface. It was only then that I realised that my dive mask was still hanging off the back of my hoodie. The float line around my head had clamped it tight and in a matter of milliseconds I had it back on my face. I quickly turned my head left to right and saw the shark heading right towards me! “What the hell am I meant to do now?” I thought, as I lifted my fins up in a futile attempt to keep my attacker at bay. The shark just glided past me with its mouth full of my stringer and Bronzie, sneaking a rude look at me!
I was in a total state of shock. My near death experience had me frazzled and I tried to stop the imminent onset of panic, so I started weighing up my options. I had lost my gun and had no form of protection other than my arms and legs. My float and line were of little value to me at that stage,so I thought I would try and figure out whether the shark wanted anything to do with me. Hopefully it didn’t. I looked nervously around and saw the float 10m to my left and once again the shark lazily headed towards me. When it passed me this time, I noticed that it was severely fatigued and seemed to be asking me for help in its own manner. I would be lying to you if I said I didn’t think of trying to unclip the stringer and letting the shark swim free. Thank goodness my better judgment told me to calmly swim in the other direction, because one quick snap from that shark would have been a big problem for me.
That was the last encounter the shark and my rig made and slowly, they both began to move northwards towards TinleyManorwith the S-Ncurrent.At least I knewwhere the shark was, because as long as the float was still bobbing, the shark was still attached to it. When it was 100m away, I decided that I would start to look for my reel gun. I knew it was lying somewhere between when I first made contact with the shark and where it finally let me make my way back to the surface. I searched the full length of the reef three times. Each length was at a different depth and I had to bomb dive and swim along the bottom to try and find my gun. The strong current must have rolled my gun northwards however, and with time running out and fatigue setting in, I called it a day and swam forlornly back to shore.
As I walked back along the beach with only my fins and mask, I thought of ways I could have prevented the loss of all my gear. Firstly, wire stringers are definitely a bad call. For a long time I have been using double wrap nylon stringers and had no problems. When a shark takes a fancy to your fish, it simply bites through the stringer and moves on. Secondly, I should have left the shark alone and swam back to shore with my reel gun in hand and tail between my legs. Never take on a shark, because you will always come second. Thirdly, a dive buddy could have helped me out when I realised the shark was stuck to my stringer. They also could have helped me search for my lost gun and consoled me about my lost gear, when I along the beach.
Hopefully, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation, you will remember my misfortune and formulate a much better plan than I did, but that’s the tale of how I got properly fleeced by a Black Fin shark!