It was a hot August Sunday. Mom and Harry were out on the Gulf of Mexico, grouper fishing in their new Bayliner. Brother John was off with friends in the nearby Ocala National Forest, water skiing on one of the larger lakes in the area. I was slated to SCUBA dive the Silver River with S____, my dive buddy and best friend’s hubby.
Fast-forward to early evening, everyone’s arriving at the house simultaneously. Mom and Harry are acting strange. The station wagon doors and rear gate are propped open, a carload of fishing and boating gear abandoned. I enter the kitchen and there they are chattering loudly and a bit frantically as they mix cocktails with shaking hands.
I tried to get a word in edgewise to tell them of my near-death SCUBA experience (see earlier blog entry) and I’m floored into silence as I catch something to the effect of a Great White shark menacing the Bayliner. “What?” Amazed, I stood transfixed, my chopped off hair standing almost straight out, as I listened to their tale.
There they were, 20 or so miles out in the Gulf, a glassy, hot day and no fish biting when Mom idly glanced over the side and spotted what she thought was a whale shark swimming slowly alongside the boat.
Harry had just set the anchor and settled down to fish from the bow when Mom said something to him about a whale shark sniffing around, and he laughingly asked her how many gill slits it had. The water was clear and she had no problem counting five, and reported the same. “Right number of gills, does it have spots?” Harry asked, still concentrating on his fishing.
“Honey, um, I don’t see any spots and this thing is really big”, Mom reported. Harry said he could tell she was no longer fascinated. In fact, she was nervous.
“You need to come back here and see this thing,” she called out and as Harry made his way aft he spotted the dorsal and upper caudal and tail fins of what he immediately recognized as a shark– a really big shark.
Turns out the dang critter was indeed a Great White, painstakingly identified by both fisher folk, as they had plenty of time to study the fish while it described figure eights just off the transom.
“It’s the live well,” Harry said. “It smells the bait.” No reply from Mom. She watched, transfixed, as the fish swam close by the side of the boat. Mom reported that when it rolled slightly and “glared” at her through that black eye, her bones went cold. When she computed that the shark was almost as long as their 24 foot boat, that’s when she hit the panic button.
The finer points of their stories diverged at that point, but they agreed that a sudden urge to leave the area hit them both simultaneously. They burst into action, Mom taking the helm while Harry scrambled onto the bow to fetch the anchor. The damned engine refused to turn over and Harry decided to snatch the anchor line aboard rather than drive up to it, the more reasonable and efficient approach.
Mom said Harry must have snatched a good 50 or more feet of line aboard in one pull. Then he cussed a blue streak at the engine refusing to turn over, while Mom stood exactly amidships, behind her co-pilot’s seat, keeping as much distance between her and the shark as possible.
When the engine caught, Mom said Harry snatched the thing into forward and she fell backward, luckily into the rear bench seat rather than overboard. They both said they didn’t slow down until they hit the mouth of Crystal River, over 20 miles to the east.
I was still trying to take it all in when Mom cried “What happened to your HAIR?” I launched into a soft-pedaled version of my getting-stuck-in-a-tree-underwater story when my brother John tumbled through the garage door and said “Holy Cow, wait until I tell you what happened to me today!”
Another round of babble ensued as we all talked at once, until Mom held up her hands and said something like “Let’s take turns so we can all hear”. We laughed and in the lull, John told a brief but harrowing tale of getting caught in a waterspout on the lake in the Ocala National Forest.
Now, my brother has been given to slight exaggeration in his story-telling but I was immediately convinced of his veracity by the lacerations on his face, neck and the exposed skin of his chest, back, arms, legs and feet. He’d been wearing only a pair of shorts while skiing and you could clearly see the line at the shorts where the sand-scrubbing left off and protected skin began. He was still digging sand out of his eyes, nose and ears and, apparently, other orifices we didn’t press him about.
Turns out that twister rammed the boat into the dock, destroying the dock and totaling the boat. Only the engine was salvageable. Apparently, the boys and their parents watched from the screen porch as John disappeared behind a “brown, muddy” wall of water before the family ran inside the house. Several huge old water oaks on the property were toppled by the water spout, leaving deep holes and massive root systems exposed.
At some point we all calmed down, unpacked the car, took our showers, shared a meal and decided that nobody’s story was the “best”. It was another One Of Those Days, with a weird kind of synergistic coincidence, resulting in tales too strange to concoct!