A Summer Shark-Tale Memory


July 2018

Margot Oxendine

Since I’m spending the summer in a rather unadventurous way — reading on the porch, keeping my eye on birds and wildlife — my mind sometimes wanders to past adventures. So, here’s one for you. I’m sorry it’s coming in the middle of the summer, when you may well be frolicking along the seashore. Try not to dwell on it while you’re there, floating in the ocean. And, if you’re the squeamish sort, you may as well stop reading right now.

I have a photograph of myself taken one sunny afternoon when I was floating on the ocean. I was on an inflatable raft, in the middle of the Gulfstream. As you may know, the Gulfstream can be thousands of feet deep. That day, we figured we were probably about 4,000 feet above the seabed.

I appear quite serene in the photo; in fact, I seem to be snoozing while I float there. But I know the truth: I was not snoozing. My eyes were closed, and I was thinking about sharks. I had just watched the movie Jaws. No one who spends as much time on and in the sea as I did back then should have seen that movie. But I did. And I kept hearing that foreboding music in my head. You know the music I mean.

Every now and then, when the tropical sun would get too hot for me, I’d grab my mask and slip into the sea. A mask is always a good idea in the ocean, as are the most powerful fins you can handle. I didn’t have any fins that day.

It is an eerie and unearthly feeling to be swimming around in nothing but water, as far down and as far out as you can see, and then much further. Oddly, there were no fish. We were used to being surrounded by fish of all sorts, including pesky barracudas. No problem. But this day? Nada. When something has scared off the fish, it’s time to skedaddle.

I couldn’t help but think, I can see nothing; but, what is watching me? Then, I got all squirrelly and swam as swiftly and quietly back to the raft as I could.

After all, I knew exactly what might be out there watching. I’d seen it for myself a few days prior. We at Treasure Salvors were out to sea looking for fabulous stuff for weeks at a time. When you’ve got a crew on a boat at sea, you have garbage. You toss what’s biodegradable over the side before you bunk down for the night. And, the guys would always bait a big hook at the end of the winch. We were starved for entertainment.

The next morning, I awoke to hear loud, boisterous exclamations from some of the guys on deck. I went topside to take a look, and watched as they winched in a 17-foot tiger shark neatly hooked through the mouth and eye. Its gaping maw came out of the water first, and it was a rare and awesome sight to see.

They winched the shark up high, after hooking it through the gigantic tail fin. It hung upside down over the deck and spilled its innards. What was inside?

Well, the leftover food we’d been tossing over the rail every night. And a 4-foot black-tipped shark, neatly bitten off at the head. And a license plate from Mississippi. (Go figure.) And, to me, the creepiest thing: Part of a bright-yellow foul-weather jacket, with jagged tooth marks in it. Yikes!

We each had our picture taken, grinning beside the monstrous sea creature. Tiger sharks can be even more aggressive and fierce than great whites — a shark I’m happy to say I never even saw a glimpse of. I don’t know where my picture got to; somewhere around here, I guess. I do remember feeling vaguely “sorry” for the shark, but not so sorry that I wasn’t glad he could no longer gobble me up while I was searching for gold. Or even pottery shards.

And a strange thing happened that day, on that boat filled with brave, seemingly fearless men — master swimmers all. Every single one of us found a perfectly valid reason not to go diving that clear, sunny afternoon.

To read more of Margo’s adventures, order her book, “A Party of One.” Call 540-468-2147 Mon.-Thurs. from 9-5. Or email: [email protected]