If you know someone who enjoys any type of ocean activity, chances are they have said something along the lines of “sharks don’t want to hurt you! They aren’t interested in humans!”. I also adopted this mantra and used it to soothe my worried soul before every plunge into the open ocean. I used it so much that the fear actually started to dissipate! I swam with white tip reef sharks and thought “aw, they’re just like puppies!” I once jumped off the boat into the water, only to discover a shark swimming beneath me. Now, I didn’t stay in the water long enough after seeing said shark to identify what kind it was, but I still logged the experience in my subconscious as proof that sharks really aren’t interested in humans.
Well, from personal experience… you can convince yourself all you want that sharks are “cool” and not scary, but when you come face to face with one of the most vicious predators in the sea, you will shit your wetsuit. Possibly metaphorically, possibly not.
Let me tell you about our experience flipping our mooring chain.
Every 2-3 years it is advised to flip your mooring chain, as the chain in the bottom is constantly being dragged around the ocean floor, wearing it down. Flipping the chain is a 3 step process.
Step 1: Count the links from the top shackle to where the chain is shackled at the bottom around the mooring block – this way you will know the exact length to re-shackle the chain once flipped.
Step 2: Dig the chain out from under the 3500lb mooring block so it’s mobile.
Step 3: Flip the chain, re-attach it at the top, count down the exact amount of links, zip-tie the link (in our case it was the 160th link), wrap the chain around the block, then refasten the end of the chain at the zip tie using a shackle.
Our story begins with step 2.
After descending down to our mooring block, I started counting the links one by one and Austin jumped into the second step unlodging the chain. After counting out 160 links, I look up to find myself engulfed in a HUGE cloud of sand created by the pushing, pulling, dragging, and digging Austin was doing to get the chain free. I don’t like being in 40ft of water with no visibility, so I backed up and hung out from a distance. I had time to kill, so I was just looking around admiring the sea life and the neverending expanse of blue ocean.
Then I saw a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye.
It took me a moment to comprehend the scene playing out in front of me, but then it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was looking directly at a Tiger Shark and it was headed straight towards the large cloud of sand and debris, straight for the love of my life.
I was paralyzed for a solid 5 seconds while my fight and flight instincts battled it out – but I knew either way I needed to move, now. So I started swimming as fast as I could towards Austin. I lost track of the shark as soon as I started swimming. I set my sight and made a beeline for Austin. I lost all sense of self-preservation and fear and swam like our lives depended on it. Austin couldn’t see me coming through the sand, so I grabbed his tank, flipped him around, made the sign for shark, and we made the ascent.
You might think this is where our story ends. But you would be wrong! Any sane person might get out at this point, but if you have been reading my blog at all you probably have gathered.. we are not exactly sane. As soon as we surfaced Austin turned to me and asks in an infuriatingly calm manner, “Well, what type of shark was it?” to which I replied, “I don’t know, the kind with sharp teeth!?” He was not phased.
We spent 4 more hours in the water after that.
Before going back down I was given a new role – defender of the crew.
For the majority of the next 4 hours underwater, I was positioned with my back to Austin, wielding the largest wrench we could get our hands on. Everywhere he went, my wrench and I followed. I had it over my head ready to strike at any given moment… because obviously, an angry mechanic would ward off the shark! Could I realistically fend off a shark with a wrench if it decided to attack? No. But at least I’d die trying!
In all seriousness, though, many divers have had close encounters with sharks and were able to redirect them by just putting their hand or an object out and pushing the shark’s nose in a different direction. This is not in the case of a shark intent on attacking, just if the shark is interested in you and comes too close for comfort. There are tons of incredible youtube videos of this happening- I highly recommend checking them out!
The only example I can think of to adequately describe my initial fear is this: Imagine you are walking to your car alone at night. The parking lot is empty. As you are unlocking your door you see a shadow, you straighten up to look, and there is someone standing right next to you with a gun. Can you imagine the feeling of your stomach dropping and fear balling up in your throat? That is the feeling I got. I was terrified and defenseless. But you know what? I did it. I faced my fears and I did the darn thing.
SVZV is now safely attached to her mooring and I can casually say, “Yeah, I’ve fought off a shark. No big deal”