Shark Week is coming on the Discovery Channel (25th anniversary!) and it's as good a thing to think about as the wind I'm missing today (of course it blows mid-week!) There's a whole bunch of good shark videos and more on this Shark Week post at scubadiving.com. In particular check out the "Be careful reaching for that fish" clip.
And of course there is the story of my own shark encounter a few years ago. That was enough live shark for me for a lifetime. Better to enjoy from the safety of a digital device!
I need a few new T-shirts. My once mighty collection of wind and water-related T-shirts was assembled 8-15 years ago, and it’s gone from “new and great” to “nicely worn in and great” to “old classics and great” and then lately “into the rag bag”. Ravaged by time, as it were.
So imagine my excitement when the fashion editor of the Peconic Puffin was approached by Rapanui, a mega-green pro-nature organic low carbon footprint solar and wind powered (get the picture?) manufacturer of (amongst other things) t shirts. They’re about being kind to seeds and sustainability and surfing and the oceans, and they reached out to see if we’d be interested in mentioning their wind and wave and critter-friendly products in the blog. They have a “Save Our Seas” t-shirt (half the profits from it go to the UK’s Marine Conservation Society) so I asked for a review shirt. Clever me! Or so I thought.
It’s a shark shirt. Sharks. Why’d it have to be sharks? I dislike sharks. I’ve never met one I liked. They have a right to exist, certainly, can they please exist far away from me? No, now I have sharks in my dresser drawer. Upon closer inspection they’re not really sharks, but the shape of sharks filled with fish and octopi and crabs and rays and seaweed and so forth. All good stuff I’m happy to windsurf or SUP around. Therefore okay I like the shirt. 100% organic cotton, hand printed, Fairwear Foundation audited, with an A ecolabel.
There was a big shark sighting at Cupsogue last week. Big as in big sharks (18 feet), big as in widely reported, as of course nothing kicks off the summer season like sharks (see Jaws.) So...sharks at the Cup? Scott (Lord Scotworth...wind chimp, Puffin, lunatic windsurfer and the guy in the yellow surf ski when the rest of us are SUP surfing) has some insight. A friend of his son dives at Cupsogue regularly, and just a few days before the reported sharkfest he caught a tail ride from a big basking shark there. So might these be krill-munching baskers who wouldn’t bit your leg if offered? I certainly hope so, ‘cause if we’ve got apex predator landlords 6 yards long cruising the beaches, I’m a be on the bays a whole lot more this summer.
After being eyed by a shark a couple years ago I had The Fear for awhile, but it has faded into a small thought in the back of my mind whenever I'm waterstarting oceanside. So last Thursday at Sebonac Inlet sharks were the last thing on my mind when suddenly I spotted a large dark something moving slowly beneath the surface about 30 feet away from me. Then all of a sudden it turned and shot towards me! I was jumping out of my booties when I realized it was the shadow of Bill Barber's kite. Scared the hell out of me.
(You're gonna need a bigger board if a shark like the one pictured flashes his chompers. Photo NOT from Cupsogue.)
A SUP surfer named Chuck Patterson shot this last summer at San Onofre in San Diego. It’s your basic “stick a gopro camera in the water and enjoy footage of great white sharks circling you” deal. I would have bugged out. Oh yeah, and paddled back to shore toot sweet. But Chuck was in awe of the moment, and kept shooting. He’d actually seen a shark there the day before, and returned this day with his camera HOPING to get footage of the sharks. He tells the story of the experience on his blog.
Me I’ve only seen a shark once ever while out on the water, and that was enough. More than enough. It suffices. Peconic Puffin Contributing GoPro Nature Boy Peconic Jeff hasn’t caught anything like this. Something tells me he might like to. I don’t want to be there if and when… Nice work, Chuck!
I’ve spoken to quite a few windsurfers since the terrible news about Stephen Schafer, the kite surfer in Florida. There’s probably nobody who’s ever sailed the ocean who hasn’t had The Fear at one time or another when a waterstart wasn’t coming together. We all hear about the overwhelming odds against being attacked by a shark, though we also know those odds don’t take into consideration all the things we waterpeople do to drop our silly asses in front of sharks. Locally on Long Island you rarely hear about a shark siting (my one experience at the Bowl last June notwithstanding.) But still, we know we’re taking a variety of risks out there, and this is a ringing reminder that sharks are on the list, however remote the odds. According to news reports, the kiter Schafer was known to believe in the buddy system…friends were puzzled to learn that he’d been out alone.
This merits particular attention given one amazingly positive note about the incident: A local lifeguard named Daniel Lund spotted Schafer floating in the water 400 yards off shore. Lund paddled out with a rescue board, saw that Schafer (still alive) was surrounded by circling sharks, and went in to get him anyway.
What commitment. What balls. Let’s hear it for Lifeguard Daniel Lund.
Beyond Lund’s heroism, it’s worth noting he was able to approach a badly bleeding person in the water, drag him onto a board, and paddle out of there, even with sharks all over the place. This is all the more reason to value the buddy system: if one of us somehow manages against the odds to get hit by a shark, the rest of us have every reason to believe we can get in there and get our friend out without becoming victims ourselves.
The basking shark that washed up (as well as the one in the photo) is at least twenty feet long. Mine was seven feet. I’m fairly sure I would not describe a twenty-something foot shark swimming in spitting distance of me as only a third it’s size. And the fin shape in the photographs of the basking shark is not the shape or size of the fin I saw. Etc. etc. Mine looked more like the fellow in the second photograph…lean, built for speed and business.
In any event, Long Island plankton are breathing easier today!
(Top photo: a basking shark at Ponquogue, photographed by Matt Murphy, courtesy http://27east.com via the Southampton Press. The bottom photo is something I found and tweaked that is a good approximation of what I saw over my right shoulder at the Bowl.)
Seventeen-plus years of windsurfing and I’d never seen a shark. I never wanted to see a shark, but if I did my preference was to see a fin perhaps 100 yards in the distance, swimming parallel to shore, oblivious of me. That’s not what I got.
What I also wanted if I ever saw a shark was to be planing and well powered so I could head back to the beach and maybe have lunch while the shark left the area. That’s not what I got either.
Sailing outbound at the Bowl in side-on winds, I was maybe 600 yards from the launch and 200 from the beach when I jibed off some swell. Caught the sail, got back into the footstraps, and then a big lull had me quick-step out of the straps so I could shlog.
And then my head just turned upwind…I must have heard it surface. I was staring at a black triangle, ten feet away from me. During the first thousandth of a second I thought “not a dolphin” (I’ve never seen a dolphin off of Long Island, but one can hope.) For a quarter second I thought “I can’t believe I’m staring at a shark fin”. Then I thought “it’s the size of a very large slice of pizza.” Then some swell changed the angle of the light reflecting on the water, and I saw all of the shark. About seven feet long, swimming slowly parallel to me. And it was so very much a shark. It wasn’t swimming by, it was swimming with me, checking me out. I have no spitting skills at all but I could have easily spit on its head. I was not happy. None of the other guys were anywhere near me…it was just me and this shark.
I focused on getting away. Bearing off seemed like a good idea (the beach was downwind) and there was a tiny bit of increased speed. I stopped looking at the thing and focused on the rig, encouraging myself with the thought that the shark probably wasn’t planning on attacking. Yeah we’ve all heard the statistics that you’re more likely to be hit by lightning than be attacked by a shark, but I think those odds shorten some when:
1. You’re by yourself hundreds of yards from shore. 2. A shark is ten feet away from you, and not leaving.
Anyhow I was shlogging on my broad reach, making little headway and hoping for a gust to get me planing (I didn't get one.) Then the thought hits me “unhook, unhook!” What if the wind dies completely for a moment…hooked in I might not be able to do a mad balance dance, and then I’d fall in. A minute later I start thinking “maybe I should hook in” worrying about fatigue. Then I had my stupidest thought: Look behind me and see what the shark is up to. I started to look back when a voice in my head said “ARE YOU INSANE WHAT IF YOU LOSE YOUR BALANCE!” which snapped my head back forward, where I saw a nice wave forming…perhaps five feet high, which was plenty for what I needed.
The first swell took me a third of the way to the beach. I rode the second the rest of the way in. I was on the beach.
I walked my gear a few hundred yards back to the launch, where the guys were hanging out waiting for the wind to come back. I was looking forward to telling my story, so they could laugh at me and reassure me with their own experiences…these guys have been windsurfing in the ocean for ages (this is just my third ocean year) and surely they’ve seen plenty of sharks.
I started with Scott. “Really?” was all I got.
Then Bill Barber. Bill surfs, so he must see plenty of sharks. “That’s rare,” he told me. In twenty years in the ocean he’d only seen one on Long Island.
Then Fisherman arrived. Fisherman is in fact a commercial fisherman, he knows what’s up, and he will not let me down. He asks me to describe the fin. I tell him about the pizza slice. Fisherman says “that’s pretty big”.
Shit. The whole plan was to get reassured so I could go back out and sail without fear. But that didn’t happen.*
Then the wind came back up and nobody cared about my shark and they all went out. Jon Ford and Jeff and Ethan and Jimi all showed up and didn’t care about the shark and they sailed too, so of course I went back out, though I kept my runs short…no long excursions to the outside for me. And if you’ve ever experienced some nervousness sailing in the ocean, distracted by imagined perils in the deep that caused you to be tentative in your sailing and screwed up your technique, imagine how you’d do sailing in waters where you know there’s a shark… a shark you've already met and that has demonstrated some casual interest in you. I was fine on the inside, but for the rest of the day on the outside I was a tentative mess. What knucklehead sails back to the shark?
I'd happily sail the Bowl again tomorrow, though.
* Jon Ford arrived later and said he’s seen the occasional shark hanging out by the sand bar in the past.
(Top: I'm jibing well on the inside, but I'm not smiling 'cause I'm headed back towards Shark Town. Photo by Bill Doutney.)
1. Are you calm cool nature guy, who says "did you see the distinctive pattern to its fin and how it spun in the air? That's a spinner shark...not dangerous to man."
2. Freak out and leave the water immediately.
3. Stay calm, but having noted that a nine foot long shark has just leapt out of the water choose this moment to take a break and watch your comrades play in the water. And see if any of them get et.
(First seen on Hudson River Windsurfer, who recommends Fishbase.org as a source of details on fish, sharks etc. If Peconic Jeff will start sailing with his iPhone, bookmark Fishbase and promise to drop his rig and look up sharks the moment they start leaping around us, I may put myself in category #1. Until that time I'll be spending time in answers #2 and #3.)