From the moment you wake up, you begin making choices. Most of them will be of little consequence, such as whether you scratch your head or butt first. Either one will do just fine. But some can have long-term effects on your life. Granted these are rare. Generally, our lives are so dull that you can’t screw up too badly no matter which way you go. But we boaters get to lay it on the line each time we go out.
I get to go out a lot, mostly for this magazine. Which has given me the opportunity to make some truly memorable bad decisions. Usually these begin with conversations in my head that start with “I’m surprised no one else has thought of doing this!” or “how bad could it be?” Which is how I came to volunteer to test a shark repellent.
A guy from South Africa sent me a belt with some batteries, wires and brass studs. As his brochure explained, it creates an electrical field that shocks the sharks — making me less appetizing. It sounded reasonable. Now all I needed were some sharks.
Easy enough. I found this professor at the University of Miami who was up for an experiment. As he put it, “We’ll feed them until they’re full and then they won’t bite you.” Beyond dumb. But he was a professor, and he professed to know sharks.
We went out; the sharks began to show up and were soon seriously chowing down. The one image that is seared into my few remaining brain cells is of a 6-footer halfway out of the water, jaws snapping mechanically, trying to reach the professor’s chum bucket. Which was the moment when I decided to scrap the whole thing.
But, as predicted, the sharks eventually lost interest in the food and were just lingering around. So I slipped into the water, fumbled for the switch, turned the gadget on and immediately felt my back go into spasms. The current stung and made me twitch like a wounded flounder. Not good.
I soon got used to the tingling and swam directly into a ball of eight reef sharks. To my surprise they instantly twisted away. It works! Cool. Since I was sharkproof, I grabbed the tail of one. Nothing happened and my hand was still attached to my arm. Very cool.
I was now on the far side of the sharks and had to swim through them to get back into the boat. But this time, no one was moving and I was stuck in this rotating mass of increasingly curious sharks. I made it to the swim platform and flew out of the water, bringing my legs up as fast as possible.
“Did you see that?” I asked the professor. “How come it didn’t work the second time?”
“Don’t know, but check this out,” he said, pointing to floating electrocuted baitfish and the sharks that were nibbling on them like so many soggy french fries.
“I thought they weren’t supposed to be hungry.”
“Guess I didn’t throw in enough fish heads.”
Either way, I survived. And I’ve got a great story to tell.
Lately, when I start hearing those voices in my head, I’m learning to say “no” and to point my bow seaward. There are plenty of stories outside the inlet, most of them good ones. Hope to see you there, without the fish heads.