• Bill Chastain

TOYS AND GAMES: Surviving in Shark Infested Waters

Sharks have re-gained some street cred thanks in part to the 40th anniversary of Jaws. And, of course, Sharknado, which has alerted us to the fact you’re not safe from shark attacks even on dry land.

Accordingly, the dorsal finsters have been frisky in North Carolina and Florida this summer. Still, the fear factor is nothing like the one that prevailed during the summer of 1975 when Jaws was released.Jaws_Book_1975_Cover

With that climate in place, a memorable sailing trip took place in Tampa waters between the Gandy and Howard Frankland bridges.

The high school classmate whose family owned the boat captained the vessel. We all felt safe with him. Sort of like having a designated driver. Meanwhile, the crew joining him made Gilligan look like Lord Nelson. Time distorts memory, so what follows is my best effort of what transpired that fateful night.

It was an angry sea, my friend… And shortly into the excursion all talk centered around the number of creatures below us dressed in dorsal fins. A lot of “dudes” were being dropped along with hypothetical scenarios about bloody waters and becoming chum. Suddenly a member of the party inexplicably fell into the water.

Man overboard!

The terrified MOB did his best Mark Spitz (can’t use Michael Phelps — he wasn’t born yet) trying to catch us before he became a tasty snack. Displaying calm, our skipper turned the boat into the wind to recover our lost crew member.

No harm, no foul.

We all howled at our friend’s expense, the party continued, and the eight-track blared. Smoke on the water, fire in the sky…

Another hour passed and everything proceeded smoothly until our captain decided to scale the mast. Remember, most puffed — and inhaled — in those days.

Intrigued that the one sensible person on board had gone gonzo, the entire crew edged over to one side of the boat to observe.

You guessed it. The 29-foot vessel tipped over, sending all of us into the water.

Treading water with head on a swivel on high alert for great whites, my panicked mind filled with stories from the U.S.S. Indianapolis and images of Captain Quint.

Alas, quicker than you can say Peter Benchley, the capsized boat righted itself. All crew members got safely back on board. A lifetime bond would be forged between the captain and his crew for surviving such an ordeal.

To this day, I wonder if we were lucky to escape the shark-infested waters or if the sharks around us simply had more sophisticated palates.


©2020 by Bill Chastain. Photo credits: Jill Doty Photography