Chapter Three: The Great White

Doc was a very physically strong man. While not a tall man, he had a powerful body, and very large, knarled hands. His eyes were squinted almost shut from years out in the sun surfing and fishing, and deep wrinkles criss-crossed his face like the drag net on a Crab boat. He was an attractive man, but in a very rugged way.
Back in those days, I rarely spoke to anyone, unless they were very close friends. Doc and I made a great team for fishing, because you spend many long hours just “trolling” back and forth, waiting for the fish to bite, and it can be tedious listening to someone just blather on all day. I preferred to keep mainly to myself, and think my thoughts, while watching the ocean spread out in front of me. It was very meditative to simply move along the water.
Doc wasn’t a big one for conversation either, but he did explain things to me. For example; my main purpose on the boat was to steer it. It was a job that the village idiot would have envied, as anyone could do it. But the important thing was to keep an eye out front that we didn’t hit anything.
I never thought that the ocean had much of anything in it but water, salt, and a vast holding of fish, and those of every size and variety one could imagine. But to my horror, there was so much trash floating around out there! We were constantly trolling by some abandoned life jacket (never a good sign!) , a plastic milk jug, large pieces of Styrofoam, a basketball, an ice chest (empty), and so many countless other things. But what I didn’t expect beyond all that were the trees! And animals, oh my God; a bloated cow, a water logged sheep, floating by on the current. I have no idea how, but Doc told me that they were washed down rivers in floods, or washed off large ships in storms, and they drink the salt water and die. But it was the trees and other large floating objects that I had to watch for, as they could rip a hole in your hull, and then you were screwed.
I have also seen pieces of fence, pickets like white teeth, a few surfboards, some in jagged chunks, and I once spotted and snagged a gaff. Now that is a very handy tool on a boat! A gaff is a very short “baseball bat” that has a hook nailed into its’ top end, a hook that is the breadth of your hand, and it is used to gaff fish. When you are pulling up a fish, you get it close to the base of the boat, and then swing your gaff down into its head, hooking it, and flinging it over your shoulder. Salmon are NOT small fish in the ocean.
One morning, we ran out to a spot that everyone had been talking about, a natural trench off the coast, and about five miles from Pillar Point. Most of the other boats were running out much farther, but again, Docs boat was too small to follow, so we stayed close to shore. and went to check out the spot we had been hearing about.
Doc got the gear into the water, and was fiddling with some line that was tangled up a bit. Moby was lying at my feet, looking bored. He was only happy when we were “running”, and he could sit on the bow of the boat and smell the ocean smells, and feel the wind in his face. I was trying to get us turned uphill a bit, so the boat would ride “up” waves instead of slashing into the trough. The water was pretty choppy, and the winds were picking up a bit.
One of the lines hit, and Doc started playing the line, and brought in a small nurse shark. Now I would find out why he was named “Doc”. I kept looking over my shoulder as he brought up the three foot shark, and gaffed it, bringing it over the deck. He clubbed it in the head again, then as he prattled on about how cool it was, he pulled open one of the deck trunks, and took out a length of rope with a very large hook in one end of it. He ran the hook through the sharks head, and then proceeded to string it up the jig line. Once he had it strung up, he took out his filet knife and cut off its nose. He looked inside there, and then told me to come and look into the top of its head. I have to admit that I was fascinated to see the inner “workings” of a sharks head! But I was also a bit surprised. I asked him why did he do that, and he replied that sharks would eat any Salmon that were close by, and we wouldn’t catch any. Later I found out that was only half true, he just did it out of boredom and curiosity.
Next, Doc gutted the shark from “chin to poop shoot”, and all its guts slipped into the water, but not before he grabbed its heart, and brought it over to me to show it to me, still warm and barely beating. I thought we were doing this to sell fish, to make a living, and this just seemed wrong to me. But I was a “newbie” and had no place to say anything, I had no point of reference as to “ocean etiquette”, so I kept my mouth shut.
He played with this little shark for maybe twenty minutes, when suddenly the “whiskey line”, or center line, went taut as a bowstring. I just happened to glance over my shoulder and saw it hit, saying “Hey Doc! I think the whiskey line has a fish!”
Doc spun his head around just as he was cutting the shark loose from the jig. He shouted out, and ran for the line, bending and snatching it up at the same time. He started to pull for all he was worth, legs straddling the rear of the platform, feet braced up against the narrow rim. He was very excited and kept yelling that it was a huge Salmon, and “oh my God!”, and “come ‘ere you son of a bitch!”, and laughing as he pulled. I was surprised, as he was really working his ass off, and I had seen him pull fish in fairly easily. Suddenly he got very quiet, and I saw him lean down to look at something in the water. He told me to get him the gaff, and as I was just starting to turn towards the trunk where the gaff lay, I heard him yell out “OH MY FUCKING…WHAT THE HELL?????” and I saw him snap back, I should say FLY backwards, as this enormous white, pointy toothed maw came up the back end of the boat.
The back end of the Radon was maybe about ten feet across? And what I saw was something that looked like a huge rocket coming straight up out of the water, gushing mountains, gallons, of sea water from its mouth. It blocked the sun that was just beginning to set behind it. Doc was flying backwards with what looked like a giant, oddly shaped Salmon on the line, which flew over his head with a force that slammed him to the deck. But as I was taking all this in, the Great White had sort of fallen against the back of our tiny Radon, shoving us forward as it slid down the rear of the boat. The force of this shove launched us over a wave in the trough, and I grabbed at the wheel to keep us from spinning sideways into the trough, or rolling over. I know I had screamed when I saw Greg go down, but he had scrambled up quickly, and everything had just happened so damn FAST! I was very close to vomiting; I was in so much terror at what I had just seen. Doc was screaming and cussing at the shark, and repeating over and over “DID YOU SEE THAT?????? It was a White! DID YOU SEE IT!!???” And, ‘NO ONE WILL BELIEVE THIS, OH MY GOD, OH MY GOD, IT TRIED TO KILL ME! HEY JEN, IT TRIED TO EAT ME! THE MOTHER FUCKER! OH MY GOD! DID YOU SEE IT?????”
I was crying and having a coronary, I did NOT sign up for this "Jaws" bullshit! I WAS SCARED OUT OF MY MIND! Doc seemed insane with glee. He was sort of talking to himself, “who is gonna believe THIS shit???? Fucker tried to eat ME!” He got quiet and I turned around, and he was coming back towards me, and then I saw what he saw, the head of the Salmon. It was-or WOULD have been- an immense Salmon, had it been whole. But it wasn’t, it was only the head, and bitten off just behind where the gills were. Even at that, by all estimations, it would have been about 55 pounds had it been whole. The teeth marks were absolutely disturbing, and he put one of his large fingers into the space, and the semi-circle was twice again the width of his finger. I wanted to barf so badly.
Doc was a madman, jumping around the deck, and Moby was just sort of wagging his tail and smelling the fish. All his fur was standing on end. I only saw that a few more times in all the years I had him. It wasn’t a good sign. Moby generally barked his head off at fish, but I know he saw what we saw, and he was too smart to not know it was something unusual.
Doc was dying to get back to the Harbor, to show everyone what he “caught”, and to tell his “fish story”. I just wanted to get my feet on land again, get a stiff drink, and wrap my head around what I had just seen. The odd thing was that as scared as I was, I still knew I wanted to be out here, living this life, and living on the water. But right now, I wanted to think, with a strong cocktail in my hand.
We got into the harbor at almost dark, and Doc had well iced the head, as he wanted it as fresh as possible. When we got there, he almost jumped up the rails of the ladder to get onto the dock. Although he knew folks would be tying down, and icing fish, making dinner, heading to the showers from a very long, hard day, he just HAD to tell someone. And he did, he told everyone he could grab. I got my gear, and headed for the showers, staggering on the dock. It wasn’t unusual to fall down on the dock when coming back from a day on the sea, especially when you had been out for days at a time. It was called your “land legs” getting used to walking on a solid surface again.
I showered, then hitch-hiked to the bar, about three miles away. I got drunk, and of course Doc showed up to tell his story and invite everyone down to the harbor the next day to view the “head”. Some folks just laughed, some said they had heard there were rumors of a Great White that was lurking off the coast, but had disregarded it as a “fish story”, not true. But others told their stories, and it was a good time, drinking and hearing that others had seen the beast, we weren’t full of shit!
The next day was very eventful, what with Doc showing off the head of the Salmon to the entire free world, a thousand tourists, mostly Japanese, would stop and look down onto the deck of the boat and take pictures of the massive fish head with the amazing teeth marks in it. Some actually asked to be photographed with the head, smiling and looking quite “manly” for their shot, it was a scream. But in the end, a Japanese man offered Doc $100 for the head, and he couldn’t pass it up.
But that story bought our drinks for another week or two, until I decided from talking to a few of the other fishermen, that Doc had brought this upon us by the bleeding Nurse shark chumming the water, which brought the Great White. Maybe the blood had drawn the Salmon, which drew the White, I didn’t know and I didn’t care, I had heard enough of Docs’ reputation for craziness to know it was time to move on before I ended up hurt or dead. I had just witnessed something that was not realistic in my mind, and I knew that I didn’t want to be the person who DIDN’T get away next time, all because someone was doing something not “kosher”.

Next time: Chapter Four, I move onto the “Bright Sea”

© Copyright 2006 Jennifer George. All rights reserved.



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