Sharks, sharks and more sharks


Whether sharks pursue me or whether it’s the other way around, it seems like I’ve spent most of my life in their midst. My initial first-hand encounter with sharks was in Cuba during the mid-1940’s. To tell the truth it wasn’t technically a ‘first-hand’ encounter, but at age 15, it seemed like I was right there in the midst of the event. And I was, up to a point. Here’s what happened.

We belonged to a beach club call the Havana Biltmore Yacht and Country Club located near Jaimanitas, about 20 miles west of Havana. I lived there, almost full time, on weekends and holidays. During the summer we even slept there, under mosquito nets to keep from getting sucked dry. Pancho and a host of his family, Jaime, Cuso, and others headed the club’s marina. These men were all long time fishermen, and though they had a full time job at the Club, still spent much of their time hauling snappers out of their well-marked fishing holes.

Once in a while, not really often, some huge animal would swim by and snatch their lines. Once, when it surfaced, they fell aghast. No one had ever seen a shark this big, almost twenty feet from tip to tip. Years passed. About once or twice a year this same animal would repeat his snatch routine. Pancho and his brothers began to hatch a plan to rid the seas of this menace.

Their homemade wooden motorboat was made ready. Five hundred feet of half-inch hemp line was neatly coiled in the stern. Twenty feet of chain and several huge fishhooks were carefully rigged. Then motored out to where they knew the great white shark habituated and began to catch snappers and barracudas. One five pound ‘cuda was slit open, its blood allowed to drip into the sea before in was expertly fastened to the hook. About two hours passed before the line jerked. Alerted, they stood ready. Two more jabs then quiet.

They pulled the line up and re-baited. All three remained at the ready. There was no question their shark was there. Several minutes passed when the line went out at sonic speed. Three hundred feet of line flew out before Cuso dared to grab it with his gloved hand and wrap one turn around a cleat. Another hundred feet of line paid out. With the bitter end in sight, Cuso put a second turn around the cleat halting the run-out. The boat began to move across the flat sea, towed by the monster. Three hours passed until the fish tired and the three men could haul line in, a foot or two at a time. They recovered but one hundred feet during the first hour. Another hundred the second, the launch still being dragged at about two knots. Two more hours went by before they had another hundred feet in. Twice the shark had run.

Three hours later there was but 70 feet of line out, the shark now clearly visible directly below. In the next hour they hauled in but twenty feet. Neither of the three had seen an animal this big. Best to let him tire. The crew rested well knowing the toughest part was yet ahead. But it cam totally unexpected. The shark headed straight up mouth wide open. The impact spun all three men off their feet. The boat began to fill with water.

While Pancho started the engine, Cuso cut the rope and off they ran to shore, a mile away. Jaime bailed frantically. They entered the harbor at top speed, ran the boat upon the boat ramp as they called for help in getting the boat cradle into the water. Once set on the cradle the boat was hauled up to the hard. All of us headed over to see the damage and what my eyes was something that today 60 years later I can see more clearly than the morning paper. There, in an oval about two feet wide and one foot high, were about 40 huge shark teeth imbedded into the hull.

It was a natural that my sons and I, when we headed to the Bahamas every summer during the 1980’s would seek out sharks. We developed a technique that worked great. The key trick was an empty 5-gallon jug. Our hook, a big rascal, was connected to ten feet of ¼” chain which in turn was fastened to the jug with ten feet of ½” line. We would tie 200-pound test nylon line that we kept on a yoyo. Baited, the hook and barrel were released to float away, thirty or so feet of nylon line paid out then wrapped around one of our genoa winches. The yoyo rested over another smaller winch.

The shark tired fighting the barrel. Once consumed, we’d haul it in, tie a hangman’s noose around the leader, pass the noose down over the body of the shark until we tensed it around the tail area. With one of the halyards we’d pull it aboard and let it hang overnight. Early the following day we’d remove the jaw full of teeth, the tie the jaw to the backstay to dry. Often we would return to Miami with half a dozen large jaws.