WE’RE TALKING about sharks, the silent savages of the sea, for just a little while here this morning.
Let it be known that I detest sharks. Empathy is not extended to sharks, who have none.
Kill them all, I say, or at least everyone within your power to kill. There are so many of them that their numbers could never be reduced to the point of making the endangered species list.
I’ll never forget the one very close encounter I had with a shark. I was in Newport, Rhode Island, on my annual two weeks active duty training with the U.S. Naval Reserves, which met monthly in the old World War II-era Quonset huts on Charles Street in Portsmouth.
Several of us, on our liberty weekend, had checked out stout rods and reels and lines from the base store and gone fishing in Narragansett Bay.
As I recall, Billy Justice of Franklin Furnace, Ronnie Cole of Pond Run, and I think Jim Saddler of Portsmouth were in the group. If we lost or damaged any of the equipment we bought it, the storekeeper said.
Some of us took off our shoes, rolled up the legs of our dungarees, and waded out into the crystal clear blue waters of the bay. We cast cut bait and had caught two or three 2- to 3-pound sea trout.
Suddenly someone shouted for us to get out of the water. I looked to my right and saw a shadowy figure swimming parallel to the shore just below the surface. It appeared to be 10 or 12 feet long.
Suddenly it veered off course and headed straight for the position were we had been standing. We had reeled in our lines and I couldn’t resist casting the cut bait on my line at the snout of the shark.
He took the bait and hook into his mouth with no hesitation. I saw the gaping jaws, maybe two feet wide, and white teeth at least three inches long gleaming in the sunlight. It seemed he wanted more flesh than that little piece of cut herring.
I reeled in slack line as the shark continued in toward the shallows, that great dorsal fin slicing through the water. The hook, however small, was imbedded in that massive jaw.
The shark finally turned and headed for the deeps, stripping line from my reel against the protesting screech of the drag. I knew he was going to burn up the reel, maybe even jerk rod, reel and all from my hands.
I pulled the hook-nosed knife from its sheath on my belt and quickly sliced the line in two.
On July 30, 1945, in the South Pacific, The USS Indianapolis, a heavy, fast cruiser (capable of about 35 mph), was torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. Of the 1,196 men onboard (the average age of crew members was 19), an estimated 300 were killed on impact and nearly 900 were cast into the sea, hundreds of miles from nowhere.
The sharks attacked at dawn on Tuesday, July 31. Men looked down in the clear water and saw hundreds of them, each of them at least 10 feet long, prowling in frenzied schools.
The attack had actually began during the night, but the disoriented survivors, slumped in their life vests, apparently asleep, hadn’t noticed when their comrades disappeared beneath the surface, yanked under before they could even call out.
The attacks continued in daylight. Screaming sailors would be moved across the surface like a bobber on a fishing line before being yanked under. Empty life jackets, their straps ripped apart, would pop back to the surface.
Undetected by the Navy, the men were in the water for five days. When rescue finally came, all but 321 men had died.
It’s not known how many fell victim to the jaws of the sharks, but the figure is thought to be at least 200. Many died of thirst, from drinking salt water, or from their wounds.
There’s a book you can read that will tell you all about how the Indianapolis had left the West Coast on July 16 on a secret mission to deliver components of the first atomic bomb to the island of Tinian, where it would be assembled and about three weeks later dropped on Hiroshima.
The book is titled “In Harm’s Way.” It was written, brilliantly, I might add, by Doug Stanton and published in 1991.
The scapegoat for the Indianapolis tragedy was its commander, Captain Charles Butler McVay. The Navy charged him with negligence in his command and wrongfully (according to surviving crew members) court-martialed him. One of the main issues was that he had temporarily called off zigzagging during the night when the torpedoes hit the ship.
For many years afterward, McVay’s dreams were haunted by the events of those five days in the late summer of 1945. And, too, he received nasty, threatening letters and calls from some members of families of some of the survivors, blaming him for the deaths of their loved ones.
On Nov. 6, 1968, on the front steps of his farm home in Litchfield, Conn., he put the barrel of a navy-issue .38 revolver to his head, and pulled the trigger.
FUN IN THE FOG
With the coming of late September and early October, fog banks often obscure our rivers and lakes during the night and into late morning.
On Cave Run Lake, we fished by lantern light for crappie until well past 10 p.m. When fish are biting, you hate to quit.
But we were at least two miles from the inlet where we would tie our boat and walk up to the campground. We had not taken time to notice how the fog had sat down very quietly around us and decided to stick around. The Black & Decker LED hand-held spotlight I have is a good one, one of the very best China can manufacture.
But as we shot its beam toward shore, we saw nothing in the light but white, ghostly fog slipping by.
There are a lot of underwater snags in Cave Run, and we had to watch out for these in addition to searching for the shoreline.
By turning out the light, we could look down the lake and make out the tops of the wooded hills above the fog bank.
Finally, pushing along at maybe 10 mph, and after motoring by it once, we found the inlet.
It was midnight when, crawling into our sleeping bags, we zipped up our anxiety from being lost in the fog and were lulled to sleep by the call of crickets, owls and katydids.
One must wait until evening to see how splendid the day has been.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at (606) 932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com