(posted by Matt)
There are two sailboats outside the Raroia passage waiting for the strong current to subside. We study the size and movement of the passage waves and determine now is the best time to leave the lagoon go through to the open ocean. Jim tells me to radio the two boats to tell them that we are planning to go through now. One radios back, “Yes! Let us know how much current, then we will then go through.” The other boat new to the atoll wants to know how difficult the plentiful lagoon bommies are to see.
We position our boat so 2 channel marking buoys are lined up. Make a hard portside turn and head into the passage. I read off our VHF boat speed (actual speed) as Jim reads the helm speed (apparent speed). This gives us the speed of the flow of the water out of the lagoon.
Max stands on the bow spirit hanging off the front of the boat. In this clear water the 30 ft bottom is easy to see. He watches for a sudden coral head.
Jim has steered the boat in a heading that is defined by lining up 2 buoys that mark the center of the deepest part of the channel. These buoys are anchored behind us in the lagoon. Jim is intently watching Max to signal which way to steer if he sees a coral head. Once in the current there is not enough motor power to go in reverse or stop. Can only steer the boat left or right to avoid coral. We hope the boat engine doesn’t quit.
Jim looks back behind him and sees that we no longer are lined up with the buoys. There is a side current that has moved the boat far off of the channel center. Jim makes a sharp portside turn to get to the middle again. The 2 other boats intently watching probably wondered if they would need to make the same sharp maneuver to get through.
Jim radios the other boats that we experience a 2.5 knot current along with a side current. As soon as we clear the pass the 2 other sail boats head into the lagoon.
The sea is pleasantly calm. Widely spaced swells gently sway the boat. Not much wind. We consider motoring to speed our journey.
We would like to arrive at the Makemo passage when the passage current is low. There is plenty of time to slowly sail. The motor heats up the galley. Sailing is nice without having to listen to the motor. Max came in second at the card game last night. He chose captain position, so he makes the choice to turn the motor off.
We are headed down wind, so we pull the spinnaker out of storage and deploy it. The spinnaker is a huge billowing parachute that captures the air like a bucket unlike the main sail that acts like an airplane wing pull the boat forward.
We slowly sail at 1.5 knots. Not the best fish trolling speed for our lure. We change to a slower lure that weaves through the water like a swimming fish.
The wind completely diminishes by midafternoon. The sea is flat. Easy to see a whale spout, passing ship, anything floating in the water. We see nothing. No birds not even a cloud. We are alone horizon to horizon. The sun is hot. We congregate in the best shaded deck seats where we might catch the most breeze.
With no waves or wind the sea surface is silky smooth. Looking over the edge of the boat I can see deep into the clear ripple less water. Slow waving sun beams penetrate deep into the water. They should illuminate any passing fish. I watch a while hoping to see something swimming deep down. Nothing but occasional specks of plankton near the surface.
Looking closer at the water, some larger plankton specks are tiny swimming shrimp like creatures. The other shapes too small to determine. I wonder if some of these tiny creatures are the bioluminescent plankton that we sometimes see flashing at night. They can illuminate hundreds of square miles of ocean for multiple nights, bright enough to be described by astronauts looking out their spacecraft window. The now limp spinnaker is put away. Motor fired up and drones on into the afternoon. We nap, read. Max and Jim work together doing crossword puzzles. Tony plays a soothing harmonica.
This is a good time to do maintenance chores on the boat. The trick is how to motivate us to do them. Jim wants to avoid a Captain Bly mutiny yet there is a real need to keep the boat clean, ropes coiled, equipment stowed properly, repair broken equipment, make improvements. This sailboat trip was never intended to be a luxury cruise where Jim does all the work and the rest of us take it easy. Someone needs to crack the whip to make use of the available labor to keep the boat functioning.
To get around this Jim and Max started out on this journey with an agreement that boat duties will be determined by who wins at a game of cards. This evolved as Tony and then I joined. Since there is 4 of us now on the boat, we have made 4 crew duties, Captain, Cook, Dishwasher, and Loafer. The winner who gets the most card points gets to choose his position which is usually Loafer which means your job is to do nothing but relax and drink alcohol for the whole next day. The person who comes in second in card points usually picks Captain because you don’t have to do anything but tell the Cook and Dishwasher what to do, (actually we all work, even the loafer). Third is usually the Cook. Since nobody want to be Dishwasher (also called Pathetic Looser) that person gets to choose the type of card game (and card rules) for the following night.
Card games on Akela have always been fun and had nothing to do with chores on San Diego, Mexico sailing trips. Here in the South Pacific we enjoy the evening card game ritual and look forward when it’s time to play cards. With the card game system, the person responsible to nag is spread to everyone rather than just Jim doing the all the nagging. Jim is really always the captain of his boat, but the endless tedium of decision making can be shared. We have a good mixture of comradeship between us that make the dynamics of running the sailboat successful. The process of pulling anchor, setting sail, plotting course, keeping the sails trim in changing winds, looking out and avoiding hidden coral, navigating narrow passages, anchoring has become routine where the each of us can perform any of the tasks. This is how we have organized ourselves. We have managed not to go hungry, live in squalor or smash the boat onto (not that many) rocks.
Max won at cards last night and chose Captain. He is not interested in spending the afternoon doing boat maintenance. We lay about and make simple conversation. We are all on the same page politically yet there is no political news to get caught up in. We are in a political news vacuum. Politics, Tucson and world affairs fade away. We are more concerned with the here and now life on the boat, navigation, wind, current, boat functions, catching fish, and exploring a place we have never been. Conversation now is more based on what will make us laugh (or twist our metaphysical foundation).
The cloudless sky has just enough clouds along the distant horizon to make a nice sunset. The boat motor drones on into the calm night. Max, the Captain for the day, gives me the early shift. When we are sailing through the night, we divide the night into 4 watch shifts. Watch shift involves verifying the boat heading is correct, keeping the sails trim into the wind (if there is wind tonight), look out for other ships, listen for any ship radio call, verify equipment stored on deck remains secure.
The night sky is dark. Milky Way seems it could almost cast a shadow. Jupiter is bright as it rises over the broad empty horizon making a shimmering long reflection on the sea. There is plenty of time on this voyage to familiarize myself with the southern night sky. Unlike local and state road maps all-star charts are of the complete north and south hemispheres of the sky so I’m quite familiar with southern constellations. Until now the southern constellations were just dots on the chart.
The north star Polaris is always hidden below the horizon. I would think the Big Dipper would also be hidden below the horizon but at this southern latitude the dipper is quite visible just much lower hugging the northern horizon and only visible part of the night. To put this into perspective the top of the Southern Cross star, Gamma Crux, briefly peeps above the Tucson horizon for a few hours in the winter and spring. The remaining Southern Cross stars are not visible unless viewed from at least 25 degrees north of the equator, such as from Hawaii and again only briefly at night in the winter and spring.
At this south sea latitude the prominent Southern Cross is high enough above the southern horizon that its visible any time of the night making it a natural quick reference when on night watch to verify the sailboat is going in the right direction.
When in the northern hemisphere the Big Dipper aids to find the north star Polaris. The southern celestial pole doesn’t have a bright star to mark that location. The Southern Cross points to an empty black void where all of the stars revolve around. The direction south is found by mentally visualizing the Southern Cross extension by 4 constellation lengths into this black void. Night after night watching the stars, the south celestial pole becomes instantly identifiable and useful to verify our sailboat is headed in the correct direction.
Off to the side of the Southern Cross is the Centauri star system. Our closest neighboring stars. That bright star in the sky is where we might someday send exploratory spacecraft with the Breakthrough Star Shot mission. The pellet sized spacecraft attached to large lightweight sails, launched by powerful lasers speeding the craft 15% to 20% the speed of light. Taking 20 to 30 years to get there then over 4 years for the photographs and science instrument data to return to earth. Alpha Centauri and Beta Centauri are stars similar in size to our sun but the smaller Proxima Centauri has an earth sized planet that is at the right orbit that it could have liquid water thus harbor life.
Steward Observatory professor Roger Angel, Director of the University of Arizona Mirror Lab, whom I have been lucky to work on his projects for the last 25 years, has designed large optical mirrors to point powerful lasers at the interstellar spacecraft to push it along on its journey and to keep it stable so it doesn’t roll and tumble. These same mirrors will also receive the data laser signal sent back to earth. This project still has multiple technologies to develop to make this successful, yet it has substantial scientific and technical support. Dr. Pete Worden, former Director of NASA Ames Research Center, and former Roger Angel grad student (just like Jim Burge) is now the Chairman of the Breakthrough Star Shot mission. Pete’s office used to be right next door to my lab when he worked at the University of Arizona. The idea that it is conceptually possible to reach out and literally touch that star up there is amazing. How knows what we will discover.
We arrive at Makemo Atoll west passage in the early morning. We look the passage over then drift a while waiting for the current to subside. During the null in the ebbing passage current we motor through into the lagoon without any issues.
Makemo is a larger atoll than Raroia. It has 2 passages. The passage in the south has a settlement. The north passage which is unpopulated and closer to our charted course to Fakarava. It looks like a good place to explore.
Motoring through the night was a boon for our batteries. The delicate balance of fuel, electrical power and fresh water has us living on the edge of existence. The reverse osmosis water maker needs electrical power for its 2000 psi pump. We now have a comfortable 16 gallons of drinking water for the 4 of us until we run it again. Most of our food is dehydrated brought from Tucson. Unless we get a good rain to collect water, we will need to ration our shower and dish cleaning water until the boat reaches Tahiti. Fakarava may not have fresh water.
Pleased we made it through the passage ok we begin to study the charts for a good place to anchor. The water is very clear. We are delighted to see we are in an area full of dense spreading coral shelves teaming with fish. We assume this bounty of life is because we are near the atoll passage where suspended nutrients are replenished by the constantly changing current that is channeled through the narrow atoll passage.
Large ocean waves pounded the Rarioa atoll passage stirring up the water clouding the water visibility compared to this Makemo atoll passage that has now had 2 days of calm ocean swells. The water detail visibility is now amazing. We can recognize the type of fish swimming in the coral tower shadows 30 ft. down on the white sandy floor. This is the best coral we have ever seen. We can’t imagine anywhere else could be better. We decide to look for an anchorage right in this immediate area.
The coral is so dense we only see a few fingers of sand between the coral towers. Our anchor would damage this magnificent spreading delicate coral (also our anchor could get tangled and stuck) so we carefully continue slowly winding our way through the dense coral towers looking for enough sand for our anchor. We are anchoring where no other boats this size normally go. It takes considerable effort winding Akela through dense cluster of coral but it is worth it because it is a nice and pristine place to be.
Finally spot a tiny patch of sand nested in bommie coral towers that finger out from the beach. On the 4th anchoring attempt we successfully place the anchor correctly. The close proximity of the bommies require an added stern anchor. Now the sailboat is held firmly between 2 anchors.
To the east we see what looks like a row of tall passenger cruise ships on the distant horizon. Looking now through the binoculars they look like a series of long pointed white blimp airship caravanning across the ocean. It’s an atmospheric inversion layer bending the light of a section Makemo atoll treeless white sand beach that is hidden over the horizon miles away. As the sun warms the cool morning air these ghost ships slowly rise up higher into the sky then silently vanish.
The islets here are larger, more forested than the Raroia atoll allowing secluded minor lagoons hidden inside the islets. The openings in the tall dense trees reveal mysterious darkly shaded passages into the jungle. No apparent sign of civilization.
Jim and Max don their snorkeling gear, check that the anchor is secure then swim over to explore this small new lagoon. They discover that its shallow and also full of fish and large mature coral. Most importantly the entrance too shallow for sharks to gain access. Except for some small blacktips this lagoon is free of sharks, simplifying spearfishing.
Max also reports he saw large land crabs. Some of the atolls have Robber crabs, also called coconut crabs. Their large claws capable of breaking through coconuts.
A strange shaped sailboat appears on the horizon coming from the south part of the Makemo atoll. As it approaches, we see its flying a Polish flag. Its front mast is shorter than the rear mast. The cabin tall and narrow. The hull very wide at the waterline. We wonder if this type sailboat style is common in the Baltic.
The boat tries the passage then gives up making an abrupt 180-degree turn. They then head directly for us soon discovering all the bommies we had to carefully navigate through. Pulling right along us they say in heavily accented English that their sonar isn’t working, ask the water depth and explain they don’t have much anchor chain. Jim tells them depth, current, what we know.
Even though we warn them of the tight space we are anchored in they circle us not realizing how close we are anchored to coral. We anticipate a loud boom as their boat hits the coral. Their voices raise in panic as they realize how little room they have to maneuver. Luckily, they slip out of the cove intact. That type of short fat hulled sailboat can turn on a dime. They go on looking for good sandy anchorage. We watch as they carefully hunt working their way south along the coast, finally finding success 1 mile south of us.
Jim decides to take a nap. Max, Tony and I row the dingy and head for shore with the spear pole and snorkeling gear. We see a large shark swim up boldly right alongside of the rowboat. We are fascinated. It’s the biggest shark that we have seen so far. We get a good look at it in the clear water as it circles on the surface right alongside of the boat, its tall dorsal fin almost touching the top of the boat bow. It’s unfamiliar, not a black tip, white tip or gray reef shark that we normally see. Its body shape is different. Fatter in the middle, squarish shaped head. We haven’t seen this fearless shark behavior before. We determine the bigger the shark the bolder they behave.
The shark loses interest and swims off. We continue to row to the beach. About 100 ft from the beach the water becomes too shallow with dense dead loose coral clumps for the dingy to row over. It appears a previous storm funneled broken coral into this area making a shallow gradually sloping beach. The dingy can float over the coral between the narrowing clumps but the oar paddle tips must search for a place to dip into the water for enough space for a full useful stroke.
We all jump out of the dingy making the usual splashes. Max and Tony are standing in thigh deep of water on the beach side of the boat. I’m standing in the water at the boat stern, looking at the beach and facing Max and Tony.
I hear loud vigorous splashing behind me and turn around and see that same strange large shark fin swimming as fast as it can directly at us. The water is shallow so the sharks back, dorsal fin and upper tail is out the water. The exposed long upper part of the tail is frantically thrashing back and forth to propel the shark quickly towards us making a loud chopping spray sound similar to the sound of an out of control fire hose wildly whipping back and forth. Our sudden oar clanking and splashing noise of us getting out of the dingy could have been a shark feeding signal.
The shark is too quick for me to run to shore in this thigh deep water. Max and Tony see the oncoming shark as well. Max tells Tony to jump in the dingy. I’m hesitant but need to take my eyes off the approaching shark turn around and face Tony to coordinate how we place our weight into the boat. If we don’t balance the rowboat as we both get in the boat could easily capsize.
The shark is approaching too fast. I’m too slow to turn around. While facing the approaching shark I grab the stern transom behind me and lift my body up out of the water to flip backwards into the boat in a reverse somersault and hope for the best for Tony’s boat maneuver. Not concerned about Max. He placed 1st in the Arizona state gymnastics competition. He can easily get into the boat without tipping it over.
Just as I start my adrenaline filled back flip the shark suddenly reaches water that’s too shallow. Regardless of his thrashing tail it can’t maintain its speed as its belly and tail pushes against the coral heads. The top of the sharks head now exposed above water protrudes between 2 coral clumps and violently jerks side to side spraying water everywhere. I can see into the sharks wide open mouth, its strangely curved hook shaped teeth, its membrane eye lid squeezing over its expressionless black doll eyes, white jagged scar on its gray blue nose. The shark’s pictorial fins can’t get through the coral opening. Unable to get over the coral the powerful shark suddenly calms, frees itself then turns off to deeper water.
We look wide eyed at each other. Tony tells Max,” I wasn’t going to risk getting into the dingy. I was going to run.”
In shock we watch the water to see if the shark will make another attempt then realize it’s safer on shore. We frantically pull the dingy to the beach using every ounce of energy to slog our legs through the thick water while watching over our shoulder. On the beach we catch our breath, are taken aback, never had a shark charge at us like that before. We watch the water for some time discussing what to do. We decide to wait a while before going back to Akela, give the shark time to move along somewhere else. We uncomfortably continue to the small lagoon to spear our dinner to pass the time.
Sharks are easily seen in this clear shallow lagoon. We count a few 3 foot long black tip sharks. Unlike the clumpy beach coral this lagoon is separated from the deep water by a smooth sand bank. Sharing the lagoon with these small skittish sharks is reasonably safe. We take turns using the one spear pole that we have while the others watch to see if a large aggressive shark could somehow make a running charge to glide over the ankle deep sand bank and enter the small lagoon.
Max has the spear and is searching for a big fish to spear. We see a small black tip shark swim towards Max who is stealthily hunting on the opposite side of a big coral head. We don’t warn him because the shark will bolt off as soon as it sees Max. The shark doesn’t see Max until it comes around to the other side of the coral and goes face to face with Max.
Max suddenly jerks then stands up in the shallow water and says, “That shark was right in my face! For a moment I couldn’t tell how big it was. That was too soon after getting charged by the shark on the beach”. The small shark was just as scared of Max and dashed away.
Soon after Max speared an 8 lb. fish. Was able to pin it against a rock inside a hole, holding it there until it stopped struggling so he could pull it out with it not getting off the short spear barbs. The fish is covered with an attractive brown spot pattern. Some of the spots surrounded by beautiful bright fluorescent blue rings. Max comments he is conflicted that he killed such a beautiful creature. Tony jokes that Max just saved the lives thousands of beautiful colored tropical fish that his fish would have eaten.
On our way back to the dingy we made a short cut through the jungle looking for the coconut crabs that Jim and Max saw earlier in the day. These are the largest land crabs in the world. They can live to 60 years and can grow to 36 inches foot tip to foot tip stretched out. I’ve seen pictures of these monsters and now have an opportunity to see a live one.
Large crab tracks are easily seen in the jungle floor is sand. We follow them to large holes burrowed in the moist sand. Most of the thick jungle floor is covered with moist leaf litter. We can hear large crabs crawl across the leaf litter, but they are hard to clearly see through the heavy jungle tree foliage. We see movement but it’s hard to get through the thick jungle to get a closer look before they move into their burrow. Their movement isn’t that fast. They should be easy to catch.
Max gets close enough to one to see it go into its large burrow. The burrow is deep. Max gently pushes a stick into hole being careful not to hurt the crab hoping the crab grabs it but feels nothing.
These crabs are huge but don’t appear to move quick enough to be a threat, yet they are new to us and we don’t know anything about them. I ask, “Anyone see that documentary ‘When Crabs Attack’, Where dozens of crabs chase this guy then leap onto his face?” Max sees that Tony is not sure that I’m joking and says, “Hey Tony, why don’t you reach in there with a coconut and let the crab grab it, pull out the coconut with the crab”. Tony replies, “Why don’t I punch you! I’m not sticking my arm in there.” We all enjoy a gut wrenching laugh.
After some digging, we discover the burrow is too deep. We quickly lose interest because we are not interested in getting into a time consuming hole digging project. There still is the matter of getting safety back on Akela.
There has been a light on and off sprinkling of rain. The cool rain feels good, but the rain clouds darken the sky and effects our mood.
There was some apprehension getting the dingy rowboat back to Akela. Has the tide rose making more clearance for the shark to get us as we are pulling the dingy 100 ft over the coral? There are multiple channels between the scattered coral heads. Can a large shark fit through one of these other wider channels as we push the dingy over the coral?
The setting sun cast long underwater shadows. The darkly clouded sky makes the water hard to read. We are unable to make out the detail of a shark lurking in ambush. Why only one shark? This place is teaming with fish. There could be multiple aggressive sharks waiting to come at us at the same time from all directions. Sharks become more active as it gets dark. This afternoon experience of just one shark could have been the lull in shark activity. Dozens of sharks could now be gathering ready to start their evening feeding.
We are really on our own out here. Rescue resources are limited. Akela can’t navigate out of this maze of coral in the dark. Sailing to the nearest airstrip to get an emergency flight to Tahiti would be a full day or two before receiving trained medical attention and equipment. But for the squatty Polish sailboat anchored a mile away we are alone from horizon to horizon.
We humorously discuss the realities of having a human body rotting on Akela’s deck in the heat. Tony jokes we should let the sharks finish the meal until the remains will fit into the Akela’s refrigerator. Max then says there is a watertight duffle bag on Akela big enough to hold a person. I joke my final wish is to have open casket viewing.
Not yet ready to walk out into the water we ponder cremation and what to do with the ashes. Tony says what does that matter then after agreeing it’s for family sarcastically says, “I want my ashes put into a golden urn then placed in an enormous mausoleum right next to my mom.” Then there was ” I want my ashes sprinkled over Kilimanjaro.” Then, “I want to be put onto a rocket that burns up in the sun, so the ashes get pushed by solar wind over the entire solar system and beyond.” Having more fun with this there was, “I don’t want cremation. I want what’s left of my shark chomped body freeze dried then wrapped in old cloth by the best criminal archeological forgers so I look like a 3 thousand old mummy then secretly swapped out with King Tutankhamun’s mummy. I’ll be encased in elaborate gold, endlessly be on a world tour. People stand in a long line to pay money to see Tutankhamun but only family and friends know its secretly me.” Then there was the chorus of good byes and faux weeping, “Tell my mother I love her”, and so on to mask our uneasiness.
The sun is setting, we can’t procrastinate any longer, start wrangling which one of us will stand in the darkening water to push the dingy over the coral. Since I’m the fat one of the three which will make the dingy sink deeper into the water and harder to push over the coral its decided I will push the dingy. I reluctantly agree and begin to stealthy push Max and Tony in the dingy. All of our eyes fixed on water looking for any moving shadow or unusual water surface movement. Max and Tony’s weight still made the boat drag along the coral. They each used an oar to push down on the dead coral clumps to reduce the weight in the boat. This push pole method got the dingy about 60 ft from the beach where I then could climb into the dingy to push pole the remaining 40 ft over the coral. After abrading a good amount of the paint and fiberglass from the bottom of the dingy we made it back to Akela. We saw the usual number gray reef sharks but didn’t see this new aggressive type of shark.
Relieved to be safely aboard Akela I bask in our ability to get through the danger yet understand that this ocean environment is bigger than us. I begin to review the risks of this adventure, life goals that could end right here yet I’m captivated with these new South Pacific experiences, sights, sounds, smells so different from marine life back home. I’m on vacation refreshing my spirit with friends out in the middle of nowhere far from island tourists, familiarities of civilization. This is a special unique opportunity, freely roaming around by sailboat, exploring as we go. I rationalize that we are reasonably clear thinking group of men. As long as we keep our wits about us there is more probability of injury from a Tucson auto accident.
That evening we gorged ourselves on Max’s speared fish. It was rather good tasting. After dinner Max looks at the fish book to identify the shark that charged us. It was the notorious Tiger shark. Out of all the man-eating sharks, the Tiger is second to the Great White shark in recorded human attacks. Tigers with Whale Sharks, Basking Sharks and Great Whites are classified as the large sharks. The Great Hammerhead Shark can get longer in length, yet they are slender, not as big and heavy. A Tiger shark caught off Australia weighed 3360 lbs. The heavy Tigers are powerful swimmers capable of quick burst of speed, not choosy eaters and can be particularly aggressive.
The fish book says the Tiger is cannibalistic. Not only does it regularly feed on other sharks but will eat smaller Tiger sharks. This would explain why the even large Gray Reef sharks are somewhat skittish when we approach them in the water. They are the Tigers prey. In this lagoon the Tiger is the apex of the fish food chain.
The Tiger sharks’ teeth are unique among all other shark teeth. They are not the typical triangle shape. They are just as large as Great White shark teeth at the base but not as tall. They have the same shape of a hooked razor carpet cutter. This allows them to effectively slice through thick turtle shells or the toughest shark skin when they use their long powerful body muscles to quickly jerk their head sideways putting the hook shape tooth to good use as well as slicing from thousands of pound force of their strong jaw muscles.
There was some debate if the Tiger shark that charged us was simply responding to what it thought was water splashes of other sharks chasing fish trapped in the shallow water. The Tiger was probably going after the Gray Reef sharks rather than humans.
Tony laughs that the cuddly cute shark was just over excited to play frisbee. All we had to do was throw a frisbee out into the water and the playful shark would eagerly retrieve it. We all erupt in laughter.
Max and Jim always ready to throw a frisbee on the beach agree no more dingy trips without a shark frisbee. Jim smiles, holds his metal dinner plate up into the air, “This ought to hold together in a shark’s mouth. No more missed opportunities to play shark frisbee”. We all laugh, hold up our glasses of rum and freshly squeezed pamplemousse, heartily agree.
Regardless, like the book says the Tiger is not the fussy eater like the Great White and other sharks that bite to see what it is then realizing you are not it preferred food, let go, swims off for something better. That type of bite there is a chance of survival if the bite is not severe and you can stop the bleeding. The Tiger shark is a well-known documented man-eater. That means after it bites you it will then swallow and will quickly bite, rip, swallow repeatedly in a process where there is less and less of you.
This doesn’t mean all Tiger shark attacks are for food or a Tiger will always attack, yet a dangerous Tiger that size racing straight at us with all its might is something I don’t want to experience again. Since Akela lacked solid steel dive suits Tony and I chose not to continue swimming at that Makemo lagoon location.
That night in my sleep I dreamed of Jack Nicholson in the 1980 movie “The Shining”, his open grinning mouth, lips pulled back exposing a full set of sharp white teeth as he forces his face through an axe smashed hole in the door. His insane eyes rolling distantly. He forcefully yells out, “Heeeere’s SHARKY!”
I wake up reaching for a shark frisbee that’s not there. Everyone is asleep. The still moon lighting the water. I wonder what is under Akela like a child awaken from a nightmare frightened to look under the bed. There is a strange faint far off tumbling sound. I see nothing in the dark. Probably a giant land crab rolling a large coconut through the jungle. The gentle rocking of the boat, cool night breeze puts me back into an uneasy sleep.
The next morning the coral looking so alluring, water clear and inviting, Max and Jim in the cool early morning air row the dingy around the area looking for a Tiger shark. Deciding it safe, they then continue to enjoy their underwater snorkeling exploration of this remarkably pristine beautiful lagoon.
(Matt Rademacher works at University of Arizona and has signed on for a 1 month deployment aboard Akela)