Paddling with Predators [44]

By Alex “Live Bait” Harrison

Where to begin on such a tale?

Well, basically, John, myself and Gary, a friend from the Club, were paddling a double ski (John and I) and a single ski (Gary) as part of a regular training session.

We normally paddle Monday, Wednesday and Friday from Swanbourne-Nedlands Surf Club in WA, down to Dutch Inn (a few kilometres away), catch a few waves then paddle back again. It was only John’s fourth time on a ski.

The first time John was on a ski was somewhat harrowing for the poor young bloke. There was a 1.5 metre hammerhead seen by one of the other guys that paddle with us (Brendan, who is currently in the UK safe and sound) a bit further out from where John and I were paddling that day, and he fell off five times in a row as he was trying very hard to get into shore.

Bit of a rough day to start paddling too I guess. We others just sat around on our skis next to him and tried not to laugh out loud. Needless to say he spent the better part of a month paddling his kayak on the river, and enduring much shit from ‘The Ox’ and myself for his fear of little sharks and not getting back on a ski.

So here we were, a double and a single, with the double going slow for the single and the single going slow because it was that kind of day where you didn’t feel like getting a hernia trying to go hard. So we cruised down past the rocks at the bottom of Grant Street (called Vera View by locals), not really putting a great deal of effort into anything.

Now it begins… I see a shape in the water directly below the ski at approximately the same time as John, and we both stop paddling and the single glides a bit further then stops also to see why we stopped. Realisation hits us that it is just a bit too big to be a friendly dolphin. Besides, dolphins’ tails don’t move like that… sharks’ tails move like that… big shark too… fuuuuuuuuuuck!

A bit of quiet and earnest banter ensues, with the shark at the time checking us out, then swimming lazily around to have a look at the single ski before heading off back behind us.

“What do we do, was that a shark? What do we do? What do you think we should do?”

At this time there is no real ability to shit your pants, mainly due to the fact that your sphincter has contracted so tightly!

The answers are quite obvious and any sane person would have decided the same thing (probably in far less time) – don’t fall off! Whatever you do, don’t fucking fall off!! Just get into the beach and onto dry land as fast as is humanly possible.

Being the intelligent and quick thinking lads that we are, we had actually turned the skis to have a better look at the shark as it circled around and went behind us. It was a short while after this that the above thoughts managed to get through our cerebrally shit-scared consciousnesses and we started to paddle to shore.

Now it was at this point that far too much TV hero-shit played a major part in our otherwise cowardly lives. We actually, for perhaps the first time, thought about someone else. Yeah, good timing boys, couldn’t that sort of thing kick in later on? Like when we were going through counselling, in Alice Springs maybe, and we started to think of what else we could have done besides panic like a small child having a bath, and run from the water screaming?

So as if on cue we stop and say, “What about those three swimmers we just passed just before we saw that great BIG fish? And what about these two right in front of us and the other three immediately to our left? Should someone tell them that the mother of all sharks was in the water?” Well actually, at this stage we were still in denial and thought of it as just a shark of indeterminate size – besides, he had had a good look at us and decided ‘no thanks’ – it kinda gives you that feeling of invulnerability – IDIOTS!

So off we go like some sort of knights of the round table type deal, only on water and without armour and no horses, both of which we could have done with – one as protection, the other as an offering instead of our tender and juicy selves.

Once we had told those in closer to shore (just in front of us and impeding our exit as it was), we turned and took stock of who else was in the water in the nearby vicinity (we were still just south of Vera View). Being the larger ski it was decided that John and I should go for a swimmer who was out a bit further than the rest and Gary go for the two blokes in closer and just north of us.

John and I took off and grabbed this bloke and told him that a small shark was out in the water and that there was no real danger, but that he might as well grab hold and we would take him to shore. Needless to say he didn’t just grab hold but climbed on without a word and we were off!

Now it gets a bit hairy since this is about when some of the nasty shit goes down. John and I dropped this guy off at just about the break and turned to look south to see what we could do.

I was sitting there on the ski, with my legs dangling thoughtlessly over the edge for stability, and I saw some screaming people run out of the water and some others that were in a bit deeper trying hard to get on the beach. So, with John on the back I took off, deaf to the suggestion from John that now might be a good time to see what sand felt like between one’s toes, whilst one still had feet to feel with.

Poor bastard, not only was he afraid of sharks, there was some idiot steering the bloody ski he was sitting on the back of. The impressive thing was that he didn’t do what any sane man might do and simply jump off and head for shore alone, he actually started paddling! No idea what is going on, only that he was heading into danger and that he was not in control… that’s bloody gutsy!

As we reach the main pool at North Cott, some 250-300 metres away, we see a bloke in a bright red fluorescent rashie, splashing at a shark whose fin and tail were clearly visible out of the water, it being only about waist deep!

Well at that point I was completely out of step with reality because I just started steering towards this guy, the only thought in my limited brain being that the 5 mm thick fibreglass shell that we were sitting on would be a great thing to jam in between this guy and a 4.5 metre shark! Hello! Anyone home in there?

At this point God (or whatever deity, force of nature or otherwise that you may personally believe in) intervened. A COMPLETELY crazy bloke, by the name of Brian we later found out, was swimming out to sea directly in front of us. At this point I thought, ‘Hang on buddy, the beach is the other way,’ and I proceeded to tell him so in a loud voice. He just ignored me and pointed to a large red stain in the water about 10 metres out from where we were.

In the middle of this was a lump, barely visible above the water. As Brian swam out John and I back-paddled up to him. With a bit of help from John and some instructions to me we managed the second time to begin a short, sharp trip into the beach – the first time I, feeling a massive adrenalin surge (like you do) took off way to fast for Brian to keep hold.

As we hit the break some of the boys from North Cott grabbed Brian and Ken Crew and helped/dragged them to shore.

The man in the red rashie had, during the brief period of time between us seeing Brian swim out and us paddling back to help, been left alone by the shark who went on to have a second nibble at Ken and then swam off somewhere. He managed, with some help, to get back on to shore and to an ambulance.

Ken on the other hand didn’t look so good. He was not floating when Brian had grabbed him, and no blood was coming out of the stump of his leg. The bite had occurred at the very top of the thigh, and the leg was totally missing.

The femoral artery is one of the largest vessels in the body and supplies blood to the main working muscles of our body – the legs. As such, it pumps a huge quantity of blood, nearly the total blood supply of our body can be circulated through this artery in about 1-1.5 minutes, depending on heart rate.

The time from when we had seen the shark attack to the time we finally got Ken to shore can only have been about 2 minutes, unfortunately time enough to bleed to death.

Ken would have had an elevated heart rate due to panic and the swimming session he had just completed. This would have pushed the blood out quicker than normal. He would not have felt anything however, due to the massive amounts of endorphins released when a human suffers severe trauma. He would have simply felt a massive tug on his leg then he would have quickly blacked out.

The brain cannot remain conscious for more than a few seconds without blood supply – there would not have been any pain and little realisation he was going to die.

At this stage it was over – time from start to finish, from seeing the shark at Vera View to pulling the ski up on the beach, would have been about 5 minutes.

Amazing how time seems to stretch out…

So there you go, a couple of rang-dang paddlers in the middle of something just a little bit more than they bargained for. Scary huh? Last time we give John shit about being afraid of sharks.

Anyone for Spring open water swimming?