As I write this there has been another report of a fatal shark attack off the coast of California and again the victim was a surfer. The news report said it was likely to be a Great White and that a surf board with fins slicing through the waves could easily be mistaken for a tasty morsel by a hungry predator.
To put all the surfers out there at ease, the report also said that shark attacks are extremely rare: from 2006 to 2010 there were only three fatal shark attacks in US waters. Considering that more than 200 million people visit US beaches each year, the number of shark attacks is tiny. Of those millions of beach goers, about 40 are attacked by sharks, while more than 30,000 need to be rescued from surfing accidents.
To put this into perspective, there are approximately 25 million sharks killed by humans for every one human killed by a shark. So if you believe in karma, human attacks are likely to increase.
Charlie often gets asked questions by his charterers concerning shark attacks, monster storms or other harrowing experiences.
“What was the most frightening experience you had while sailing on your world cruise?” asked one inquisitive young lady.
“Being attacked by a transvestite in Singapore,” replied Charlie.
It is very rare to see sharks in the BVI. The reason is that all the large pelagic fish including sharks feed at the ‘drop off’ several miles from the islands. Close to the islands there is nothing for them to feed on. Charlie has seen Black Tips off Anegada, a Lemon Shark attacking a turtle and Nurse Sharks taking a siesta. In the Pacific it’s a different story, sharks are much more prevalent and deep water often comes right up to the edge of the atolls.
When Charlie was cruising the Pacific in the 1980s he heard about the yam festival at Pentecost Island, Vanuatu, in the South Pacific. It is a unique festival where young men jump off a man-made tower hundreds of feet high, head first, with nothing but vines tied to their ankles. It was, and still is, a death defying performance whereby a successful jumper must be so exact as to have his hair touch the ground as the vines stretch to their very limit, all done to please the god of the harvest (and to prove that he has the biggest cojones in the village). It was, in fact, the forerunner of bungy-jumping.
Charlie had to see this so he sailed into a small bay in the lee of the island and anchored. As was his habit he dived down to inspect the anchor and the possible arc of swing to make sure the bottom had no obstructions. As he was doing this he noticed a throng of islanders on the shore all waving and making quite a din. Charlie was overwhelmed at this enthusiastic greeting and later, when he rowed ashore, he thanked the local chief for the wonderful welcome, “Well,” said the chief, “they were actually waving and yelling at you to get out of the water. Last week, right there, we lost one of our children to a shark attack!”