Death has a quirky way of refocusing us on the present and almost always spurs thoughts and memories of “the good ole’ days.” This morning, I learned of the passing of the legendary talk-show host Larry King. Normally, the demise of celebrities and other notables doesn’t stop me in my tracks or cause much, if any, reflection, but this was different.
You see, in the summer of 2014, I was helping to promote a docudrama television series that I’d debuted in called “Catching Hell.” The show aired exclusively on The Weather Channel and portrayed the trials and tribulations of commercial spearfishermen (and WOMAN a/ka/ ME) in the Gulf of Mexico.
As a part of the show’s promotion, a fellow cast member (Ritchie “The Great One” Zacker), the show’s executive producer (Poull Brien) and I flew to New York City to interview with the iconic King. The whole to-do was pretty exciting for this small-town, seaside girl, and I remember feeling nervous and fidgety as I was prepped for the interview and sitting for “hair and makeup.” I mean, it was LARRY-FREAKING-KING! Regardless of how you feel about the man personally, just thinking about the enormity and length of his career which spanned five decades and included an estimated 50,000 interesting and amazing people from all walks of life that he interviewed, was awe-inspiring and mind-boggling enough to give even the most composed individual at least a bit of the jitters.
I clearly recall the furtive glances, the hushed whispers of “he’s here! he’s here!” when King sauntered into the studio. And then, there he was in his trademark shirt sleeves and suspenders and oversize, black-rimmed glasses, smiling and shoulder patting, shaking hands, until finally taking his seat next to me. Wow! Larry King wanted to ask ME questions! What a thrill! I’d read once that King bragged that he rarely prepared for an interview, and so it seemed that instead of learning about spearfishing on his own, he preferred to ask questions and engage in curious and playful banter with us. The dialog with King, his voice, the usual raspy rumble, was upbeat and amusing, his questions brief and friendly.
I remember the interview well, but I can’t watch the video again. I’m embarrassed about how insanely nervous and completely star-struck I was! Despite my self-consciousness, however, I am extremely proud to have had the experience, the opportunity, and now, more than ever, I truly cherish the memory of it all so here’s a link to the "Catching Hell" interview in honor of the original “Great One” Larry King.
Always load your gun on the drop....! (I KNOW this ) even if it looks like sand....! But yesterday, I didn't.
When I got near the bottom in 98fsw, I saw a glint of silver out of the corner of my eye and the mayhem commenced!
After I finished fumbling with the spear bands the fish was starting to swim away so I didn't feel like I had time to load the second band. I wish I had! You can see in the video that I tried to give the fish the limit of my line by holding on loosely (because I didn't want the spear to pull out) and instead, yep, he swam away with my gun!
I guess it was my lucky day though (maybe it was the banana on board??) because after some wranglin' and wraslin' - (didja see me try to skewer him with the spare shaft? Yeah, that didn't go so well!) - I finally managed to coerce him to the surface. And of course, a bull shark showed up shortly after the camera turned off, but so did my dive buddy!! So even though I had a yard sale MESS going on, David Jack had my back!
The video is a little long, but those that are interested will watch, I'm sure!! I wanted to post it because I'm proud that I kept my cool and landed the fish! ...
NOTE TO SELF: Stay calm, breathe, THINK! Stay calm, breathe, THINK! Stay calm, breathe.... THINK....!
“Get over here!!!” My words cut through the cloudless afternoon sky like the razor-sharp teeth in the hungry beasts below us. Plunging my face back into the water, I watched all three sharks circling and continue to jockey into position for another attempt at Mike’s grouper.
Only about six minutes before this moment, we shared the ocean with the sandbars and they weren’t a problem at all. Granted, any time you’re spearfishing and a large shark circles you about every 45 seconds, you pay attention. But it wasn’t until Mike motioned for my speargun that things got .... interesting.
We both hunt with Blacktip spearguns, but for some reason, the slide ring on Mike’s gun that converts it from a freeshaft to a line gun wasn’t fitting over the tip of his spear shaft. I knew he’d found a nice fish up under the ledge and needed to get him out when he motioned for me to give him my pink-handled speargun. We swapped guns, and I took up patrol, hovering about four feet above him while he went to work. I heard the gun go off and saw the commotion of dust and debris flying out and knew the fight was on. I surveyed the scene for company and all was clear. But was it?!?
As I turned back to check on Mike, I was shocked to see that a seven-foot sandbar had snuck in from behind both of us and was trying to get under the ledge with Mike, about six inches from his right shoulder! I screamed and jumped on the shark’s back, stabbing it and shooing it away. But he didn’t go far. He darted only a few feet away and came back in again for another charge at Mike. I cut him off with another jab and this time he veered off a bit further. I turned around to check on Mike again and he finally had the thrashing grouper in his hands, and to my dismay, another shark was coming up behind him, straight at his back. So, I charged at him too. It was all happening so fast!
I reached for the powerhead that I have mounted under the stock of my speargun and realized in a quick moment, “Shit! Mike is using my speargun!!” And here they came again. Jab! Poke! Jab! SHOVE! They were coming at us from all directions and one particularly pesky set of teeth started chewing on the end of my speargun while I was trying to stab at her! I was looking for a break in the action so I could swim to Mike and get the powerful protection we so desperately needed, but they just kept coming. And now there were three.
Mike and I have been dive buddies for several years and have discussed a going-up method that works for us: We face each other. “You watch what’s behind me, and I watch what’s behind you.” Ascending in this way allows us to be able to communicate if we need to. Massive amounts of trust are required to do this when you know you’re surrounded by aggressive sharks. We did the best we could and just dealt with the situation moment by moment. We were a committed team and neither one of us was backing down without a fight. Thankfully, it worked because we made it back to the boat with no injuries AND the fish!! Mike Abbott, I’ll be your dive buddy any day of the week, sir!!
Yesterday was filled with ALL sorts of adventure: Rough seas (it was supposed to be one foot or less and we had four to sixers!?) colder than anticipated water (can you say 71?!) Big lobsters and big red grouper, big stringers, white squalls, lightning and storms, broken regulators, and a slip-and-face-smack at the boat ramp that almost required a trip to the emergency room.
This is my life. What a great day!!
I’m going to share a secret. When I was a new diver, I was afraid of sharks. I mean REALLY afraid of sharks! I was secretly convinced that every toothy fish in the ocean was on a personal mission to seek me out, wherever I was in the ocean, and ambush me when I never even knew they were there. Thousands of dives and over a decade of underwater experience later, I understand the truth about these apex predators and look back at those old feelings of fear and understand that they came from what can only be described as inexperience.
Picture me: a relatively new speara, with my gleaming and untarnished gear cruising along the reef on a spectacularly blue water day. I’m peering into the rocks and ledges of the underwater terrain when up ahead of me, I spot a large nurse shark resting quietly in the sand. “I won’t bother you, if you won’t bother me,” I thought.
Many will read this blog and scoff, “It’s a nurse shark. They don’t even have any teeth! What’s the big deal?” Well, let me assure you that nurse sharks get hungry too! Just a few weeks prior on my dive trip to the Marquesas I’d been harassed and followed to the surface by a 12-foot nurse shark because she wanted my bag of lobsters. I respect ALL marine life and appreciate it when they respect my personal space too.
As I neared the resting shark, I’d intended to quietly float past and be on my merry way. Suddenly, the shark began to thrash and struggle against the rocks and I realized in a quick moment that she was hooked in the mouth. The fishing line was a messy web of trash tangled on the reef. I kicked against current for a moment and watched the creature fight and battle for freedom and then, exhausted, drop to the sand to regain its strength. I turned away from the shark and allowed the current to push me down the reef away from the struggle, but kept looking back over my shoulder to watch the scene unfold. The shark’s efforts were futile and the more he thrashed about, the more ensnared he became. The mermaid within me took over and couldn’t let this comrade of the sea just suffer and die. Ugh. I had to do something, I knew.
I descended all the way to the bottom of the ocean floor and crept back along the craggy bottom, pulling myself against the current and back to the shark. When I was about 15 feet away, the shark, sensing its tenuous position, tried to flee from me and darted under a nearby ledge. “This is funny,” I thought. “You’re afraid of me.”
Since she was now cornered and fearful, I was unsure of what her reaction would be to my approach and attempt at assistance. I did my best to put rocks and boulders between us while I slashed at the snarled fishing line and shoved it into my BC pockets. Finally, it was time to cut her free. I crawled ever so slowly over the rocks that were separating us and with my gleaming dive knife, reached out closer and closer towards the shark’s mouth. I began to fret. What if the shark tried to defend itself from a perceived attack and lashed out at me? “At least I have a knife in my hand,” I thought.
With a flick of my wrist, the line popped free and the shark darted in the opposite direction towards freedom. I hooted a silent “hooray!” for a successful rescue and called after her, “Please tell all your friends that I saved you! And maybe you can put in a good word for me – I’m an "ocean loveher!!”
I'm a 40-something self-proclaimed mermaid that loves adventure and travel and LIFE. I try to live each day so that when I get to the end of this journey, I will know that I lived it fully. I want to say "I LIVED" with no regrets.