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Boating Fail

An ill-conceived boating adventure ends as expected.

February 23, 2021
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Steve Haefele illustration
“A head bump by the curious animal delivered the unbalanced adventurer into the water, from which he shot like a breaching orca back onto his kayak.” Steve Haefele

A captain pal recently directed me to a fishing video on the web. The film was shot from a self-described adventurer’s helmet cam as he was bobbing some miles offshore atop a plastic kayak. A shark larger than his vessel was circling the craft. I thought of Capt. Sam Quint’s boat Orca in the movie Jaws.

The fellow delivered a breathless blow-by-blow defense and stabbed at the animal with his paddle while the shark cut through the bloody bait slick the fisherman had provided. Was this guy fishing for sharks? From a kayak?

A head bump by the curious animal delivered the unbalanced adventurer into the water, from which he shot like a breaching orca back onto his kayak. While the shark was counting on the surf-and-turf special, the adventurer was left counting his limbs.

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Smart skippers I know do their best to avoid adventure. I learned this lesson from my late father-in-law. He was an avid fisherman and skipper of aircraft. He took to the skies for Pan Am and ended his career at the yoke of a 747. Over 33,000 flying hours, he never had an issue he couldn’t fly through, and he was never chased by a UFO. He preferred what he called “boring” flights.

I have always followed my father-in-law’s example, whether it’s dragging bait across the Gulf Stream or flipping flies in the Florida Keys. We always have a plan and execute it using the proper equipment. Backing down hard on a 500-pound fish to catch it on a reel designed for plucking rainbow trout from a burbling brook never seemed like sport to us. Drifting about on what is essentially a 10-foot-long plastic lure in the Gulf Stream is neither sport nor adventure. It’s stupidity.

I’ve had near misses with idiots on pool toys hidden in 4-foot seas a mile offshore, but the Gulf Stream? If you run out of steam, the current will eventually take you to England—if a tanker doesn’t macerate you on the way. In the video, this adventurer is left shouting obscenities and defending himself against a 12-foot shark with his lightweight plastic propulsion system.

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Unfortunately, Jaws inspired a generation of Quint wannabes hoping to adorn their walls with bleached, toothy trophies. This makes as much sense to me as brewing an allegedly performance-enhancing bouillabaisse from the decapitated animal’s dorsal fin. I’ve stared in awe at whale sharks filter-feeding in the indigo waters offshore and have been startled by huge bull sharks appearing skiffside in knee-deep water. But I never fished for them. There is no reason to.

So what could possibly inspire a fellow to go to sea atop a 10-foot roto-molded piece of plastic? Adventure? I don’t think so. Web clicks? Please. Sadly, it seems the “sport” has gone viral, and it may have already wasted the US Coast Guard’s valuable time.

In Jaws, Chief Martin Brody, played by Roy Scheider, suggests to Quint that Orca might not be enough vessel: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” he says with wide eyes.

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How about: You need an actual boat. Period.

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