Gary Rinsem

Navy Shark Fishing
by Gary Rinsem
A 1984 Journal

  • The Big Evil Shark

“You know what the shark said to the clown?”
“You taste funny.”
(but... I like old dumb jokes)

We're anchored off the coast of Oman. Seems like years, but it's only been about four weeks. The food is far beyond the usual bad. The only excitement has been the rumor that the anchor drifted in the storm and we moved to a whole new place, a whopping hundred yards away. I don't believe the rumor, how could they know we moved a hundred yards?

(I now suspect our ship had very early GPS, but it may have been secret technology at that time. There's no other way they could have known we moved such a small amount while at anchor in the open ocean.)

That wasn't bitching, just setting the mood. It's actually been fun sometimes, hanging out on the ship with no work but busy work. A few shops have had things to do. Inside the ship is cleaner than ever before and we got mail call.

My favorite hang out since the day I checked aboard, the fantail towing capstan is gross now. Can't sit there, the paint is nearly gone and it's constantly covered in gooey grimy fish guts. Every man on the ship is out there fishing twenty-four hours a day. They use my smoking spot to clean fish. Every shop on the ship with an oxy torch in it, cooks fish on a grill made with a piece of stainless sheet metal. It stinks everywhere. OK, done setting the mood.

Kelly and I were smoking on the fantail. The fishing is good, some of them have multiple hooks along twenty feet of line and pull in several fish at once. Anything under five pounds is used for bait. They complain constantly about sharks taking the fish and their line. Hooks are getting scarce on board.

The Ford Better Idea light went on above Kelly's head. Really, I saw it happen, he went in an instant from weeks of monotone boredom, to excited and talking fast. He wanted to be king fisherman and immediately hatched a plan. Kelly expected me to help. I got nothin else.

First up, need a hook. The pic shows what happened to the hook. It took a day of begging a length of stainless rod, then forming it with limited tools for the job. The boiler shop is not equipped for this. Next up, Kelly imagined a big shark would bite through a rope fishing line. We needed stainless cable and hardware to connect hook and line to it. More comshsaw was required, we got screwed in the deal, but the end justified the means. Rope for fishing line came as easy as bait, deck has too much of it.

Our assembled rig was baited with a five pounder nobody knows the name of. It sank to the bottom and laid like an anchor. The water is only a hundred feet deep. Discouraged and laughed at after two days of holding bait at fifty feet, one of us got another Ford brighter idea, garbage bags! Bobbers! Float line, hook and bait off in the current where the sharks are!

Now more than before the source of laughter for half the ship, air filled garbage bags along the length kept our fishing line afloat. Several bags at the leader held the hook and bait about ten feet deep. Perfect for shark fishing. Hundreds of feet of rope paid out to the bitter end. Borrowed binoculars looked for action on the bobber. The odds looked good and laughter became unimportant with hope for success.

It was a long and soon disappointing day. It took an hour to pull in the line and rig new bags, when it sank. It sank more than it floated. Fortunately the weather is great and we still had nothing else to do.

Late that night a bunch of the fishermen were getting fed up with us. They complained about every move we made. I chock it up to nerves after sitting here bored for so many weeks. I went to the head and heard a commotion on my return.

The fantail was packed with too much excitement to be anything else. People above on the flight deck were yelling down every detail they imagined seeing off in the darkness. Kelly had the towing winch running with several turns of fishing line around it. Deckapes said it will only work on that big capstan, with big rope. We started pulling it in by hand.

An hour passed, everybody pitched in pulling on the line. A big box of leather work gloves appeared from ship's stores, but didn't help. It was just blister time. Constant advice flowed like beer in Alongapo, mostly worried the monster would shake the hook.

Exhausted, us and the shark, a couple guys rigged a floodlight over the side. It seemed like the entire crew stared down to the water. For an hour we debated what to do next. He'd just die if we cut the line, with all that stainless cable hanging out of his mouth. A hundred opinions helped very little.

About to give up and cut him lose, there was activity on the flight deck. Guys from the riggers loft were setting up a rig to land the shark. It was pure boredom fueled ambition. I lost track of how many pulled on the rope, it changed every minute as they got sore hands and tired arms. I was also too involved to keep track of how long it took or what time it was when he hit the deck.

Hanging there, suspended from the flight deck, the ship's photographer showed up to take pictures. He had to shove men away to get a shot, it seemed nobody could stop poking the shark with their fingers. A chief suggested calling in the cooks, it was enough to give half the crew a treat for lunch.

I'm guessing word got to officer's country because it's the only time anyone ever saw the XO on deck after midnight. There was a strange hush that rolled through the crowd like a wave, starting from where he approached. I was near, it was obvious he was resisting laughing, looking at a giant bunch of worn out half dressed sailors all staring at a giant shark, hanging off the flight deck. It really was an odd thing to see. The XO asked who was in charge. Kelly looked like he'd die as a hundred fingers pointed at him. There was a quick comment to Kelly about it being improper, followed by an order to get the shark over the side as soon as possible.

I have no doubt every officer was up fifteen minutes later, in the wardroom laughing as they listened to the XO's story. I have no doubt because many of them casually wandered by soon after. Maybe a coincidence during the day, but never at that time.

With the hook saved, the shark was soon splashed. The boiler shop got a visit from the photographer the next day. He only brought one print and gave it to Kelly. Too busy at the time to think about my camera, I took a picture of that picture and one of Kelly holding the hook. Kelly had celebrity status for a few days, but it's mostly forgotten now.