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Around The Sun: Swimming With A Shark

Steve Harrison goes swimming in the sea off Bali and encounteres his worst nightmare.

Of course there are no sharks in the waters around Bali. The guy who told me this had an insane grin on his face.

Jacquie and I had escaped from Bahrain and now were off to explore the Far East. We went to Kuta in Bali. In those days it wasn’t the backpacker hell it is today. You could count the foreign visitors on the fingers of two hands. The place was paradise, and cheap as chips. We swam every day, drank ever night and ate the most wonderful fresh seafood. We loved the beach, lounging on pristine sand. It was better than great.

Of course I had seen the film Jaws. I had also seen Richard Attenborough's wildlife documentaries and read a book by a diver called Fox who had almost been bitten in two by a Great White shark. I recalled library books I had seen when I was young, books showing people who had been injured in shark attacks. I was morbidly fascinated by the creatures.

I asked the question again. "Seriously, are there sharks in the waters around here?'' The same answer came back. "Definitely not. Not even small ones.''

So we went in the water up to our waists, to the point where the surf breaks, and boy was it breaking on that particular day! One moment the water was nearly up to my chest. The next, I was getting sucked down, as though someone had pulled the plug and I was heading for the drain. Waves dumped on us. It was like getting hit by a freight train. I was taken down, given a sandpaper rub, then I would come up struggling for air. This was repeated over and over. I was young, vigorous very healthy, but the experience was exhausting.

Beyond the surf, about 500 meters from shore, I could see a guy swimming in calm water. I decided to go out beyond the breakers. He had the right idea. I dived under the waves, swimming as hard as I could, but it took me ages to get clear of the breakers. Eventually, when I did reach calm water, the shore seemed a long way away.

I looked out to sea, About 200 meters away the guy was swimming in a relaxed way. Using my best crawl stroke I headed towards him. Now it was quiet. The surf had been deafening, but we were well beyond those thundering breakers. Occasionally I paused to look back at the disappearing shoreline.

Only another 50 meters to go. I called out to him. "Hi,'' he replied. "I'm from Australia. I'm....''

He let out a terrible scream.

He began to swim fast. I had never seen anyone swim faster.

Then I saw what had been my deepest fear. I was still looking out to sea. A couple of bus lengths away from me the dorsal fin of a shark was showing above the surface.

It was huge!

The shark swam slowly and deliberately in a semi-circle. Then it disappeared beneath the surface. Obviously it had sized me up for its dinner and would now attack from underneath me.

I had read that one should keep calm when a shark was in the vicinity. That one should face the shark and remain perfectly still.

I did nothing of the kind. I tried to scream, but nothing would come out of my mouth. I swam as I had never swum before, flailing, all arms and legs. It felt as though I wasn't moving.

I had read that a shark's teeth are so sharp that you don't feel its bite. I didn't seem to be making progress. Had it already bitten off my legs? No time to check. I ploughed onwards.

I was bargaining with God. I was prepared to promise anything. I would be His missionary. I would stop being greedy, selfish, lecherous, promiscuous... Please, please God, get me out of this. Give me back my legs so that I can walk and run and dance...

They say there are no atheists in the trenches. Let me assure you that being close to a shark will turn you into an instant believer.

Eventually I reached the security of the breakers, even if they did once again pick me up and grind me into the sand. Then I stood up. I still had my legs!

I ran up the beach yelling "Shark, shark!''

The few tourists that were around looked at me as though I had lost my senses.

Jacquie was looking worried. Had I gone mad?

Then someone else yelled "Shark!'' The shadow of the creature could now be seen. Huge, dark, menancing.

I recall Jacquie saying something about the size of the thing, and declaring that she was not going in the water again.

Next day we avoided the beach. We hired a motorcycle and rode to Kintamani, a village on the rim of a volcano.

That evening we sat around a kerosene lamp with a couple of other adventurous souls. We exchanged travelers' tales. One said that a couple of days earlier his surf board had been bitten in two by a huge shark. He didn't intend to go in the water again, at least not for a very long time.

We had reached the same decision.


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