by Al Martinez
Unexpected summer thunderstorms burdened our crossing, but we figured it out and after four hours, arrived to Port Lucaya. We did a little BBQ with the boys and went to bed early, ready for Saturday morning to come.
Saturday started out great; everyone was shooting big fish and by midday we had several big grouper, mutton and hog snapper on the boat. Any experienced captain and diver stays aware of the tides and water temperature. Around noon, I noticed the tide had switched to outgoing; I told the boys to be aware. The tide had changed and I knew that big sharks would come in from offshore and deeper reefs. Sharks will do this to follow the scent of blood or fish coming from inshore during the outgoing tide.
Nonetheless, we carried on with our day. As expected, sharks started showing up to the reefs we were hunting. At this point we just began moving reef to reef, avoiding the sharks as they showed up to our party. We arrived to a new reef that was several miles away from the last reef we shot a fish; we knew sharks would eventually come, but only once we started shooting fish.
At this point we were confident we were alone. I jumped in with my buddy Piero Pecari and immediately saw a couple of big hogs off the grass around the patch reef. I dropped down to the bottom, which was around 30 feet, lined up, and took a six-foot free shot with my Hawaiian sling. The fish kicked twice and dropped dead around ten feet from where I shot it. On the same breath, I stretched out my arm to grab my shaft that was laying on the bottom. Suddenly, I got a big impact to the face.
I was completely blindsided. It felt as if a truck had hit me. After the initial impact, it seemed as if the shark was just as stunned; he started to thrash his head right to left, left to right and caught me with his bottom jaw, causing a few lacerations on my neck.
I obviously realized something had happened. My mask flew off and I was lying at the bottom. I kicked off the floor and shot to the surface as soon as possible. My buddy Piero, who had seen the whole thing go down from above me, was screaming for the boat to come get us. Since the water was full of blood, we were in a hurry to get out. To be blatantly honest, I never saw the shark. I didn’t see it prior to attack nor after; it all happened so fast, it’s mind blowing. The shark came out nowhere and in all my 20 years of diving, this has never happened to me. Usually I’ll see the shark and give him his space, but this time I didn’t even have that opportunity. According to Piero, there were two bull sharks around seven feet in length. One came directly to attack me while the other went straight for the hog I had just shot. It was almost as if they were working as a tag team for their dinner.
Luckily, we were prepared for a situation like this. My cousin, Dr. Antonio Portela, was on board and we had equipment for me to get stitched up immediately. After he assessed the situation and confirmed that the shark hadn’t bit a main artery we were relieved and went back to shore.
As someone who has always been assertive and fearless underwater, this experience taught me the importance of staying aware. Don’t be scared of the sharks you can see, be scared of the ones you can’t. If you ask me, Im not 100% sure what caused this attack, but I do know that sharks have become more comfortable around humans in the past few years. These creatures are wild and there is a lot we don’t know or understand about them.
People keep calling me and telling me, “that must’ve been the worst day of your life.” I answer them saying, “it was actually one of the luckiest days of my life. Thankfully, I got out with only a broken nose and some stitches. It could’ve been a lot worse.” I advise all my fellow divers to keep doing what they’re doing; stay confident, but know your surroundings – understand the temperature, the tides and the areas you dive. Respect the water and the things that reside in it and be prepared in case something does happen.