An Unexpected Sea Experience

By: Honey Good

“Jaws!” yelled Captain Rope Nelson, as he stood on top of the tuna tower of our deep sea 60-foot Hatteras fishing boat. When this story took place, Rope, was a man in his fifties; written up in all the books as the most revered and respected deep sea fishing captain in the State of Hawaii.

The year was 1975. Michael, my late husband, and I were vacationing in Hawaii. Every time we flew to the islands, we visited Kona, the Marlin Capital of the World, to deep sea fish. We loved the sea.

Suddenly, Rope’s voice came bellowing down from the tuna tower of our boat, “Are you strapped into your fighting jacket? It is a shark! He’s gigantic. He is going to take the tuna bait!”

“Susan, look over the side, but be careful!”

I called out, “He’s huge and looks like a gigantic piece of Mother of Pearl! I can even see the bait of the tuna head!"

The sea looked like bathtub water. It was so still and stunningly gorgeous without a ripple to be seen. My vision of the shark was breathtaking.

“Rope screamed to my husband, “Get ready Mike!!”

 I raced up the steps of the boat with my movie camera, in hand, to film ‘the fight.’

The movie, Jaws, had just been released June 1. Shark’s teeth were all the rage! Every store was selling them on a chain. I wanted an original.

The day before leaving on our spectacular marlin fishing trip down the Kona Coast to the southernmost tip of the USA, called South Point, Michael and I looked at hundreds of keepsake Jaws teeth hanging on chains in a little souvenir shop in the town of Kona.

“Want one?” he asked.

“No, not one from the shop,” I replied smiling with a twinkle in my eye! “Please catch a little shark on this trip so I can wear a shark’s tooth necklace...caught by you!”

He smiled and said, “I promise I will catch you the largest shark the people of Kona, Hawaii have ever seen!

And thus the story begins...

Five of us boarded our 60-footer, in Honokohau Harbor, for our three-day Marlin fishing trip. It was a beautiful November day. We were filled with anticipation and excitement! Michael and I were thirty years old, lovers of the ever-changing sea and excited about everything life had to offer.

We set off trolling for marlin the first day. After a day of fishing and catching we moored our boat, staying onboard as only you could, in beautiful Captain Cook’s Cove where we snorkeled in the clear Pacific waters and dined on freshly caught tuna by candlelight. It was one of the most romantic evenings of my life...the stillness of the sea, the historic cove and my husband.

The next morning we headed down to South Point, continuing to fish for marlin and tuna, enjoying the sun and the sea.

Little did we know that my request would turn into a Hemingway novel, The Old Man and the Sea, and that my husband and Rope Nelson, would share the name...Ernest Hemingway!

Fishing is an art. When you fish for marlin and tuna you troll, meaning the boat continues to move. When you fish for a shark, you stop the boat, turn off the engines, drop the lure (in our case a tuna head) and...wait! We played gin rummy as we waited and waited. We drifted for over two hours just for my shark’s tooth. Now that’s love!

Suddenly within minutes, there was a huge tug on the line as it reeled out to sea with a fish on the other end. My husband was a big strapping man. He had a Sean Connery look. He was an athlete; determined to win. The shark was not about to give up its life without a fight! It was man against beast.

The fish fought so hard racing with the hook and tuna head in his mouth out to sea. My husband fought harder to reel him back in to the boat.

He was huge! Rope knew it was a Tiger Shark and weighed a minimum of 1,000 pounds! Not exactly what we had in mind to claim a tooth for me to wear around my neck.

We had no gun onboard but we were fortunate to have two young, strong mates with us. We had a very long rope, a gaff at the end of a long pole, a great Captain Rope and a determined athlete, Michael. There was also the shark who I had named Methuselah - the man in the Bible who was reported to have lived the longest!

Methuselah struggled violently to rid himself of the hook. My husband waged war against this monster shark for over two hours! Methuselah was reeled in to our boat four times only to race out again trying to break the line and race to freedom.

The plan...

Each time the fish was reeled into the transom of the boat, Rope ran down the steps of the bridge of the boat with gaff hook in hand with the goal of putting the hook through the shark’s skull as the young mates used the hearty long rope to lasso Methuselah’s tail. Michael was to pull off the fight jacket and get out of the way and I was to continue filming the story!

There are no words to explain the exchange between man and beast. One fought to live; the others fought to win.

On the fourth and final reeling in of the tiger shark, Rope literally flew down the steps and raised his arms high above his head slamming the hook into Methuselah’s brain. The boys lassoed its tail while the tiger shark fought so hard that our sixty-foot boat shook!

I ran down the steps when the fight was over, leaned over the transom and looked into Methuselah’s eyes as they stared up at me. The shark was so beautiful. He was pure white and grey with big black eyes. I felt a strong sadness come over me about the death of this animal.

We decided to kill the shark because it was very close to the shore of Kona. We determined we were only two miles out.

The entire town of Kona came to the dock to see the catch. The story was published in the Hawaiian newspapers. The shark catch became a world record, not because of its size, twelve feet long and over one thousand pounds, but because of the weight of the line. The fact that the line did not break was a miracle and a tribute to the fishermen's and my late husband, Michael's skills.

To this day, Rope Nelson, is my Hemmingway! He killed a one thousand pound shark with nothing but a flying gaff hook! The fight was better than the fight in Jaws.

Because the shark was a world record catch, Michael donated the Jaws to the Honolulu Aquarium where the jaws sit in a lucite case with my late husband’s name, the size of the tiger shark and the test line it was caught on that beautiful, November day off the Kona Coast.

I did not get one of Methuselah’s teeth either! How could I? It would not be a World Record Catch with a missing tooth.

Fast forward...

A few years ago one of my daughter’s visited the aquarium to have a discussion with the President. She wanted to give the Aquarium a large donation and bring home the set of jaws to her children.

She was told no. The jaws had just been taken out of their lucite case, over twenty years later, and were being used in classrooms across Honolulu to teach children the history of sharks.

My memory of that day comes with a mixed emotion. I was overwhelmed by the heroism of Rope Nelson. I was proud of my husband for catching this magnificent creature and I was saddened by the killing of the tiger shark because all I could think of is seeing Methuselah’s eyes looking into mine and saying, "Please let me live."

On the other hand, children are learning about our shark to this day, thanks to Michael and Rope. I cannot forget that Methuselah was caught only a few miles off the Kona Coast; too close for comfort, as I was told.

I have led the most extraordinary life and I don’t plan to ever stop. My motto is an old one but a good one: To Live, To Laugh and To Love.

Do something GOOD today darlings: Tell your children and grandchildren they can fish to their hearts content but throw back your catch into the river, lake or sea. It is their home!

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