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That Jumpy Feeling!

Shark in the Boat Keeps Crew Nervous

February 10, 1968


Bill Valentine,
The Arizona Republic


You'd think a 22-foot boat would have enough cockpit room to hold five people plus one uninvited guest, wouldn't you?

Well, Johnny Newcomb, retired Air Force veteran from Tempe, was not a hospitable host when a hungry stranger hopped aboard his boat last weekend.

Johnny, his wife Inas; her brother, Elmer Erickson from Michigan and Lonnie and Don Hatfield were fishing for pinto off the sand dune area north of Cholla Bay.

Shown with the savage sea battler are, from left, Elmer Erickson, Inas and John Newcomb, Don and Lonnie Hatfield who were kept scrambling when the shark jumped into the cockpit.  Cholla Bay, Sonora - February, 1968 / Picture Copyright Larry K. Fox

They were offshore in water 185 feet deep. Now, Johnny had fished Cholla before and when Elmer, who was venturing on salt water for the first time, nervously remarked, "Isn't that big shark circling us getting too close?" Johnny calmly answered, "Don't worry about it, keep fishing!"

This was his first mistake.

For the next 2 hours, you wouldn't believe what transpired aboard that 22-foot boat.

The 9-foot mako shark circling the boat decided to come aboard and liven things up. In one mighty leap he cleared the gunwale and chomped down on Inas' fancy fishing hat.

Liking the taste of the hat, shark took her sun glasses as a chaser. All this while poor Inas, bent backwards over the rail taking evasive action like mad, was trying to get out from under the thrashing beast.

Johnny and Elmer tried to grab the shark's tail to see if they could get him out of the boat.

This seemed to disturb the mako so he reversed his field and bit a boat seat in two, then started sampling sundry items such as tackle boxes, boat hooks, etc.

Meanwhile, everyone was wallowing about in search of a suitable weapon to discourage the shark with. Johnny triumphantly grabbed a hand axe and charged.

Every time he hit the shark, the beast would bite off another chunk of the boat interior. Finally tiring, John turned the bloody axe over to Elmer who got one good lick in before the shark, thoroughly angry by now at this inhospitable treatment, grabbed the axe out of his hand and commenced chopping up what he couldn't bite through.

Dean Feagins and Les McClatchy, fishing nearby in another boat, roared over to see if they could join the fun. They transferred the two women and Don Hatfield to their boat to lessen the somewhat crowded and bloody condition of the cockpit of Johnny's boat.

After the Battle -- Windshield wrecked, top gone, interior chewed thoroughly, the 22-foot boat was the battle scene between a fishing group and a nine-foot shark in the Gulf of California.  Cholla Bay, Sonora - February, 1968 / Click through for picture originally published in the Arizona Republic / Pictures Copyright Larry K. Fox

All John wanted to do was to get the bloody boat wrecker back into the water. So he gingerly slipped a loop of anchor rope over the shark's active tail and, with the other boat pulling on the rope, they tried to slip the still gnashing mako overboard.

It didn't work. In fact the shark thought the rope was spaghetti and treated it as such.

By this time the convertible top of the boat was ripped to shreds, the windshield was a shambles, and the cockpit and remaining seats were decorated with wall to wall mako juice.

The good Lord had his arms around these five people and they are all lucky to have been nimble enough to keep out of range of this killer's slashing jaws.

They finally limped back into Cholla with the still quivering shark as sole occupant of the cockpit1.

Johnny loaded the rig on his trailer and informed everyone within earshot that he had a slightly used 22-foot boat for sale cheap with a highly decorative interior and that the next time anyone spotted him with a fishing rod in his hand, it would be sitting on a canal bank somewhere a long ways from the nearest shark water.

February 10, 1968
Bill Valentine

Copyright (c) 1968, The Arizona Republic
Posted with permission


1The curator of the Cortez Chronicles was first alerted that something was up when someone in the group noticed a lone giraff2 start up and head out on the Cholla Bay mud flat toward the surf. The boat dock, normally very busy at high tide with the surf lapping at it's pilings, was at this hour completely idle. Giraffs were regularly employed at high tide, but most people there that day had never seen one take off for the surf at an extreme low tide, which was one to two miles distant. That this boat was coming in at low tide was alone enough to generate a good deal of attention.

2A giraff is a two-story vehicle, handmade from two car frames, with engine, controls and driver's seat mounted on the upper frame and drive and stearing shafts crossing from the upper frame to the wheels on the lower frame. Such a vehicle is driven into the water with a boat trailer in tow to a sufficient depth to launch or retrieve the boat without submersing engine and driver.



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