These are nurse sharks. The only people
afraid of these animals are folks who don't know anything about sharks.
Nurse sharks are non-aggressive scavengers, and it's extremely rare to hear of anyone
being bitten by these creatures. If you ever do get bitten, you
may be able to get a book contract out of the experience, or at least make
it into the Guinness Book of World Records as the only person ever to be bitten in
an unprovoked nurse shark attack.
Although sharks occasionally attack humans, your risk of shark attack as a
sailor is so small that it is almost trivial. Even if you sail around
the world ten times, it's highly unlikely you will ever be bothered by a
The single greatest risk you face as a
circumnavigator is falling coconuts. Each year, ten times as many people
are killed by falling coconuts as are killed by sharks. Every time you wade through shark infested waters
onto a tropical island, and stand under a coconut palm, you put your life at
risk. Twenty feet up in the air are dozens of coconut bombs ready to drop
from the sky, and if one of them hits you in the head, you are doomed.
With the nearest neurosurgeon thousands of miles away, your fractured skull
and subdural hematoma will be your ticket to paradise - at least that's
where I hope you go if you die.
These nurse sharks are cruising the waters of Staniel Cay. You can
stand on the docks and watch these guys swim by in a couple feet of
water. They skim just below the surface causing hardly a ripple.
The fish swimming with them obviously aren't concerned with the fact that they are
swimming in the company of sharks, and you shouldn't be concerned either.
In our eleven year circumnavigation, I have seen only half a dozen nurse
sharks and a couple of white tips. Since I don't engage in spear
fishing, there is nothing in my behavior that would attract sharks while I
am snorkeling. I have known only one person who was attacked by a
shark, and that person was spear fishing on Minerva Reef in the South
I don't worry about sharks because I don't do things that attract them.
But when I visit the enchanted isles of the South Pacific or Caribbean, I
keep a sharp lookout for rogue coconut trees. Unprovoked attacks on
sailors by falling coconuts is all to common.
In spite of the risks from falling coconuts, I still think it's safe to sail
around the world on a yacht. Just stay on your toes, don't worry about
the sharks, and don't stand under coconut palms. Life is good.