by Dave Cone. Published in Bay Currents, November 1993
This time we can joke about it - nobody got hurt. For the second year in a row, autumn in Northern California was marked by a Great White Shark attack on a coastal kayaker.
Rosemary Johnson is a lifelong ocean sports enthusiast now living in Sonoma County. On Sunday October 10, she and three companions set off from Goat Rock Beach south of Jenner for the short paddle southward to Arched Rock (another Arch Rock lies north of Jenner). Rosemary was paddling a borrowed blue Frenzy, which is a plastic sit-on-top boat just nine feet long. Her friend Rick Larson, on his second kayak trip ever, was on a Scupper, and one of the others paddled a Kiwi, which is also a very short kayak.
As the four paddlers approached Arched Rock, Rosemary veered off from the group and headed around the rock. Rick and the others soon followed at some distance. Rosemary felt a powerful jolt and flew off the top of her boat. Rick saw a shark perhaps 16 feet long knock the boat entirely out of the water, and he believes Rosemary flew 12 to 14 feet into the air. Rosemary landed in the water, and briefly felt something solid underfoot. She thinks she landed on the shark. Wearing a wetsuit but no life vest, she had to swim in one direction to retrieve her paddle, then back the other way to get to her boat. She remained calm, believing that she had merely struck a rock! Her approaching companions were less than calm, having seen the "monster" that hit her boat. Rick states that the shark's mouth encompassed almost the whole width of the Frenzy.
Rosemary hopped back on her kayak, but immediately capsized. She re-entered a second time and attempted to head toward shore, but had difficulty controlling the boat. When she capsized again, her friends saw the bite marks on her hull and realized that her boat was tippy and unmanageable because it was taking on water. They quickly improvised a rescue, with Rosemary riding belly down and head aft on the front of Rick's Scupper-"the only boat that could take me"-and the other paddlers towing the punctured boat. The group returned to the beach without further difficulty.
Back on dry land, the party reported the incident to Sonoma State Beaches rangers and inspected the boat. The damage measures 20 by 15 inches and lies entirely below the waterline approximately beneath the seat. A jagged crack runs perpendicular to the line of tooth marks. The pattern differs from the evidence left on Ken Kelton's boat, which shows tooth marks on both deck and hull (see "The One who let us get Away". Ken's shark held his boat for five to ten seconds, while Rosemary's contact was a collision rather than a grab-and-shake. Although it's common for sharks to intentionally release their prey after the initial attack, it is also possible that this shark simply bit more than it could chew, and Rosemary's boat popped out of it's maw like a watermelon seed between your fingers.
A researcher at Bodega Bay Marine Lab told the state park folks the size of the bite marks is consistent with a Great White up to 14 feet and 1500 pounds. Photos of the bite mark have been sent to shark expert Dr. Mark Marks at Humboldt State for more detailed analysis.
Park Rangers posted the beaches from Russian River to Bodega Head with shark warnings for five days after the attack, on the reasoning that Great Whites typically feed in an area for a few days and then move on. Of the numerous press accounts of the attack, the silliest was in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, which stated that "(Head Ranger Brian) Hickey said rangers don't know if the shark attacked on the first or last day it was in the Goat Rock area." Evidently the reporter was surprised that Hickey didn't have a copy of the shark's MISTIX reservation.
Rosemary and Rick visited the October 27 BASK general meeting, where Rosemary was peppered with questions, a few of them pertinent, and awarded a shark tee shirt and refrigerator magnet. Ken Kelton, BASK's own poster child for shark survival, greeted Rosemary, saying "You and I are members of a very exclusive club." Most of us are happy to see that club remain small.
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