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22 December 2011

Kayak angler survives shark attack

IN AN EXTRAORDINARY incident off Noordhoek yesterday (December 21, 2011), an angler and the kayak he was fishing from were knocked clear out the water by a marauding great white shark. Kayak fishermen often get visited by curious sharks while they are fishing but this is believed to be one of only a few ever where one of these super-predators has actually attacked a kayak.

Werner Coetzee, 35, and the front of the boat he was in, were knocked about 2.5m out the water by the force of the attack, which occurred shortly after dawn, 2kms off Noordhoek, on Port Elizabeth’s Wild Side.

It seems it was only Coetzee’s presence of mind, his emergency kayaking skills and the shark’s distaste for fibreglass that saved him from death.
A seasoned kayak fisherman, he took up the pastime in the Southern Cape, where he lived until moving up to Port Elizabeth just last month to take up a position as territory sales manager for Coca Cola.

He and three friends launched yesterday at 4.40am and paddled out, guided by their fish finders and the GPS reading of where the last best spot was for catching geelbek. They fanned out about 300m from each other and he was in the process of getting out his anchor from the hatch in front of him, when the attack happened, he said.

“The shark came from underneath me, the same way it klaps a seal. I never say him until it happened. I have a Pinnacle kayak which takes a big punch, but he knocked me and the front of the kayak about two and a half metres minimum out the water.

“I don’t know how many Gs we’re talking about but my kayak and all my tackle weighs 38kgs and I weigh 102kgs – so you can imagine.
“There was a deep sea skiboat about 200m away from me and afterwards they told me they heard the sound when he shark hit and it was like a gunshot, but more bulky.”
Coetzee said that in the couple of moments as he was flying through the air, he had no comprehension of what had happened, such was the speed and surprise of the attack.

“I landed in the water and the kayak landed next to me, upside down. That was when I saw it was a shark. It was about 4m long. He was just a few feet away from me, biting into the front of the kayak.

“We eyeballed each other and I saw him change his attention from the kayak to me. Then I started pulling myself onto the hull.”

It is not easy to get onto a capsized kayak but it was a manoeuvre Coetzee and his friends had practiced dozens of times especially launching through the surf a Wilderness, he said.

“I think that was what saved me. I had this very clear thought that okay, he is going to bite me. But if I can make myself into a sandwich flat on top of the kayak then he will have to bite the kayak as well, and in that way I will prevent him from killing me.”

In the couple of split second as he was hauling himself out the water, the shark came away from the front of the kayak and was making for him, he said.

“By that time I was out the water. I was gripping the straps on the side but my limbs were not hanging in the water.

“I lay there for about a minute, although it seemed like much longer, waiting for the next hit. But it never came.”

By this time, Coetzee’s friends had realised what was going on and had paddled up to him. The surfski skipper, who had heard the initial hit and seen the splash and then the shape of the shark moving off, had also motored up along side.

They loaded the damaged kayak onto the bigger boat and then moved in convoy back to the shore, with the other kayakers paddling alongside for safety.

Coetzee said he believed he had also been saved by the shark’s initial bite into the kayak.
“He obviously didn’t like the taste of fibreglass and that’s why he moved off.
He said he was quite sure it was a white shark.

“I’ve been out fishing deep sea since I was six years’ old and I’ve seen all the different kinds. I know what these guys look like.”

He lost two rods and his pair of Oakley sunglasses in the attack, but this was nothing compared to being let off with his life and the rest of his R10000 rig, he said. Besides the bite marks in the front of the kayak, the main damage is from the initial impact, which left a large indentation. It can be repaired but will need a lot of work, he said.

Having been ferried back to shore, Coetzee drove home to Woodlands, had a cup of coffee and a shower, and then went to work. While the attack was happening he had had “no time to be scared”, but afterwards he was shaken, he admitted.

He said he had often in the past, fishing from his kayak in the Southern Cape, been visited by sharks, including great whites.

“They are obviously curious but nothing serious ever happened and I was the guy who said, ag don’t worry about them.”

This is not something he will be saying anymore, he laughed, but he bears no grudges against his attacker.

“It was a random attack, perhaps linked to the presence of lots of geelbek, which run November to April.

“I have been humbled, but I am going back as soon as possible. My family don’t like it but I’m going with the belief that you have to back in the saddle, and lightening doesn’t strike twice. What chance is there that this would happen to me again?”

This determination is not bravado but because he is passionate about kayak fishing, he said.
“It’s the intimacy with the sea that I love. It’s the time when I can best connect with God.”
Bayworld shark expert Dr Malcolm Smale said it was likely the shark mistook the kayak for food.
His colleague Dr Matt Dicken said he was aware of a handful of similar incidents, but it was not common.

- PE Herald