Large creatures under the sea give me the creeps. Grouper startle me, barracuda give me the heebie-jeebies, and sharks…well, sharks make masonry bricks come out of my ass. I wish like hell they didn’t scare me; I would have a bad-boy T-shirt printed up that says, “Ain’t Scared of Sharks.” I could rotate wearing it with my other bad-boy T: “Runs with Scissors.”

In the murky waters of a harbor, a bull shark, common to Key West, Florida waters, is about the size and shape of a dolphin or porpoise. There is a key difference that serves well to distinguish between the two when encountering either in low-visibility conditions: A dolphin undulates vertically, up and down, as it swims. A shark undulates horizontally, from side to side. This becomes important later in the story.

Chuck Studley and I knelt momentarily on the bottom of Calda Channel just as the channel current started to build to a flood. It was about time to get to shore, as there was no negotiating the current at all when it was full ebb or flood at seven knots (eight+ MPH). We huddled together to count how many lobsters we had amassed. Our limit was 26 by license, and we struggled a bit to count them inside the mesh catch-bag we toted.

Suddenly, something stuck its long rostrum over my right shoulder—touching nose to bag for a split second—then left. I was paralyzed as I turned to see a sea creature larger than myself swimming away…undulating up and down as it departed. It was just a curious dolphin, popping in to see for itself what was holding our interest.

My heart was galloping but I was at ease following my recognition. Chuck and I gave each other a “F*** it, there’s enough in there —let’s just go!” acknowledgment and flippered like Flipper toward the safety of the shore. With no B-Jesus left in either one of us, we made our departure to clean and divide our catch. B-Jesus gone notwithstanding, it had been a great day.

Author (left) and Chuck Studley at the culmination of a decent bug hunt in Key West, Florida. It was on this same day that the dolphin poked his nose in to see what we were up to (photo courtesy of the private Charles Studley collection).

“Boys, there’s a sunken vessel in the Coast Guard harbor, and we’re going to salvage it today,” our senior sergeant happily announced. I had never done a salvage operation before, so I was stoked. Mine was a military tactical diver profession, not a utility-based one that involved salvaging sunken boats. Our plan was going to entail lift bags—bags inflated with air at depth that would gradually pull the vessel from the harbor bottom to very near the surface. A boat under power would then tow the vessel. The forward momentum and the vessel’s contour would drive it higher and push the water out of the back.

“Wow, a shipwreck dive…dude, I wonder if we’ll find any sunken treasure!” one of the lads cracked.

That was Chuck Studley’s cue. “You looking for treasure? I got yer jewels right here, pal!” he bellowed as he grabbed his penile package. Never a missed opportunity for Chuck.