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 Published in Submerge Magazine The Extreme Edition April/May 2013

On Christmas day, a while ago, things went a little off plan. We scuba divers had descended to the sound of a beating drum, made by the Zanzibari crew of the yacht we had chartered. The drums were a local custom to attract fish. They also attracted reef sharks now accustomed to the fact that drum beats and tasty fish go together. We were deploying this traditional technique to be able dive with the ‘reefies’ – curious yet benign animals at worse. I had dived with bigger sharks before – including Tigers and Whites - without a worry, so reef sharks were no issue. Except this time there were no little reef sharks but silvertips - big barrel bodied beasts with attitudes of rabid Rottweilers. Worse, their mirth at having found no fish was taken out on the one other species in the vicinity – us, whose slow ungainly movements probably convinced them we had eaten all the fish. Like a bad B-grade movie the silvertips began to circle in ever-decreasing arcs. At times their jaws would gnash and their heads thrash from side to side. The message was clear: “Beat it! Or else…” By this stage the group of divers had huddled like a sardine bait ball at the bottom of the anchor-chain. It was impossible to ascend together because the oblivious Zanzibari crew would never be able to extract us all out the water at once. Through a series of jerky hand signals we decided to send up buddy teams, each watching the other’s back. It was also decided, in true Victorian style, that women and the youngest should go first. The first two to run the gauntlet was an aunt and her young niece. Up they went with the sharks now making repeated rushes. Somehow they made it to the surface ready to be plucked out of the ocean by able hands. As they broke the surface, the aunt spat out her mouthpiece, waved her arms frantically and yelled in rapid succession “quickly, quickly”. The Zanzibaris, bedecked from head to toe in shiny tinsel, were at first a little hesitant. They must have assumed this was some Western cheer for it being Christmas, so they yelled back mimicking the sound as best they could. “Kikily, kikily” they cried also waving their hands in the sky. “No”, shouted the hapless aunt almost choking on her words, “out out, we want out”. Off the Zanzibaris went dancing a jig on the yacht’s foredeck yelling “howt, howt!”

As it happened, thanks to a real desire to preserve one’s self, we all managed to exit post-haste. Once safely on-board we could not help but join in the merriment of the crew, who cheered and saluted us for the remainder of Christmas day with a hearty ‘kikily kikily, howt, howt” while around the vessel the odd silver-tipped dorsal bad-temperedly sliced the ocean’s surface.