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Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Tom's Meg Teeth

Swimming with Megaladons
by Tom Simmons

It all comes down to this: teeth or no teeth.

Three days of perfect diving off the coast of North Carolina. Out in the Gulf Stream where the water temperature at 120 feet is 82° F. Visibility 80 to 100 feet. Open sea as flat as a lake so the 40-mile trip out to the sites is a walk in the park. Even the locals are in shock. Life just doesn't get this good very often.

My son (15) and I have just completed our first deep water, Nitrox dives. We've been on a U-Boat and WWII freighter. We've been to a wreck that's a Sand Tiger Shark breeding ground. This morning, we went on a dive that finally identified a wreck sunk in the 1920s by measuring her length, beam and boilers. This is what you dream about. And it all means nothing, nothing without teeth.

It's the afternoon of our third day. Our sixth dive. We're anchored over Fossil Ledge where we hope to find prehistoric shark teeth. Megaladon teeth. Teeth as big as your hand. My son has thought of nothing else during the three months since we planned this trip. If we find teeth, we've had the trip of a lifetime. If we don't find teeth, it's all been for nothing. Wouldn't matter if we rode the Loch Ness Monster.

No teeth, no fun. That's the rigid calculus of this trip.

Andre, the dive master who set the anchor, has come up with a goody bag filled with teeth. Fourteen of them. One of the passengers is a little frosty to think that there are now 14 fewer teeth on the bottom for others to find. But the rest of us are just hot to get down there and hunt. It's all about teeth.

"Don't move around," Andre instructs. "Stay in one place. Keep digging in one place." You're telling my 15-year-old not to move around. It's like telling the wind not to blow. He's not going to spend 20 minutes of bottom time digging a dry hole. Two minutes, max.

We follow the anchor line down. At 60 feet a huge ball of bait fish, so thick it looks like the bottom, swims below us. In its midst, moving lazily with the school, is a 12-foot Sand Tiger Shark. What a fabulous sight! Incredible. Meaningless. Nada, zilch, bupgus, zero. Nothing if we don't find teeth.

The bottom at the anchor is sandy with rock outcroppings. Andre said to dig near the rocks. I hung on every word, gathering them in my memory like golden secrets of life. We tie our wreck reel to the anchor line and move 20 feet away, toward a likely looking outcropping. (They require wreck reels on Fossil Ledge, an advanced dive, because on every single trip this summer someone with Teeth Fever has lost sight of the anchor line and bobbed up to the surface down current from the boat. Every. Single. Trip.)

We start digging in our likely spot and the water around us becomes silty in seconds. Every minute or so, I stop digging and let the current take the silt away. Nothing. There are petrified whale bones by the hundreds. But we don't care about them. We're after teeth.

About three minutes in, my son is on his second spot. Nothing. I let the silt clear and see a large black fish, immobile, about five feet away from me. He has silt on his head. And he's looking at me like Eyore. "You gonna be long? 'Cause I'm getting a little dusty here."

Another minute and let the current clear the silt. What's that? Damn! There's a Megaladon tooth in my hole. Huge. Gorgeous. I grab it as if it might swim away. Good size. Good enamel. I tap my son on the shoulder and hand it to him. It goes in his goody bag. And he digs faster, like a person possessed.

Now he's off to another place. Chasing fish is always fun. I keep digging. About five minutes later, I've got another tooth. Now, I'm as excited as the next guy and I enjoy the discovery. But more than anything, these finds have ratified the whole trip. I now know we've had a good time. I know it wasn't all for nothing. Life is good.

In a few minutes, we're headed up the anchor line. On board, everyone compares finds. Some found more. No one found better teeth than ours. The grumpy guy got none and he's convinced it's because Andre took fourteen of them out of the running. He's pissed.

"Nice teeth," Andre tells my son. My mood can only be described as serene. We found teeth. All of the other fun things we did on this trip get to stay fun. It is a dream come true. And better. We got the teeth.

Teeth=Fun. It's great

Written by Tom Simmons
Photo by Tom Simmons

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