Shark Bait

Treasure hunter, diving extremist, and aspiring filmmaker Ron McManmon launches the ultimate party barge and introduces the gentleman's sport of shark riding

Seconds after the anchor chain tumbles into Biscayne Bay, two women on the sun deck strip down to thong bikinis and start lubing their bare breasts with coconut oil. A surfer dude in laser-green swim trunks cuts the air with a rebel yell and somersaults from the top of the shark cage to the water 30 feet below. Enter Ron McManmon, architect of hedonism. He turns up the soundtrack to Pulp Fiction and loads a first round of Italian sausages onto the cavernous barbecue grill.

The maiden voyage of the Gulf Stream Falcon is edging smoothly toward blissdom, thanks to the handpicked fashion models, musclemen, and extreme-water-sports enthusiasts aboard this 110-foot customized dive boat. For McManmon, however, the success of the outing has been compromised. An hour earlier, with whitecapped waves running four to six feet and guests getting queasy on the stern, he had to turn back from the edge of the continental shelf and cancel the scuba portion of today's junket.

Now, the ship at anchor, revelers jump into kayaks and wobble away from the swim platform to explore Flagler Memorial Island off Miami Beach. The windsurfing gear is at the ready. Squads of Jet Skiers stop by to visit, and so do friends on sailboats and fishing skiffs. McManmon has a lot of friends. The margaritas flow. By sundown the party will reach a Bacchanalian transcendence that survives, in some measure, the next day's hangovers and sunburns.

But today the shark cage remains on deck, chained to the cargo boom on the port side. The dozen spear guns stay sheathed. It will have been a party, but not an extreme party. Ron McManmon will have no particular stories to add to the treasure trove of tales that lurk behind his hazel eyes and hawk nose. None, for example, like the one about how a 38-year-old Buddhist beach boy wearing elephant-skin boots and a silver mermaid pendant got hold of a million-dollar commercial dive boat in the first place.

Expedition Log: 6/6/95
Everything is done on-board, so it's hard to keep entertained. Michael, Wayne, and I take one of our many walks down memory lane in good old Bimini. The local drug dealer still doesn't get it. We weren't drug addicts yesterday or the day before that, so what makes him think today we are! I suppose anyone that spends enough time in Bimini eventually turns into one.

Anyway, Michael had a good suggestion. We stop at the Compleat Angler for a beer. What an original thought. About halfway into our beer the excitement rose when someone caught a 510-pound blue-fin tuna at Weech's Marina. We ran over to look at the angler in all his glory. I have mixed emotions. Is it food or trophy? When all of the congratulations were over and pictures had been taken, the local Bahamian butcher stepped in to carve this amazing animal. I stepped up close to see how these experienced craftsmen would perform the surgery and could not believe these stupid, revolting assholes. They chopped and hacked several hundred pounds of meat from the tuna's body. Then when they had taken their fill, they threw the rest away. Dozens of people (sheep) standing by let them toss at least a hundred pounds of meat in the water. I voiced my opinion A strongly, went and got Bad Dog, and dragged this beautiful animal from the water while marina personnel were in protest. While I wanted to reason my position (argue), I followed Michael's lead and became deliberate in my purpose. So we just took the boat in and did what we were going to do without permission. Like Mike said, 'What are they going to do, stop us?' We tried to lift the remains onto the boat but it was too heavy, so we towed it back to the Rio Grande. I then learned how to operate the crane and hoisted the remains up on the dock. Everyone soon collected on the dock, where we cut the rest up and served it to the Bahamian locals.

By late April last year, Ron McManmon was as close to blues and boredom as he'd ever been. In the preceding three decades he'd hunted everything from men to mangrove snapper, lived in eight countries, and spent more time on and under the ocean than most people spend in bed.

But driving north toward Fort Lauderdale, he knew he'd found the next entry in his resume. And right from the start, walking down the dock toward the Rio Grande, he smelled trouble. A friend had told him Caribbean Exploration Limited (CEL), a Canadian salvage firm, had sunk $1.6 million into its latest treasure hunt. Yet the Rio Grande, an 80-foot converted crew boat once used to ferry roughnecks to oil rigs, was a near wreck. Nothing worked, from the icemaker to the generators to the steering system.

Outward bound for an isolated and still-undisclosed site in the Bahamas, the ship had one unreliable radio for communication. The dive gear and excavation equipment were a joke. The ten-man crew was as green as a pitcher of beer on St. Paddy's Day. McManmon had never been treasure hunting, but he felt comfortable with his new job description: diver, deckhand, all-around handyman.

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