My head had just popped to the surface of the water and I was catching my breath when it happened. Something very large brushed against my legs pushing me sideways. causing me to lose my balance. There was no hesitation, panic took over, there was not time to plan, to think, just react. If an Olympic record exists for getting out of water, I broke it! The next thing I remember was standing on the dock peering into the inky water, looking for whatever it was that brushed against me, this thing, this creature that was about to devour me. To this day I can't remember using the ladder to climb from the water. If I was trembling I don't recall, I was frightened of something I couldn't even see. Any normal person would say enough is enough; quit; stop; it's finished.
Soon after my wife's untimely death in 1978, I was trying my hand at commercial fishing. Fishing for king mackerel in the Atlantic Ocean was good at that time, the fish were still plentiful and government quotas had not yet gone into effect.
The fishing boat I was using at that time was a twenty eight foot fiberglass hull that I had outfitted myself. Tom Winner was allowing me to dock the boat on a canal off Sykes Creek on Merritt Island, Florida. Tom owned property adjacent to the canal and had a very nice mobile home park there. He had constructed a dock on one side of the canal and charged me a very modest fee to dock the boat. I always kept the boat ship-shape and "sweet" smelling, so there could no complaints from the tenants. Tom was always trying to find other boat owners to use the dock, as he seemed to think the boats added a certain atmosphere to the mobile home park.
The location was ideal, the boat was protected from the elements, and I had no concern about vandalism. It only took about fifteen minutes to reach the locks on the barge canal, and with a little luck I could be clearing the Port Canaveral jetties in fifteen more minutes.
Two fresh water ponds had been created at the back of Tom's property and had been stocked with fish, the ponds also had an abundance of soft shell turtles. The turtles were quite tame and the older residents delighted in feeding the turtles, which would take meat scraps directly from their outstretched hands.
On several occasions, Tom had mentioned his concern about at least one alligator that resided in the canal and was slipping into the ponds at night, helping itself to the soft shell turtles. The turtles were disappearing at an alarming rate and he was getting complaints from the park residents. He had not seen the 'gator, but he found tracks of the reptile, which he estimated about six feet in length, crossing from the canal to the closest pond. I suggested a chain link fence around the ponds or at least along the edge of the canal, to deter the critter.
Periodically I needed to inspect the underside of my boat for marine growth, damage, and any line or rope that occasionally got wrapped around the propeller shaft. Frequently I'd have to do this underwater cleaning in Tom's canal where I docked the boat. This was not my preferred location to do the cleaning, not because of my fear of the alligator, but because the water was too murky, visibility was limited to three feet or less. Not that I'm without fear of alligators, I've seen what these toothy, scaly critters can do to an animal. The truth is that 'gators fear people more than people fear 'gators. In my younger days we would swim where allIgators of ten and twelve feet resided, without giving it a second thought. Alligators become problems where they have been fed by people and consequently lose their fear of man.