Friday, October 19 , 2018, 5:37 pm | Fair 85º

 
 
 
 

Fishermen Reel In Quite a Catch with 2 Dramatic Rescues after Separate Shark Attacks

Santa Barbara-based fishing boat is in the right place at the right time — twice — off Vandenberg Air Force Base

[Click here for a related Noozhawk story.]

All’s well that ends well. Twice.

When brothers Leigh “Lou” and Chuck Christman, and their two buddies, departed Santa Barbara Harbor aboard the 26-foot Elizabeth Ann before daybreak Friday, they had no idea they would be rescuing several kayak fisherman in two great white shark attacks within the span of just a few hours.

The day began about 5 a.m. when the Christmans and their friends, both retired law enforcement officers, headed up the coast to begin what they hoped would be a day of successful fishing for white sea bass, they related to Noozhawk’s Urban Hikers.

At midmorning, without sea bass in their ice chest, “Captain Lou” and his crew decided to make a run north of Point Conception to a fishing area that is often inaccessible due to weather and surf conditions. By noon, they had found a spot they liked near Point Arguello, just offshore from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The unusually calm winds Friday allowed several fishermen, in high-tech sport kayaks, to launch from the Vandenberg Boat House. The kayak fishermen — six men in one-man vessels — were all within the vicinity of the Elizabeth Ann, about a quarter-mile offshore. Split into groups of four friends and a father-son team, the kayakers fished with rods and reels.

As the fishermen aboard the Elizabeth Ann were waiting for sea bass, Lou Christman was at the helm, navigating and keeping a watchful eye on the heavy surf conditions. About an hour in, he saw out of the corner of his eye “a commotion in the water” about 300 to 400 yards from the father-and-son kayakers. Spying what he knew was “an anomaly,” he immediately scanned the horizon and saw a “huge splash and then a figure on the water waving his arms.”

Within seconds, Christman heard the chilling words “Mayday Mayday Mayday” over his marine radio. Once the caller described his location, Christman knew instinctively that he had most likely seen a great white shark attack on one of the nearby kayakers.

The Elizabeth Ann raced over to the two kayakers, reaching them within seconds. The crew found a middle-aged man, wearing a life jacket and street clothes, clinging to his overturned kayak. The bleeding man appeared to be in shock.

The plastic hull of a kayak was no match for the jaw strength of a great white shark. (Urban Hikers photo)
The plastic hull of a kayak was no match for the jaw strength of a great white shark. (Chuck Christman photo)

Christman assigned his brother to run the deck as he maneuvered the boat. Working quickly to get the injured man and his son out of the water, the crew was relieved to discover that the blood was a result of the man being injured as he was ejected from the kayak, and not the result of a shark bite.

Once the men were aboard the Elizabeth Ann and their kayaks were in tow, Christman noticed that one of the other group’s kayakers was in pursuit of the boat — “peddling his ass off,” he said. He maneuvered to rescue the distressed man, and the crew brought him aboard, too.

As the crew administered first aid to the injured kayaker, Christman made contact with the last three of the kayakers and offered to return everyone to shore. They declined, explaining they were “not done fishing,” Christman said.

After the Elizabeth Ann dropped the rescued men at the Boat House, they headed back to their spot to resume fishing. About an hour later, just after beginning the three-hour trip back to Santa Barbara, another Mayday call came across the radio. Hearing the words “shark attack on a kayak,” Christman and crew knew immediately where it happened.

Motoring the Elizabeth Ann, a Radon owned by Christman, toward the  kayakers as quickly as possible, the boat arrived on the scene less than five minutes later. About a mile offshore, the crew found the men in two kayaks, dragging a shark-damaged kayak. Luckily, no one in the group appeared to be injured.

This shark bite left a mark. (Urban Hikers photo)
This shark bite left a mark. (Chuck Christman photo)

Glad to be of assistance to the second shark attack victim and his companions, but weary from the day’s rescue efforts, the crew brought the men and the ruined kayak aboard the Elizabeth Ann, while Captain Lou remained at the helm. The two undamaged kayaks were towed to the Vandenberg Boat House, where the three men and their kayaks were offloaded to safety.

With their rescue work behind them and a few fish (alas, no sea bass) in their cooler, the captain and crew of the Elizabeth Ann headed home to Santa Barbara with what might sound to many to be a tall fish tale.

So, who are these local heroes? Two of them wish to remain anonymous, while the Christman brothers were happy to share their amazing story and video of the second rescue.

The Christmans, both in their early 50s, come from a long line of arborists, and both followed the family tradition. Lou arrived in Santa Barbara in 1985, having been recruited to play football at UC Santa Barbara — before the school dropped the sport. Six years later, during a visit to Santa Barbara, Lou offered Chuck a job. Chuck and hasn’t looked back. Today, Lou is a consulting arborist and is a partner with his wife in their family-owned business, Arbor Services of Santa Barbara.

Chuck works as a senior tree trimmer for the City of Santa Barbara and also owns Undersea Artworks. An amazing artist, in 2013 he was introduced to Gyotaka, the Japanese art of fish printmaking. Since then, in his off-hours, he’s been producing amazing and unique T-shirts for men, women and children.

His line has recently expanded to include hoodies, canvas prints and blankets, all with ocean and fish themes. He said he hopes to add a children’s coloring book soon, and says he will definitely be including a page with a great white shark circling a kayak fisherman.

A kayak fisherman himself, Chuck says the experiences of his day at Point Arguello has convinced him that it’s not the place he’d like to fish from his one-man kayak. If you want to meet him and hear more about the great white sharks near Point Conception, head to the Santa Barbara Harbor & Seafood Festival next Saturday. There you’ll find him selling his wares — and no doubt telling a fish tale or two.

(Christman family video via Urban Hikers, published with permission. Language warning.)

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