The shark came from behind Terry Boyd without warning. Then it disappeared just as quickly into the blue expanse of open ocean.
Boyd, who divides his time between Woodford County and the Florida Keys, was swimming near Cocos Island in the Pacific Ocean more than 350 miles off the coast of Costa Rica.
Ironically, at the time of this encounter in February 2001, he was there to keep an underwater videographer safe from predators as she concentrated on getting footage of sea creatures.
Now, one of those predators, a species known as a silky shark, was testing Boyd. He was armed only with an underwater camera, which had been handed to him in a vain attempt to film a manta ray that got away. But somewhere nearby, the shark was swimming.
“I’m thinking, ‘You know, if he comes by again, I’m going to see if I can get some footage of him,’” Boyd said, recalling the incident. “Sure enough, he came from behind me again, and I just took off,” swimming after the fish.
“I think he sensed that, and came straight back toward me. I thought sure he was going to hit me but he turned right in front of me and the wake of his turn just pushed me back. I never saw him again after that.” Nevertheless, Boyd was able to capture a few seconds of the shark gliding by.
Boyd, 68, is better known to Central Kentuckians as the longtime owner of the apple orchard bearing his name. Earlier this year he sold the business and land to an Illinois company that renamed it Eckert’s Boyd Orchard. It opened under the new name in May.
Boyd now has more time to devote to his passion, which is scuba diving and free diving in the Florida Keys. (Free diving is the practice of taking a deep breath, holding it and then diving without scuba tanks.) In a recent interview, Boyd spoke about his love for diving at spots around the globe.
“I’ve always had this sense and feeling that I need to be on, in and under the water,” Boyd said. “I am at peace with myself, with the earth, with everything when I’m under the water.”
How did a fifth-generation apple grower originally from southern Illinois leap into diving?
Boyd said he grew up swimming in ponds and water-filled quarries, and was a fan of the 1958-61 TV series “Sea Hunt” starring Lloyd Bridges and “The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau.” He was introduced to scuba diving by an uncle who had taken up the hobby. Boyd became a diving enthusiast as well and in the 1970s was certified as a diving instructor.
He also began finding and recovering sunken property, such as a truck that went into the Mississippi River. That led to a job doing underwater hull inspections of sea-going barges and oil tankers from the early 1990s to 2003.
Through a contact at Mermet Springs, a freshwater diving spot in southern Illinois, Boyd was introduced to an underwater photographer who needed a “grunt,” someone to pack equipment and to keep her safe as she shot footage of marine life for documentaries.
It was that gig that took Boyd to Cocos Island off Costa Rica, where nutrient-rich waters attract all sorts of little fish, which in turn attract predators. Hammerhead, tiger, bull, silky, blacktip and whitetip sharks all patrol those waters.
“By some accounts, Cocos Island is home to more sharks per cubic yard of water than any other marine habitat on Earth,” according to the Discovery Channel that airs the annual “Shark Week” programming.
One of the more interesting scenes Boyd witnessed was a “cleaner station,” a place where small fish congregate and pick off parasites from larger fish such as sharks.
“The hammerheads would circle and then come in and go real slow through this area and these cleaner fish would just start pecking,” Boyd said. “The same shark would do two or three passes through this ‘shark car wash.’
“We would hide behind some lava rock, and I could reach my hand out and rub the sides of those hammerheads as they went by,” he said. “It was just a heck of an experience.”
Boyd learned to recognize signs of agitation in sharks and to move the videographer out of harm’s way when the potential rose for an unwanted encounter.
Sharks, for example, “arch their backs a little bit” and exhibit “some herky-jerky movements. They’re coming in and out and swimming in an erratic fashion,” he said.
Boyd has never been bitten by a shark, but he has had other close encounters near Islamorada, Fla., which will now be his primary residence since the sale of the orchard.
“I’m a lobster hunter, so I’m always reaching into holes,” he said. “I’ve been all the way in to my shoulder trying to inch a lobster out, and then I look up and there’s a big moray eel within eight inches of my face. I’ve never been bitten by one although I did have my camera struck by one that I’d agitated.”
As for that encounter with the silky shark, Boyd said that’s the only close call with a shark in thousands of dives.
“I don’t seek out things to put my life in danger,” Boyd continued. “Once I hit the water, my heart rate goes down and not up. I’m just calm there.”