TAMPA — As the boat sped toward land, rocking and bobbing over rough waves, Erik Norrie spread his arms wide and thanked God.
He had already lost a lot of blood and was still bleeding from a shark bite to his lower left calf. But he saw it as just another trial, a blessing.
"The calmness I had after that was all the Lord," said Norrie, who was in Tampa General Hospital on Tuesday awaiting a skin graft. "Never in a million years would God put me through something that wasn't for my own good."
• • •
On July 29, Norrie, a 40-year-old Largo resident, had speared a grouper — not too big, but big enough for dinner that night — and was headed back to the boat.
His family was on vacation in the Bahamas and family members were snorkeling between Great Guana Cay and Scotland Cay in the Abaco Islands.
He held the struggling fish in the water, a technique he said was a mistake, when something came up from behind him.
"The best way to describe it was an intense pressure," he said. "Like if you've ever put your finger in a light socket."
He thinks it was a 6-foot Caribbean Reef shark. Or maybe it was a lemon shark. He didn't get a very good look.
What he could see was the shark with part of his leg in its jaws as the sparkling blue water quickly turned red. He yelled for help and calmly used a rubber band from his spear gun as a tourniquet on his leg.
"It was pretty traumatic," he said.
• • •
When the boat made port in the Bahamas, Norrie was airlifted to Miami's Jackson Memorial Hospital. Last week, he was transported to Tampa General to be closer to home.
Norrie says he's been spearfishing and swimming around sharks for years. He says he hasn't been in the hospital much, but spins yarns about rattlesnake bites, lightning strikes and even fights with wild monkeys.
"There's a lot of close calls, man," he said, "a lot of close calls."
Friends and colleagues have brought "get well soon'' messages and gifts to his hospital room.
A plush monkey and plastic shark rest on an open Bible at Norrie's bedside.
Norrie said his strong faith is what has kept him positive about the experience.
"God's keeping me around for something," he said. "Modern-day Jonah, he just didn't fully swallow me."
Charles Scudder can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 225-3111.