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The chilly waters of Puget Sound and other tidal inlets of the northwest coast contain the biggest octopi in the world—some of them are 15 feet in diameter and weigh 125 pounds. The skin-diver who encounters one of these monsters below the surface—even though they are rather shy creatures—almost invariably develops a burning impulse to swim away as quickly as possible. But three years ago a set of hardier divers decided that this natural discretion was nonsense and that they were simply avoiding a lovely new sport—underwater octopus wrestling. Although they have pursued this curious method of exercise in what one of them calls a "blaze of obscurity" the sport has spread fast—more than a hundred divers can now boast of having pulled an octopus to the surface.
In a small way, in fact, octopus wrestling has even become a competitive sport: last May a team of divers from Oregon visited Puget Sound and engaged in an octopus wrestling meet with Washington divers in the waters off Tacoma's Point Defiance. Thirteen beaked, eight-armed monsters were hauled up and thrown into rowboats and, because it seemed more sporting, none of the divers wore Aqua-lungs. Since state law governing spearfishing forbids sticking an octopus with any sharp instrument, none of the divers was armed.
Nobody has yet been drowned wrestling an octopus and very few octopi have been harmed, since skin-divers react to them much as anybody else—once they have gotten an octopus into their rowboat, thus scoring a victory, they wisely throw it back into the water. Puget Sound enthusiasts consider that anybody with a little sporting blood can wrestle an octopus and herewith list a few simple rules.
The beast should be brought into the open before the first hold is applied—throwing a little rock salt into its lair will bring it forth. At this point the diver begins grabbing tentacles with one hand and holding them in a bunch with the other—something like getting clothes off a line in a high wind. If the octopus fastens more than three of his tentacles to a nearby rock let him go—nothing in the world will pry him loose. If he wraps his tentacles around you don't worry—they leave no marks. But never, never let him peck you with his sharp beak. And never turn your back on him after getting him riled up. Once you have him—or he has you—just swim to the surface and you've got him licked. Actually, it's no harder than fighting your way out of a taffy pulling machine.
On a fall afternoon in Maryland some years ago now, a 31-year-old jockey with a face like a gnarled moon leaned down from a horse in the paddock at Pimlico and whispered to the coterie around him, "This is my last ride." And, as is supposed to happen in stories of this kind, the horse won. Thus Raymond (Sonny) Workman, back in 1940, ended his jockey career with a wisp of final glory.
This week, Sonny Workman got his name in the papers again. Along with Walter Miller (riding years: 1903-08) and Ted Atkinson (still very much up), Sonny was elected to the Jockey's Hall of Fame at Pimlico. Pictures of the new members will be painted and pinned alongside those of Isaac Murphy, Earl Sande, Tod Sloan, George Woolf, Johnny Longden and Eddie Arcaro.
In case your mind borders on forgetfulness, Sonny Workman is the man who rode Equipoise, Whichone and a garland of other fine horses while under contract to Harry Payne Whitney and his son C. V. Those were the days when Workman, besieged by a pressing weight problem, ran mornings to keep himself down to 114 and rode so hard in the afternoons that he spent eight pairs of breeches a season in straining combat. He won more than 100 stakes, 1,100 races and $2,800,000.
Today he is three times a father, four times a grandfather, an 85 golfer and a successful businessman. In racing's floating colony, most ex-riders stay on and train horses or become officials. But Workman, who saved his money, owns a group of apartment buildings in Washington, D.C. Although his blond hair has been shredded thin by 48 years of life, his weight has climbed to only 124, most of it still concentrated in his chest.