Fishing lines: Big man too tough for the maneaters

I've lost my bodyguard. No longer can I stroll unmolested down the mean streets of Johannesburg, Quito or Dulwich, safe in the knowledge that Vic Sampson's reassuring bulk is watching my back.

I've lost my bodyguard. No longer can I stroll unmolested down the mean streets of Johannesburg, Quito or Dulwich, safe in the knowledge that Vic Sampson's reassuring bulk is watching my back.

Vic, whom my wife described as a cross between Popeye, James Bond and Superman, died this week of peritonitis, aged 57.

It was a quick death, and that's probably a blessing. He was dying of cancer. At five stone under his fighting weight, even I could have pushed him around. Or maybe not. For Vic was the toughest guy I knew. When he shook your hand, it was as if he was trying to tear it from your arm. He didn't know his own strength, but great white sharks did.

Here was a fish big enough to take him on, but even the meanest fish in the sea wasn't a match for him. He caught more than 20, including the largest fish ever landed by a northern-hemisphere angler. That one might have broken the world record of 2,664lb, but Vic let it go.

He came close to breaking the record on another occasion, playing a monster in rough seas for more than four hours in the dark. The boat crew, understandably nervous about sharing their boat with something almost as big as Jaws, made a hash of gaffing the shark, and it broke free.

With admirable restraint, Vic turned to them and said: "I've got to tell you guys, I'm not very pleased with you." It was estimated to weigh more than 4,000lb.

On another occasion, a hooked great white attacked the boat, and came right over the gunwales, its jaws gaping. It stopped two feet from Vic, who, with commendable control, then proceeded to land the fish. "That was a bit scary," he said.

My favourite Vic story concerns a big-game tournament where the organisation had gone totally awry. The organiser was back in England and he phoned Vic, pleading with him to see if he could sort it out.

"No trouble," said Vic. And he was as good as his word. Later, the organiser found out how when he saw the bar bill. "Free drinks for the rest of the tournament," Vic had said.

He was happy to talk about his past as a sidecar-racing star, but kept quiet about other aspects of his life. They involved guns and foreign lands and Army missions. I never saw the violent side of him. He didn't need to use it.

Walking through a seedy part of Quito, two locals warned me not to walk further up a certain street. "With him?" I queried, pointing to Vic. They looked at this man mountain and said: "No, you'll be all right."

We had a symbiotic relationship. I was his scribe, detailing his adventures; he taught me how to pack a kitbag, put up a mosquito net, stalk a puma. No wonder my wife called him an alpha male. (Wonder where she puts me on the same masculinity chart?)

He will leave two regrets. One, that we never got to prove there are great whites off the Hebrides, and second, that he died in an armchair rather than a fighting chair. So long, Maneater Man.

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