John Watson was pulling up the anchor when he saw two fins emerge from the placid water.
"It was incredible," says Watson, 54, of Wilmington, N.C. "My first thought was it was two sunfish swimming side by side — that is how big it was. The shark just moseyed on over and started circling the boat for about 20 minutes."
Watson had taken three friends fishing aboard his 21-foot Key West center console in late November off Wrightsville Beach, N.C. The anglers, fishing for grouper and snapper on a sunny 75-degree day with little wind, were about 25 miles offshore when the great white shark made its presence known.
"He was nudging and slapping the boat with his tail," says Watson, who has fished these waters for 25 years. "No one was really scared or concerned. Once he started hitting the boat I said [to my crew] to just make sure you're holding on to something, not knowing just how powerful this fish could be."
The fishermen just watched. "Nobody fed him," says Watson. "Nobody threw anything at him or anything like that. He just did what he wanted to do. When he swam away and went under the boat he made absolutely the biggest mark on my Garmin [fishfinder]."
Matt Garrett, who is in his late 20s and was visiting from Boston, captured the scene with his iPhone, says Watson. He and the others can be heard estimating the shark's length as it swims alongside the boat.
Click play to watch Garrett’s footage as Watson describes the scene.
"It has got to be at least 12 feet," one angler says.
"At least. I think he is more than 14," another man says in the two-minute video, which has gone viral on the Internet.
Watson then points out that the shark is the reason the fish had suddenly stopped biting.
The anglers estimate the shark's length at 18 feet. Don Smith, who was standing at the anchor locker, told Watson that when the shark's head was a few feet abaft the bow, its body extended all the way to the transom.
"Don said, 'Oh my God, John, it's almost as big as the boat,' " says Watson, who operates a janitorial supply house in Wilmington. His son, Michael, 26, was also on the 2008 Key West, which is powered with a 150-hp Yamaha 4-stroke.
John Watson says the largest shark he had seen was a 10- or 11-foot tiger. He knew right away that this one was a great white.
"For it to be that big and wide it had to be a great white," he says. "There's really no other shark that is going to get like that. You never know what you're going to see when you're out there."
This article was updated to reflect the correct model year of the Key West center console.