by Jonathan Morris
BBC News Online, Plymouth
Richard Peirce: Fascinated by sharks since boyhood
Former race horse breeder Richard Peirce hopes he is onto a winner in his quest for the world's most fearsome predator.
He and South African shark expert Craig Ferreira have teamed up with the crew of a Padstow fishing boat to search for a great white shark - the creature made infamous by the Hollywood blockbuster Jaws.
Their planned two-week search of the Devon and Cornwall coast follows a claimed sighting by a 15-year-old amateur marine biologist off Croyde in north Devon.
The nearest confirmed great white sighting to the UK has been in the Bay of Biscay.
Life-long shark enthusiast Mr Peirce, 55, of Bude, said: "We need a slightly smaller haystack and a bigger needle.
"But we have a chance, and if there is one there, we will find it."
However, there were no anxious crowds bidding farewell to the brave seamen as they slipped out of Padstow.
The beaches of north Cornwall were still open and the only signs of a shark around the north Cornwall seaside town were the blow-up kind in gift shop windows.
The people of Padstow, it appeared, were blithely unaware of the fuss, or didn't care.
But Mr Peirce's mission has a serious intent.
With a protective cage in the stern of the Blue Fox and cameras to record the quest, Mr Peirce is out to prove, once and for all, that the great beasts do exist off Britain, in order to protect them.
Mr Peirce wants to persuade the European Union that great white sharks need protected status.
The great white is already protected in many parts of the world where it has been hunted to such an extent, wildlife experts fear it may become extinct.
Fishermen on the Blue Fox say they saw a Great White in 1999
He also wants to fulfil a boyhood dream.
"Other boys played cowboys and indians. I was always fascinated by sharks."
Was he scared?
"It's no more dangerous than crossing the road when the pubs have turned out," said Mr Peirce.
"We are more of a danger to them than they are to us."
He added: "There is always a danger when you have an animal that's bigger and stronger than you, particularly when it has teeth.
"Of course we have to be careful because these aren't cuddly toys."
The shark hunters will be using tides and winds to guide them, as well as chum - a mixture of mackerel and liver - to tempt the creature.
Freelance marketing consultant Mr Peirce has put £10,000 of his own money into the search.
And fishermen setting out their tackle for a day's mackerel fishing with the tourists, had mixed views on whether it was money well spent.
Robert Hill, crewman on the Emma Kate, said: "There could be a great white out there.
"We have seen pollock with just their head, snapped off clean like a surgeon has cut through.
"Any other shark would tear at it."
He added: "I hope they'll find something. It would be good for the boat-hire business, because people would come out to see them."
His skipper John was less optimistic. "I wouldn't take my kids swimming in the sea if they found one off-shore, would you?"
The intrepid Blue Fox is on a two-week mission
"It could kill the tourist industry."
New dishes, not death was on the minds of restaurateur Richard Walker of Rucelli's on the harbour front.
"We don't have shark on the menu at the moment. Perhaps we should," he said.
"The meat is absolutely beautiful."
The mood on board was optimistic as the shark hunters set off.
Mr Peirce had booked the 35-feet-long Blue Fox for a good reason.
It was from that vessel that six fishermen, including the captain Phil Britts, allegedly saw a great white in 1999.
"No one knows more about finding great whites than they do," said Mr Peirce.
Back on shore, harbourmaster Trevor Platt said: "We have been down this road once before.
"And I have to say I am still to be convinced."