GETTING CHUMMY WITH GREAT WHITES
I’ve always been a little dubious about the idea of going shark diving. There’s the whole morality issue, which plays on your mind and then there’s the classic “what-the-hell-am-I-thinking!!” fear factor, which is probably the main reason most of us avoid swimming with sharks. Now that I’ve done it, I’ve realised that the only thing you really need to worry about is the potential for yourself or some of your fellow passengers to be overcome by the ocean swell and to end up saying hello to breakfast again. Enough said. As it turns out, the jaw-somely terrifying fish that causes many of us to avoid deep water is an exceptional creature, and I’d do the whole thing again in a heart-beat.
Myself and two mates, John and Travis, chose to organise our shark diving with Marine Dynamics and were blown away by their organisation. Based in Gaansbai, aka ‘The Great White Shark Capital of the World,’ (about a 2 hour drive from Cape Town), Marine Dynamics have been around since the late 90s, and have everything down to a tee. After arriving at the clubhouse at 9am, we were ushered to a buffet breakfast, sorted out with our wetsuits and waterproofs (all provided), and then chivvied down to the jetty; all the while being plied with information by the attentive staff. Ten minutes of motoring out to sea and we were in great white infested waters. Sounds pretty straightforward and it was… for those of us who hadn’t been drinking the night before.
Anchoring within sight of the rugged shoreline, we donned our comfortingly thick wetsuits and waited keenly for the cage to be dunked into the water. Like clockwork, the crew busied themselves by “chumming” the water (which basically involves luring the sharks in with a foul smelling fishy concoction) and attaching the cage to the side of the boat, whilst we were left to contemplate the activity we were about to undertake.
The idea of plunging yourself into icy, shark infested water is definitely not the most relaxing of thoughts; however, our imaginations were kept at bay by the on-board marine biologist, who did a brilliant job of busying our minds by introducing the crew and detailing their every movement, whilst simultaneously educating us about great whites - quite an impressive feat.
Before we knew it, the cage lid was creaking open and we were pointing at Travis to be the first in. I volunteered to be number two, slightly gutted that I couldn’t say that I was “first in,” but I was intoxicated with excitement nonetheless. As I clambered into the cage and lowered myself in, the cold water rushed into my neoprene wetsuit and I was left instantly breathless. Eagerly anticipating the arrival of Rosie, our first toothy-friend, we clasped onto the inner cage handles and listened out for the crew instructions. “DOWN-LEFT” shouted one of the crew, and we dunked our heads… nothing. “DOWN-RIGHT”… a tail!! The rather flirtatious Rosie was playing a little hard to get. Dunking continued with a few fin-waves and swim-bys, but no full-frontal until minutes before we were due to get out. With one final “DOWN-LEFT” we pulled ourselves under for what felt like a ridiculously long 7 seconds, and then WHAM… she was quite literally up in our grill. Teeth baring, eyes rolled back, and looking as pretty as ever!
To top everything off, once we were out of the water, I decided to do what any Scotsman would do after shark diving. I chucked on my kilt, grabbed the bagpipes (yes, I brought them on board!) and serenaded the sharks, as well as the sea-sick, with a rendition of Scotland the Brave. Apparently sharks like noise (!!) so I was essentially doing everyone a favour, although I don’t think our fellow vomiting tourists were best pleased.
Shark-diving and bagpiping - two things I thought I’d never say in the same sentence!