How would you describe an adrenaline rush? Your heart beating like a bass drum. Your stomach fluttering with a hundred butterflies. You hands sweating and shaking. This is how I felt before climbing into the cage to stare into the eyes of one of the world’s top predators; but I could not wait to do so.
We drove to Gansbaai from Cape Town, South Africa on a cool winter morning. It was peak shark viewing season. Besides being a little nervous, I was absolutely giddy with excitement.
The trip almost didn’t happen due to weather. That is, until our incredible guesthouse in Kalk Bay found Marine Dynamics for us. Their boat was big enough to handle the 10-12 foot seas … another thing to be nervous about!
After a light breakfast and a briefing by the boat’s captain we suited up in “one-size-fits-all” orange rain coats – perfect for water and wind protection for the ride out to Shark Alley. I looked cute in mine huh? Hey! It was function over fashion in this instance!
Our 20 minute boat ride to theeee Shark Alley was rough, but it just comes with the territory during winter months. If you want a greater chance of seeing sharks, you have to dive in the winter, with rough seas. Period.
It was worth every bump!
While the crew chummed the water, a means of attracting sharks to the boat by putting fish guts and blood in the water, and prepared the cage, we suited up in thick wet suits.
The captain took volunteers for the first group. Mike and I both shot our hands up into the air. Mike was picked; I was not! Note to self: You are only 5 feet tall. Stand in the front of a large group when you want to be seen! Mike left me behind (Can you blame him?) and was in the cage, along with our not-so-dependable waterproof camera.
He snapped just a few pictures before it pooped out on him!
Meanwhile, I snapped a few pictures of some of the sharks coming near to cage because of the chummed water and the seal decoys that the crew “played” with.
Before I knew it, it was time for the second set of thrill seekers to climb into the cage. You better believe I was front and center. My body was still shaking, but now the shaking was cold-weather induced, not fear. The moisture on my palms was no longer sweat but ocean water. I was the first one in the cage. I was beyond ready for this thrill!
Within moments of closing the cage, a small female, measuring about 2 meters or roughly 6 feet, visited us. She came directly at the decoy and we watched her swim by from nose to tail, left to right. Then, she was gone.
The next few minutes were peppered with sharks coming in and out my view. Some swam in from the left, some from the right and others swam right at us, head one. Those were exciting! Some even broke the surface of the water and gave Mike a good chance to snap pictures with our reliable Nikon camera.
Just when I thought I couldn’t be enjoying myself any more I heard the spotter yell “Down, Right!” I inhaled quickly and used my arms to push myself under the water, while holding onto the inner bars of the cage. The next series of events likely lasted only 3 seconds, but it replays in my mind with slow motion.
I dunked my head under the water’s surface in time to see the face of a very large female shark (the captain said she was 12 feet) inches from mine. She swam like a torpedo toward a fish head floating in the water mere inches from me outside of the cage. Being the first in the cage had its advantage as I had a front row seat to watch the shark “lunge” for her snack. She then thrashed about, hitting the cage with her tail as she quickly turned. Then, as quickly she came, she was gone.
I surfaced to hear myself and others around me screaming words of excitement. What an experience … and I thought my adrenaline was pumping before the I got in the cage.
I hoped she would return come back, but she didn’t. Fifteen minutes in the fifty degree water, almost as many shark viewings and I didn’t want to get out, but I had to!
Being face to face with a Great White Shark was exhilarating, spell bounding, and terrifyingly fun! I highly recommend diving with Marine Dynamics when in Cape Town. I hope to see the sharks again … I just hope there is always a cage between me and those jaws!