Great White Adrenaline Rush

Before we left the UK for our Southern African Road Trip we were asked with alarming regularity “Are you going shark cage diving?” “Absolutely no way” was our frequent response, we’re both old enough to have seen the original “Jaws” at the cinema and have always swam in the sea with half a fearful eye out for a grey fin breaking the surface of the water. We were undoubtedly the unwitting victims of Hollywood’s demonisation of sharks.

A chance to get up close and personal with a great white wasn’t for us or so we thought. As we got closer to Cape Town and the conclusion of our yellow truck overland adventures our fellow travellers began to think about organising the logistics of their shark diving experience. Along the Garden Route there are 3 main areas to swim with “Jaws” – Simonstown, Gansbaai and Mossel Bay. Our truck family members booked to go to Gansbaai, a 2 hour drive from Cape Town – the self promoted shark cage diving capital of the world – there are 9 Shark Cage Diving companies operating here, so the group were spoilt for choice. They returned tired but exuberant with stories and photos that really peaked my interest, but just how the hell was I going to persuade Brownie to make the leap. Like me she had an irrational fear of sharks but also the most unreliable sea legs.

We had ample opportunity to discuss cage diving as we embarked on our Garden Route Adventure from Cape Town. Slowly but surely Brownie came to the conclusion that she would like to consider going. We were spending 5 days based in Mossel Bay which is home to White Shark Africa, the sole cage diving operator in the town. We visited them with a long list of questions trying not to give away our inate fear of sharks. They reassured us that we would be safe in the cage which would be semi-submerged at the side of the boat, the boat trip would be no more than 10 minutes to Seal Island and there would be a high probability that we would see sharks. I signed us up at a cost of approx £110 each before Brownie had a chance to to think about not diving.

We meet our fellow cage divers at the offices of White Shark Africa. There are 16 of us on the trip and we are welcomed with a light breakfast and refreshments. An informative presentation advised us that the sharks we’d encounter in Mossel Bay would be juveniles between 2-3m in length. In old money that’s between 6 1/2 -10 feet!! This was about to get very real. We were impressed by the big emphasis throughout the presentation on how many myths had been perpetuated about these misunderstood animals and just how passionate the team at White Shark Africa were in dispelling these. We received a full safety briefing and expected behaviour whilst aboard the boat.

A short walk to the dock found us boarding “1st Strike” for our cage diving adventure. A quick 10 minute boat trip and we arrive just off Seal Island approximately 800m from the shore. Mossel Bay is enormous and quite protected so our journey was a very calm one.

We encase ourselves in 3mm neoprene full length wetsuits with hoods, don a mask and gingerly climb into the cage that is submerged no deeper than one metre at the side of the boat. In order to attract the sharks, the crew “chum” the water. “Chum” is a greasy wet fish concoction like a soup, that is put into the water at regular intervals creating an attractive fishy slick. In addition, a large yellow fin tuna head is used as bait in order to entice the sharks to swim close to the cage. It’s then a case of simply waiting for the sharks to turn up. When they do turn up, a crew member shouts “shark left or right” and “down” at which point we grab the cage, take a deep breath, submerge ourselves and try to stop our hearts from beating out of our chests as a 3m great white glides by.

We were incredibly fortunate to see sharks up close and very personal with at least 8 viewings over approximately 50 minutes. We climbed out of the cage and after drying off watched the sharks from topside and other divers experience the cage. In all, the trip lasted just over 3 hours and was unforgettable. You can watch one the sharks swim by and hear us squealing in the cage by clicking here.

Despite being quite scared beforehand, we absolutely loved seeing the sharks up so close and personal. We developed a new found respect for these beautiful and much misunderstood animals. We do however, completely appreciate that without the “chumming” of the water by the boat crew, we would never have had the opportunity to cage dive in the way that we did. On reflection, is it fair to taunt the sharks in this way for human entertainment? We’ll leave it to you to decide.

The Cage

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