Sunday, 27 July 2008

22nd July 08

Date: 22nd July 08
Location: Hermanus, South Africa
Weather: Clear blue skies and sunshine, wind increasing throughout the day, 22°c
Status: Can’t wait to get in the water!!

Felt like crap overnight and was coughing and spluttering all the way through to the alarm as it woke me at 6.30am…..up immediately as there’s a big day ahead….SHARKS!!!

Kees drove us all the 45kms through to Gaansbai, the worldwide centre for Great Whit shark diving and the location which 90% of the films featuring breaching sharks are shot. Pulled into the car park of Shark Diving Unlimited just in the nick of time as we were due to depart at 9.30am.

Proved to be not too much of a concern as we were presented with an awesome breakfast to fill our stomachs…before probably emptying them later on that day in the wetsuits they supplied us with! After a 10 minute briefing during which time the day’s activities were explained to us, we all made our way down to the harbour to find our boat ‘The Barracuda’ waiting at dockside for us. It was a gorgeous day with blue skies and a light offshore wind not even breaking the surface of the ocean, a total contrast from yesterday’s howling winds!

Once on board the 400hp outboards fired up and before long we were cruising out of the small harbour and out onto the rolling Atlantic Ocean the swell sending the boat up and down gradually adding to the excitement of the morning. Bre hated the idea of going to dive with the sharks and has always done so since she was younger so struggled to come to terms with exactly what we were about to do, full of trepidation she still went ahead.

Once we’d been moving for 30mins we pulled into the sheltered water between Dyas Island and the rocks which make up the 50,000 strong Cape Seal colony, known as Shark Alley. I’ve watched numerous docu’s and films about the Great White and almost all feature this infamous stretch of water as its one of the only places on the planet where they breach the water to attack seals.

The cage which holds 6 divers at a time was lowered into the water as we all kitted ourselves out with wetsuits, booties, masks and weight belts, the fish head chump was thrown in the water to attract our underwater buddies and we climbed to the upper deck to wait….and not for too long!

In the distance the Southern Right whales were passing and flipping tails in the air, but the foreground was where most of out attention was drawn to and the light grey shadows which occasionally passed under and around the boats hull. The first group of 6 climbed into the cage and as the sharks passed dived underneath to experience for themselves close up the reality of one of the most revered killers on the planet and boy did it get close, at times almost brushing against the bars of the cage!

Once they’d spent 15mins down there the first group climbed to the surface and it was my turn to jump into the great unknown. Compare this to the bungy jump which I did 10 days ago and I loved it, not a fart of anticipation of fear throughout the entire experience, I loved it!

Olympus were very kind to me at the start of this trip and supplied me with a 790SW which is shock and waterproof, perfect for this sort of situation and with it strapped to my hand I lowered myself into the cage with Bre beside me…..still looking like she was about to face a firing squad!

The fish head line was thrown into the distance and dragged back towards the boat, I’d carefully picked my place on the right hand side of the cage as this was where the rope was being pulled from, and watching the first group of divers, and knew this was the location where the sharks repeatedly passed the cage at its closet point!

The first couple of passes were so impressive, 3-4m long sharks passed within a couple of metres of the bars of the cage, almost close enough to touch…if you were stupid enough to wangle an arm out at it!

A new shark appeared on the scene with a long scar along its LHS from a previous encounter, and this mighty specimen seemed more active and persistent than the others who’d visited taking bites at the head time and time again. Then all of a sudden it surged towards the surface, metres from where we were and lunged at the bait knocking it clean out of the water as it grabbed it in its huge jaws and turned violently away with the bait and rope still in its mouth.

For the next minute or so it fought to free the bait, breaking the surface on a number of occasions, writhing and turning just on front of the cage providing the most awesome display of power and agility all recorded on my camera of course! I don’t think I’ve held my breath for quite as long before and spent the entire time underwater filming every move until finally gasping to the surface in amazement, truly an incredible experience!

Once we’d watched another couple of passes we climbed out of the cage and retook our positions on the upper deck as the cage was hauled in and the boat was turned towards the breaking waves which protected Shark Alley and the seal colony. We cruised past the stinking creatures and watched at they twisted and turned close to the bow of the boat with perfect moves all the time sweeping through the kelp, avoiding the crashing waves as they continually hunted for food.

We turned and headed for the safety of the harbour as by now the wind was again howling and had turned the ocean into a mass of white horses and rolling Atlantic swell, pulling into the harbour before changing, heading back to the offices for soup, to review the videos of the day and patting each other on the backs for an excellent day out…Bre well done!

End of day location:
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