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We have all heard the saying: “failing to plan means planning to fail.” I always wondered if that was meant in the entertainment and adventure side of life as well as business? I mean where is the spontaneity in life if we plan even the fun stuff? I think it is a good idea to have a bucket list plan of things to do in our lifetime, and then cross them off as they have been done. You may find that you want to add them again to the list, as I have done with my amazing Great White Shark Cage Diving experience.
Great White Sharks Do Sometimes Fly
I am an animal lover, a lover of all animals, big and small, furry or scaled, land or sea. Being such a lover of animals, I have watched many a YouTube video or TV program that shows animals, or the amazing things they do. Now if you have ever seen a Discovery program, you are bound to have seen something on sharks. Usually Great White Sharks, and even better, Great White Sharks that fly!
It’s Discovery Shark Week, so I was a little skeptical, as they show a lot of docu-dramas as opposed to documentaries, so I took myself on a little tour of the internet, and found that it is true, Great White Sharks do sometimes fly. They call it “Airjaws,” a most fitting a name. Well, when I saw this, and I saw it was real, I decided this was one adventure I would not be missing out on, and added it to the top of my bucket list.
Choosing A Shark Cage Diving Company
After much online investigation, I chose a company that looked and sounded like the kind of folks I would like to support for my Great White Shark Cage Diving experience. They are eco-friendly, the skipper is the owner and takes most of the trips himself, not to mention that he is referred to as “The Shark Legend”! He has been to the dive site, Seal Island in False Bay, more than any living person today and they have so many great reviews, it was a no-brainer. I was going to book with African Shark Eco-Charters. They are the only operation that offers scuba, even if you are not scuba qualified, ‘cos they make use of the hookah method, so one does not need to know how to scuba dive, which is awesome! What a pleasure to be able to go down and stay down, so as not to miss any of the underwater action.
As they explain on their website, there are shark seasons, and within those seasons there are, what I will refer to as sub-seasons. The Great White Shark cage diving season starts around mid-February and continues through to mid-September, with the shark breaching period being between May and August. Then during the other months, they dive with a Sevengill Broadnose Sharks as well, but it was my desire to experience the flying Great White Shark, Airjaws. My trip was booked for the morning of the 15th June, it was only a couple of months away, and the anticipation was tangible.
When Booking Any Weather Dependant Adventure, Make Sure You Book It Early
I received a very informative confirmation email, which required that I secure my booking by signing the disclaimer and cancellation policy. They offered a lot of information, all very relevant, with good advice. They also made sure that I knew that it was my responsibility to contact them the day before the trip, to confirm the trip will be going ahead, as there are many possible factors that could force them to cancel. At this point, let me give you some of my wisdom; when booking any weather dependant adventure, make sure you book it early into your holiday so that if you have to reschedule, due to weather, you have a couple days to which you are able to reschedule.
Now the waiting game has begun. As the date moves closer, I start watching the weather and try to predict its patterns. My dreams involve water, sea and huge creatures that emerge from the blue, as I hold tight to what sometimes feels like a rubber cage, that moves and shifts with the swell. Not once in my dream, did I panic, or feel in danger, instead, I could just make out the shape of the shark, but never quite got to look it in the face. The excitement was real, and I would wake with a beating heart and smile on my face.
When I was unable to find the answer in the Frequently Asked Questions page on the website, I sent emails with questions, and the land crew were so incredibly helpful and very knowledgeable on the sharks, their behaviours and quirks; they were an absolute pleasure to deal with, if this was an indication of the day’s activities, I was sure I was going to have a fantastic shark cage dive experience.
The Conditions Were Good And We Will Be Shark Cage Diving
The day drew closer until it was the day before my trip. I eagerly awaited 14h00, which was the time we are asked to call to confirm the booking, and though I was out and about, seeing what there was to be seen, I had one eye on my watch all the while. Eventually, 14h00 came, and I made the call. While I was waiting for the land crew to answer the call, I could hear a text come in, I looked and it was from them, asking me to please check my emails regarding the shark trip tomorrow. I held my breath until I had opened the email and read the first and second line. “Hi, though a little chilly tomorrow, the conditions are good and we will be going to sea…” I was so excited, I had to read and re-read the email, to get the pick-up time (I had asked for a pick-up) and read the other interesting information I had been sent.
The email suggested sea-sickness medication, and figuring it would be better than suffering seasickness, I decided to take the advice. They also mention a list of things to bring along, sunscreen, cap, towel, camera and a water-resistant windbreaker. Fortunately, I have all of these, but if I didn’t they did, and I could purchase these from their store. They also remind us that we are going to sea to see wild animals in their natural environment, and to come hoping to see them as opposed to expecting, really just keeping our expectations in check. Even so, the excitement is impossible to contain, and I was in bed early, as my pick-up was for 05h35 sharp.
Before I knew it, my alarm sounded to usher in the day of my number one bucket list adventure, I was going shark cage diving. I ticked off the list of things I was packing into my backpack, to make sure I had not left anything behind, and I was ready. At 05h35 the driver arrived, in a shark shuttle, very friendly and informative. There were others in the shuttle, but we were all comfortable and warm, despite the cold nip in the air. The drive to Simons Town was not long, though all in darkness, as the moon still hung in the night’s sky. I could not imagine having to do the long drive to Gansbaai, which is approx. 2.5 hours from Cape Town, and could not understand why anyone would choose that over the 45-minute drive to Simons Town.
Was It Fear Or Excitement, I Was Unclear
We arrived, the promise of the dawn just peaking over the mountains that surround this beautiful and quaint navy village, and was greeted by yet another friendly face. We were offered a coffee, tea or hot chocolate, while we were fitted for our wetsuits. “What a great bunch of folks,” I thought, as they chatted and answered questions and dispelled fears, mine included. My tummy was swimming with butterflies, my heart pounding in my chest. Was it fear or excitement, I was unclear.
We were escorted down the pier, to the waiting Blue Pointer, a beautiful boat, big for the number of people on the trip. It was comfortable with its upper viewing deck and covered cabin. It offered a change room for those a little more modest and a bathroom, should one need it, very difficult once in the wetsuit, so I suggest going to the bathroom before putting it on! We were given a briefing before we left the pier, telling us about the trip out, which was going to take about 30 to 35 minutes, and the bird life, and possible other marine life we may encounter on the way. There were sandwiches, biscuits, crisps and candies available, as well as cold drinks and water.
It Was Worth It Just For That
The boat ride to the famous Seal Island was transcendent, as the sun slowly rose her sleepy head over the cover of mountains, and painted the sky in reds, oranges and yellows of every hue, it was worth it just for that! The wind turned the oceans spray into cold little reminders that it was the middle of winter, so I pulled my scarf and jacket a little tighter around myself and stared in awe at the natural beauty False Bay offers.
65 000 Cape Fur Seals
We knew we were getting closer to the island, ‘cos quite frankly it stank! Stands to reason of course, and we had been warned. If you have 65000 cape fur seals all sharing one little island, it is going to smell, but the skipper did not leave us in the downwind position but moved to a position where we were not the recipients of nature’s stench.
The seals bark in welcome and excitement, and as we had been told, the younger ones were now starting to learn the meaning of “finding their own way,” and were taking to the ocean alone, making them rather an easy target for the ocean’s most feared predator, the Great White Shark, who it so happened, I was here to see.
We were helped into our wetsuits in anticipation of the dive, while we kept a steely eye on the ocean, looking for the tell-tale signs, giving away any possible breaching behaviour. “Keep a lookout for any lone seals, not in groups.” We were told, as this makes them easy prey to the hungry Great White Shark. I saw how the seals would congregate at an area, just off the island, until their group was large enough to swim out into the open seas, so as not to appear as easy a target as a single seal. The crew also deploy a decoy, which is a fake seal carpet, which is thrown out to sea and pulled back to the boat. The crew worked very hard, encouraging these behemoths to fly, and we all scoured the ocean to find that one lone seal.
A Sneak Shark Attack
Though the sun had risen above the mountain range, the light was still muted and darkness still covered much of the ocean. Then, there it was as if in slow motion, a Great White Shark had found a lone seal, and with the sheer force of what I believe, only a Great White is able to expel, both seal and shark flew. The seal, obviously stunned by this sneak attack, was hurled head over tail more than 5 meters into the air and close on its fins was the Great White, bursting from the previously calm ocean surface, into the air. It felt like slow motion, but at the same time, it was over all too quickly! The cheers and shouts from the crew and other guests broke the early morning silence and lingered on. The seal was able to avoid the business end of the shark, this time anyway, for which I was glad. I understand they need to eat, and I do not begrudge them that, I just do not want to watch it happen. Later on, when chatting to the crew, I found out that I fall into the Team Seal category, and I was happy to do so.
As the sun rose, to take a higher view of us all, we were briefed on how the scuba equipment worked and how to behave in the cage. While still in stunned and awed silence from the breach we entered the cage 5 at a time. It was spacious and we had more than enough room to turn and move about so as to gain the best vantage viewpoint. And within minutes, we were told to “go down, right in front of the cage.” And there it was, the first Great White Shark I was ever to witness within touching distance. Everything slowed down, and it felt as though we experienced a moment, where we got lost in each other’s eyes.
On reviewing the video, it was only all of 3 to 4 seconds, but the whole world and every experience slows down beneath the waves. I was transformed, I was exhilarated, I was excited and I was in awe. What a graceful creature, with its battle scared body, what beauty. And it smiled, I promise you, it smiled. They seem to have a permanent smile, that is so blatant to see from the front, as they swim toward you.
I understand the fear, I understand the horror, but I also understand that it is a huge misconception, perpetuated by Hollywood and the mechanical giants they create to propagate this lie. These creatures are grace personified, as they glide effortlessly through the ocean depths.
The Great White Shark Population Is Only Between 300 And 500 In South Africa
We were fortunate to see 4 different Great White Sharks on this day, all of whom the crew had named due to physical attributes and characteristics. This in itself should speak volumes and tell us all that they have different personalities and are as individual as you or I. It was much to my sadness that I learned from the crew, that the Great White population in South Africa was estimated at between 300 and 500 sharks only. What an incredible opportunity I had been afforded by these amazing creatures, one for which I will be forever grateful and forever changed.
This guest post was written by: Nadine Bentley
What experiences have you got on your bucket list? We’d love to hear from you!