So the first part of my trip I kept a journal, ( See my entry: Flying with Tryge ) but as time went on I got better at forgetting to write in it. That being said, I remember just about everything about the day I went Great White Shark Cage Diving, and wrote quite a bit on the subject down in my head.
If you would have told me five years ago I would be in South Africa swimming with Great Whites I wouldn’t have believed you. Five years ago the farthest I had been away from home was probably Nevada and the most exotic animal I had seen was a giant squirrel on the Eastern Michigan University campus.
I had read about cage diving online and realized that Gansbaai (a town about an hour or two Southeast of Cape Town) had some of the most shark infested waters in the world. Going in with Great Whites was one of my goals for this trip, even though the idea of actually doing it scared the shit out of me. If this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity was that close to where I was already staying it was kind of stupid to pass it up.
So I convinced Johnny (the father of my South African Family, pictured above) to go with me. If one of us got killed by the shark the other one would be alive to tell the tale over a fire on a stormy night to future grandchildren, which is important to plan for when going cage diving with sharks. He also kind of knew the way to Gansbaai so he was my driver.
His sense of humor really helped make the trip enjoyable too; he had no problem calling the sharks over with a goofy,”Here fishy fishy fishy fishy!” It kind of eased the nerves a little.
We boarded a boat with about twenty tourists from all over the world (one was actually from Michigan too! What are the odds?) and a crew of five into the bay. Despite the cold air the water was remarkably warm and probably the brightest aqua blue i had ever seen in my life. The boat pulled out into the middle of the bay and waited, with the crew sloshing bucket after bucket of blood and chum into the waves to attract the sharks. Some days the Great Whites show up quick,.. other days it could be hours if at all.
It was kind of eerie watching the rolling ocean because your eyes would play tricks on you. I kept thinking I saw one, only to realize it was a grey shadow cast by a wave in the distance, and once the sharks finally did show up they would casually slip in and out of sight. I thought about how scary it would be to be stranded there in the water, with these giant shadowy forms moving at you from all directions.
That’s probably my greatest fear; being alone in the ocean. There’s so much we don’t know about what lives down there.
Within maybe twenty minutes we were being circled by four Great White Sharks. Their faces were downright alien; a maw of sharpened daggers, a flat angular snout, and these unreal black eyes that flashed white every now and then. They really were prehistoric creatures, and despite their ferocious features they acted pretty calm in the water as they lazily circled the boat. Three meter long submarines of muscle and teeth in a slick grey form.
The sharks were exceptionally inquisitive of the fish-heads and “Gingerbread Man” decoy (pictured above) offered by the crew. It appeared the sharks investigated things by biting them, another reason I wouldn’t want to be a stranger floating around in their home.
After an hour or so of watching them circle and jump for the Gingerbread Man it came time for me and Johnny to get in the cage. Although a tight fit, the cage was very secure, and it was pretty incredible to be in the ocean alongside such impressive creatures. I was mesmerized watching them swim effortlessly below the surface. Kind of like the most dangerous Lava Lamp you’ve ever owned.
At one point I was so distracted I reached out, through the safety of the bars, trying to get the shark’s attention. It’s head snapped back with surprising speed and focused on me with its large black eye. I immediately remembered my place in the food chain and whipped my hand back into the cage while the shark slipped away into the darker waters below.
“This is how people lose hands and shit” I remember hearing the captain say earlier in the day.
If you ever find you have the chance to experience this, even if you think you’re afraid of the deep ocean, I highly recommend you reconsider! It was a great experience and I can’t believe I was lucky enough to see these awesome animals up close. And neither was Johnny!