Before we left the States, the only thing Mike knew he wanted to splurge on was cage diving with Great Whites. Tara gave a sarcastic and unenthusiastic “Yay.” The thought pretty much scared the shit out of her. But over the course of the last five months, she started to see things differently. After all, this trip – from the moment we handed in our resignation at work – is about stepping out of our comfort zones.
We arrived in Cape Town, South Africa, on a Friday afternoon after having spent two weeks in Johannesburg and Pretoria. That night, we jumped online and booked our cage diving experience through Marine Dynamics, which was recommended by STA Travel and a fellow travel blogger. A representative called us barely five minutes after we booked to confirm the details for Sunday.
Sunday morning at 6:30, the Marine Dynamics shuttle bus arrived to transfer us from Cape Town to Gansbaai. During the 2-3 hour drive, we picked up about 10 other passengers. The drive south took us by tin-house townships, fields of vineyards and snaking through mountains. And finally, half awake, we arrived at The Great White House, where we registered and joined about 30 other divers for breakfast and much-needed coffee (included as part of the diving package). After chowing down, the marine biologist who would be on our boat screened a briefing video and fielded questions. The video’s candidness and the crew’s excitement put us at ease and made us realize this wouldn’t be remembered as the day the Americans were eaten by sharks. We left The Great White House and headed to the bay, where we loaded onto our boat, Slashfin, named after a “resident” Great White who had been attacked by another shark.
Fast forward. After speed through the water toward nearby Dyer Island, the crew chose a spot to anchor and began handing out water shoes and bags that contained wetsuits. They explained the techniques they employed to attract the Great Whites to Slashfin. A chum line that extended back to shore would lure the curious creatures toward out boat. Once they’re nearby and we have their attention, the crew would use a seal decoy and a bundle of fish heads to bring the sharks toward the cage. As they explained, others fastened the eight-person cage to the side of the boat. A perfect little sardine can for the sharks to attack, er, swim past.
In the end, we were out on the Atlantic for at least three hours as four sets of eight people went in and out of the cage. Curious Great Whites approached our boat, but never showed too much aggression (only when provoked by the decoy and fish heads). They ranged in size from three to four meters (nine to twelve-ish feet) and swam fluidly and agilely. When a shark approached, the crew shouted, “Down! Right!” (or left) so those in the cage could view them underwater (masks and diving weights provided). The cage was equipped with a hand and foot rail to help keep divers down, and to keep hands and feet inside the cage. The water was pretty cold, even through the wetsuits. But as the sharks swam past, the temperature became a distant memory as excitement and the thrill of the moment took hold. The sharks never attacked the cage, boat or any person. Instead, they swam past — maybe bumping into the cage — giving those in and out of the sardine can a great view of their magnificent bodies (cue whistle) and graceful moves. It showed us another side of them – not what Hollywood or even the Discovery Channel shows. Seeing the Great Whites in person actually set a calm over us. Though that doesn’t change our feelings about having the cage between us and them.