The great white shark: is there any more feared creature in nature? It is time for a reality check. Here are the facts: sharks, of all species, kill about a dozen humans per year. That’s roughly same number of people killed annually by vending machines. Yes, vending machines.
Gansbaai, in the Cape Overberg region of South Africa, is the Great White Shark Capital of the World. We came to Gansbaai to experience a great white shark cage dive. We chose Marine Dynamics from among several cage dive tour operators in Gansbaai, based on several factors: 1) Marine Dynamic’s boat, Slashfin, is purpose-built for shark diving, offering state-of-the-art passenger comfort, 2) Marine Dynamics features an onboard marine biologist, so the trip will be educational, and 3) Marine Dynamics is the only tour operator that guarantees clean, dry wetsuits. The last factor is especially important if you think of everything that might happen in a wetsuit when its occupant is confronted by a great white shark at close proximity.
Our time with Marine Dynamics begins with breakfast, followed by a presentation about great white sharks and an overview of the trip ahead. Afterward, we head outside, where we are assigned wetsuits, dive boots, masks, life preservers and some blindingly bright orange waterproof windbreakers. We walk down the hill to the boat, and cast off on our journey. After a twenty-minute ride, we arrive at our destination, a shallow area near Dyer Island and the infamous ‘Shark Alley’.
The chance of running into a great white shark is a bit speculative, especially since it is November, outside the peak cage diving months of May through October. Certainly, there is never a guarantee of a sighting. To better the odds, the deck crew ladles a broth of fish guts into the sea from the back of the boat. As further enticement, a wooden seal decoy is cast out on a line. Then, the diving cage is lowered and secured to the side of the boat.
We don our wet suits, and wait on deck for the great white sharks to appear. While we wait, the marine biologist dispenses shark facts. Occasionally, our eyes are distracted by a flash of movement in the water. We see dolphins, seals, even a few whales, but no great white sharks.
After over two hours of waiting, I begin to think this great white shark cage dive adventure is a bust. I look doubtfully at the boat’s skipper, Hennie. He smiles and says, ‘Be patient.’ Hennie exudes that captain-like authority that makes you feel like he knows a whole lot more about everything than you do, so I try to remain hopeful. After all, I traveled halfway around the world, woke up at 4 AM, dressed in this bright orange convict-looking garb, and waited for hours. I have to see a great white shark.
Suddenly, one of the deck hands yells, ‘Great white shark to the left!’ I am glad he didn’t say ‘port’ or ‘starboard’, because those boat terms always confuse me. Sure enough, there is a great white shark, passing just yards off the side of the boat. The creature is massive, menacing, and everything I hoped it would be.
The first group of divers is ushered into the cage. There are screams of what I hope is delight from the submerged divers as the shark passes in front of the cage. Several more groups of divers are cycled through the cage. The shark periodically disappears and reappears. Eventually, our turn comes.
We don our masks and weight belts, and enter the cage. The water is shockingly cold. We stand in the cage shivering, for what seems like an eternity, but is really maybe five minutes. Then the cry from the deck hand comes, ‘Divers down, shark to the right!’ We take a breath and lower our heads below the waterline. I see the flash of the seal decoy pass within inches of my face, followed closely by the big guy, his gigantic jaws all agape. The moment is surreal.
In the end, the great white shark cage dive delivers. The experience is enlightening, suspenseful, and thrilling. But oddly, the great white shark cage dive is not really scary. It is nothing like bumping into a vending machine in a dark alley. Now that’s scary.
A Great White Shark Cage Dive, When You Go:
Perched on a rocky ledge overlooking the sea, the Cliff Lodge is a subtly sophisticated oceanfront retreat, offering unrivaled views of the Cape’s prolific marine life, most notably Southern Right whales. The service at the Cliff Lodge is personalized and downright indulgent. Treat yourself to the Penthouse Ocean Suite, and thank me later.
Remote, eco-friendly and design-centric, Farm 215 gets you next to nature. Sample wine from the adjoining vineyard, take a walkabout in the 800-hectare fynbos reserve, or set out on a spirited beach ride with Farm 215’s partner, the African Horse Company.
Eat and Drink:
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