CANSBAII, SOUTH AFRICA - My first sighting of a shark while diving was five years ago in Cuba. I remember it well. The sun was shining, the water was calm and the air was salty sweet.
Every day on that trip, the ocean supplied me and my dive buddies with wondrous surprises. Then, while chasing a porcupine fish one day, I heard “DING, DING, DING, DING!” — the emergency signal between divers. Someone had seen something — and that something turned out to be a beautiful three-metre-long nurse shark that was hiding under a rock sleeping.
I’d never seen something this beautiful. And when the shark woke up, it began swimming towards me, stared me right in the eye for a few seconds as if to say “welcome to my world,” and then swam off.
The memory of my first shark sighting comes rushing back while I’m heading out to sea off the coast of Gansbaii — located 160 kilometres south of Cape Town — to experience my first ever cage dive. That’s where divers are placed in a cage and Great Whites swim past, looking at the humans like their zoo animals.
Oh, and sometimes the Great Whites will attack the cage and try to eat the divers.
South Africa has one of the biggest populations of Great Whites in the world and because the waters off the Western Cape, specifically in Gansbaai (a.k.a. Gans Bay) are so rich with the food Great Whites like — primarily fur seals — the mightiest of all sharks gather here in the winter months to fill their bellies.
Above: The dangers are many but it's the dream of every diver to cage dive with sharks.
The ocean conditions here are normally rough and today is no exception. On my right, one diver is vomiting uncontrollably and another is lying on the deck fighting sea sickness as our small boat cuts through the cold, choppy surf.
About an hour into the ride, our captain, shark expert Brian McFarlane, senses that there are Great Whites in the vicinity, so he cuts the engines and quickly lowers the large cage into the water.
Above: Coming this close to a shark is what excites divers.
He tells us to get ready and I feel a rush of excitement fill my veins as I make final checks to my equipment.
I’m the first into the cage but the freezing temperature of the water shocks me for a moment.
Then I let myself slowly sink to the bottom of the cage and wait with great anticipation for a Great White to show.
At first, I don’t see anything big, but I know the sharks are out there somewhere.
Brian’s team is tossing bait into the water trying to attract the great, slithery creatures and the minutes pass slowly but still no sighting.
I’m freezing and just as I decide to exit the cage for a while to warm up, a large shadow suddenly appears in the distance. It’s a Great White and it’s huge.
My heart is racing so fast I think it’s going to jump out of my chest at any second.
I instinctively push to the back of the cage in a protective mode as the Great White swims closer.
As it approaches, the Great White opens its mighty mouth, exposing its jagged saw-like teeth. Now I’m scared!
Just when I think the shark is about to attack the cage, though, it gobbles up a large chunk of bait floating in the water and quickly swims off.
I’m left wide-eyed and breathless.
When I swim to the surface, I hear the young female diver who was standing beside me in the cage yelling at the top of her lungs “I can’t breathe — get me out!”
The excitement of the moment is too much for her — not an unusual reaction for first timers, according to McFarlane.
But I’m experiencing an adrenalin rush like never before. I can’t wait to share this experience with my dive buddies.
Brian McFarlane and his team offer one of the best cage diving experiences in the world. They are extremely professional and conduct a high level of safety. On Karen Wang’s trip with Brian, he quickly ordered a medical boat in order to get sick divers back to shore and to a doctor as fast as possible. For more info on McFarlane and his company go to www.sharkcagediving.net
or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org