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Wednesday 8 Feb
Hermanus, South Africa

Taking a dip with Great White sharks!

Woke up later than intended, damn fresh sea air... and wine from last night no doubt! Had a mad dash to get to the sharkcage diving which, it turned out, WASN'T in the town of Gannsbei where most of the operations took place, but another small town a little further on called Van Dyks Bay. Predictably none of the locals working in the hostel had ever heard of the place but luckily my Android phone came to the rescue as it had GPS working on it.

The guys I decided to do the cage diving with were sharkcagediving.net run by Brian McFarland. Despite his name, Brian is about as un-Scottish as you can get, with a thick Afrikaans accent. He was recommended to me by Maarten in the guesthouse in Cape Town, and I have to say it was a well-run operation...

After breakfast, and a short briefing, we headed out on the boat and no sooner had we gone out 100m than we spotted our first Great White swimming under us. It was big... and fast!

Great White Shark cage...
Great White Shark cage...

Unlike JAWS, there were no fins visible above water to announce their presence (in fact you would rarely see a fin rise above the water, unless they were thrashing about eating the bait). Regarding bait, there are arguments that the dive operators here are encouraging the sharks to associate humans with food, thus putting hapless tourists in even more danger. The operators would argue that they only use "chum" (a liquid concoction of fish organs) to get the sharks interested in coming closer, but as I saw one of the staff on board lowering a large fish-head on a rope into the water and then watched it get mauled in seconds by a large Great White, it was clear that the sharks do in fact get a feed at these events.

We were advised to wear wetsuits as the water was a "freezing" (by Cape standards) 12C. I oblidged, and although 12C wasn't too bad for an Irishman, some of the visitors from warmer climates were suffering intolerably.

I wasn't sure what was going to be involved, whether we actually did dive with scuba gear, or even wore snorkle masks, but I was rather taken aback to realise it was going to be neither. We essentially had to hold our breath! At least we were given masks...

Great White Shark cage...

As for the cage itself, it was a rectangular structure, about 6 meters long by 1 meter wide. At any one time up to 7 people could fit in it. A bit of a tight squeeze, it was a little claustrophobic for some. The fact that they then closed over the top of the cage, for some reason (maybe to stop you jumping out) was almost too much for some in the first group who went down and a poor American girl started freaking out as a Great White Shark thrashed about right in front of her:
"Let me out! Let me out! LET ME OUUUUUUUUUUUUT!"

Great White Shark cage...
Great White Shark cage...

When it finally came to be my turn to head in, I grabbed my underwater Canon camera (the only reason I brought it was for this dive!) and plummeted into the cage, nearly whacking some poor chap on the bonce as I dropped in. Despite the visibility being less than 2 metres, not helped by the fact bits of half-eaten fish-head were floating about us, I was loving it. At first there were only one or two sharks, and they were fairly mild mannered, but within an hour there were at least 20 of the bastards circling around us, trying to figure out how to get through to the meaty objects inside the cage! It was scary and yet also fun, you couldn't get me out of the cage.

Great White Shark cage...
Great White Shark cage...

Some of the sharks had clearly been around the block with large scars and metal protrusions which reminded me of Moby Dick. These guys had a vendetta against humans and it wasn't long before we were on the receiving end of their anger. The staff on board the boat continued to use bait on ropes to guide the shark ever closer to us, and at one point I had my hand on the outside bar so that I could position myself better to photograph the sharks (the slow auto-focus on the ancient Canon Powershot wasn't helping matters). I dropped my hand from the bar for a second right before a huge Great White came charging directly for us, spun it's body in the blink of an eye and whacked our cage with it's tail. It hit the point where I had placed my hand only moments earlier. If my hand had still been there, it would have been fingerless! The attack was so strong that the cage almost dislodged from the boat, but myself and the German guy left in the cage at the time got knocked about inside.
I led out a yell "Jesus f****ing Christ on a stick" (or something). This got a round of laughter from the others on the boat. Easy for them, we had to take the full brunt of it! Unfortunately they edited that bit out of the DVD which they were recording.

I was quick to learn that sharks use their tails to stun their prey, rather than attacking solely using their teeth. Shark skin is also rough like sand-paper, so along with the speed of their movement and the fact that they are essentially one big muscle with teeth, contact with their body alone could cause some serious damage.

We got back around 3pm so I decided that rather than head straight back to Hermanus, I'd take the risk of breaking my 150km car rental limit and drive down to Cape Agulhas, the most southerly point in Africa (it's not Cape Point, near Cape Town, as many have been led to believe)

Africa's most southerly...
Africa's most southerly point

It was a stroke of genius as I got to pass through valleys filled with massive colonial vinyards, lush farmland and twee Afrikaan buildings such as a farmhouse converted into a large county store, a museum exhibit in it's own right. The size of the vinyards amazed me, stretching as far as the eye could see, yet each generally owned by one family. Back in the colonial days land was so cheap that farmers could get vast estates for the price of a few acres back in Holland.

Eventually I reached Cape Alghulas, the most southerly point on African continent. I love reaching milestones like this, as you can tell from the photo on the left. The town of Cape Agulhas itself was rather unlike anywhere else I'd seen on the trip so far, a very green and quiet seaside village like something you might see in Ireland. It was a rather serene place and I sat here for a few hours admiring the view of the Atlantic and Indian oceans colliding in the warm sea breeze.

Headed back to Hermanus for a Braii in the hostel that night (the Afrikaan version of a BBQ). Lots of sausage about!

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Sithern Efrika

Travel blog by peterforan

Great White Shark cage diving

Great White Shark cage diving


20 days to sample the "other" down-under... a trip covering parts of South Africa, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe in February. Cape Town to Vic Falls get the treatment, while I mix in a safari or two... Now where did I put that elephant gun?

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    African Penguin colony on the way to Hermanus
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    Welcoming committee
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    Hermanus

    South Africa

    Great White Shark cage diving
  • Great White...

    Hermanus

    South Africa

    Great White Shark cage diving