Diving With The Great White Sharks
One of the must-do's when visiting Cape Town is going diving with the Great White sharks - the largest predators of the sea. The town of Gansbaai is located about two hours drive from Cape Town and has two distinct islands off shore - Geyser Rock Island populated by a large colony (50,000-60,000) of seals and Dyer Island which is home to a colony of African penguins. Both species are the prime targets for Great Whites so the channel between the two islands is known as the Shark Alley. That is the spot where a number of dive companies are taking the whiling victims to observe the sharks up close.
I was thinking about signing up for one of these 'tours' when I saw a post on Cape Town couchsurfing group from a manager of one of the companies mentioning a 'special' rate for couchsurfers (as she is one of us). I messaged Charmaine right away and got a small discount to go diving with White Sharks Projects company. Considering that they threw in a free DVD and a free pickup in Cape Town, I saved about a third on the tour cost.
Yey for couchsurfing!.
Originally, the diving was supposed to happen on Tuesday, but soon after we all got picked up and got on the way, the driver received a phone call advising him that it might get cancelled for that day because the winds were starting to pick up and the waves were growing. Another five minutes later they made the decision to call it a day before we get too far into our drive. That sucked, but I asked to be rescheduled for the next day and ended up going to Cape Point instead with one of the girls I met on the van.
Wednesday was going to be a 'definite go' so we got on our way early. It took us longer than we thought to get there so by the time we arrived, everyone was scrambling to get us ready to go as the winds were starting to pick up again.
The rest of the group going with us was finishing the safety briefing while we were paying so we walked upstairs just in time for them to say "that's it, let's get on the way!" On top of that, they were hurrying the boat in, throwing all the equipment on there while we were boarding. Not a very good start
Things got better as soon as we got on our way. First, we saw a whale or two playing around near our boat. Then I was able to chat with the guy that did the safety briefing to learn that aside from not sticking our body parts outside the cage, there is really nothing more to it. Simple enough. Soon we were anchoring in the Shark Alley and downing on our wet suits. I jumped on the chance to go in the first group figuring that it might let me go again later if they do more rotations.
The viewing cage was attached to the port side of the boat, partially submerged under water. Seven people would fit in there side-by-side and bobble around breathing normally until the spotters on the boat see a shark and tell us to go down as well as which direction to look. They were also using a wooden decoy and some tuna heads attached to a buoy to get sharks' attention and bring them closer to the cage.
I was imagining this to be a bit different - with full scuba gear on, submerged under water with sharks
swimming swarming all around us as I have seen on TV before, so this was not exactly it, but the setup made sense for getting a large pool of people with the only requirement being to be able to hold your breath.
We probably spent good 15 minutes in the cage, getting to see a shark up close a few times. One time it turned and went by just inches from the cage. I could of reached out and touched the tail of it if I was not holding my iPhone taking a video.
For that matter, this was the first real test of the pouch I got for my phone and, unfortunately, it failed miserably. On the bright side, it did work as far as not letting any water in. However, while registering all my touches perfectly while dry, once underwater, it would not register anything I tried to do so taking pictures was out of the question. Eventually, I gave up and started video recordings while above water and just let it run.
Once back on the boat, I watched another three or four groups go through, some having more luck than others, but I think everyone got a few up-close moments. There were two really exciting ones when the sharks grabbed the bait and would not let it go, following it right to the boat (and that side of the cage).
First time, it bit off the bait and left the buoy, but the second time even the buoy was gone.
Eventually, the last group was getting ready to get out and we were asked if anyone wanted to go again, so I got to be one of the seven that got to go twice . This time around we probably had the best viewing as two sharks were swimming around coming right by the cage many times.
We packed up and started heading back after brief stops off the Dyer island and Geyser to see the seals and African penguins.
Once on shore, we watched a video that was shot during the day (amazingly, only about 10 minutes after we got back - somehow they have already done the editing). I was getting the DVD for free as part of my couchsurfing deal so we waited another few minutes to get a copy and then drove back to Cape Town.
This is my own cut of the videos I shot while on the boat. One day I'll combine it with the DVD they gave us: