Close Encounters of the Elasmobranch Kind

We have to check out of the hotel in Hermanus very early.  We don’t even get breakfast because we are due to check in at 7 in the morning for our day with Shark Diving Unlimited run by Mike Rutzen who has spent more time free diving with Great White Sharks than any other person on the planet.  He is also one of only 3 people who are able to read and respond to Great White Shark body language.  It’s this respect and love he has for these animals, which he aims to share with his guests.

We arrive and find an array of good things to eat, such as mushroom and egg muffins,  before we embark.  We head out to sea; it is a 15-minute run out to the cage which will be attached to the side of the boat and which will accommodate 7 shark observers at a time.  The cage looks robust enough although the mesh seems quite large to me.  As I struggle into a wet suit for the first time in ages I am still allowing myself the option to duck out at the last minute!  DSC01348 (2)40The skipper explains the drill and I naturally step back when he calls for the first trippers to volunteer to enter one of the small compartments in the cage.  He says that if he observes anyone putting their hands outside the cage……… as if!…………. the boat will turn round and head straight back to the port.

The sharks – Great Whites of course – are drawn into the environs of the boat with tuna head baits.  These are attached to a rope and cast out then hauled towards the boat as the shark approaches.  DSC01350 (2)40 Fairly basic stuff.  A 3.5 metre female comes within our influence and stays with the boat for the duration of the trip.  All those who want to experience the thrills get two turns in the cage.  When the moment comes for me to take my turn it is easier to clamber into the cage than lose face and dip out.

The technique is simple enough and as the shark comes close to the cage and swims past it, the occupants of the cage are instructed to duck below the surface.  We hold our breath and sink down, viewing the shark through a mask as she passes along the cage.  She is very close. DSC01381 (3)40 Perhaps my best view and experience is when I am slow to duck, getting a chance to see the shark at the surface as she makes to grab the bait.  Exhilarating has to be the word!

Charlotte has opted not to dive on this trip and she sits up top with Ted, camera in hand and gets a bird’s eye view of the show.  The boat’s skipper is a competent man, he directs the proceedings and also records the experience as a video.  DSC01410 (2)40When we get back to the office there is coffee, and more of the food to be enjoyed and whilst we eat Mike processes and edits the video.  We then sit down, there and then, to relive our own close encounters.

After a super thrilling morning we pile into our vehicle and head for the Franschhoek area.  We will stay here for two nights before heading back to Cape Town to take a flight north.

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