Sunday, September 26, 2010

Face to Face With Jaws

Everyone has experienced the reoccurring nightmare of a shark fin popping up out of the water as you enjoy a leisurely swim in the deep blue. I am in fact so terrified of this experience becoming a reality that I rarely venture farther out than waste deep when visiting the ocean. So how did I let Trent talk me into climbing aboard a boat heading for a well known Great White playground? Trent has been obsessed with sharks his whole life. In fact his favorite time for television is Shark Week on Discovery. Part of the reason I agreed to do this is I wanted to  support Trent while he fulfilled his wildest fantasy and the other part was probably due to my need to prove something to myself. I have let fear come between myself and opportunities one too many times and I knew I would regret it if I didn’t at least attempt this shark encounter. Plus I knew that even if I became overwhelmed by anxiety and refused to get in the cage I could still see the sharks from the safety of the boat!

We flew into Cape Town Friday, September 24th. Friday was a holiday in South Africa (Heritage Day) so we took advantage of Trent’s one weekend off to visit what is supposed to be the most beautiful part of South Africa. Although, we have only been here two days I would agree with that assessment. The Western Cape is a perfect postcard location! The beaches are incredible and there are quaint villages scattered all over the coast and everything is surrounded with lush green landscape and mountains. We have already seen quite a bit of the Cape as we drove about 2 ½ hours up the coast to the town of Gansbaii to board The Great White diving boat. About 15 minutes off the coast of this town is Dyer Island and home to the infamous sharks. On the way there I commented that it was a perfect sunny day to be at sea. Boy was I wrong. Although, it was sunny it was extremely windy and the water was ROUGH. The guide warned us before we got on the boat that it was going to be a bumpy ride, but I felt prepared for whatever lie ahead as I had taken Dramamine. The ride out to the dive spot was rough, and I felt a bit queasy, but it was manageable. It wasn’t until we anchored down and the boat began to rock violently back and forth that the slight queasiness turned into full blown nausea. As X-Man (the chummer) began to throw out the fish guts to attract the sharks I was concentrating so hard on not getting sick that I hardly noticed the dark shadow that began circling our boat. I was definitely not consumed by fear as I had presumed, but instead only mildly intrigued as I took slow, deep breaths and attempted to focus on anything other than the motion of the waves. I prayed that I would not get sick and when I realized that prayer was going to be denied I prayed that Anna (who gets motion sick in any moving vehicle) would not get sick. I could suffer through the experience but I knew it would be unbearable for Anna. I was so grateful that both her and Aiden not only did not get sick, but enjoyed every minute of the experience and behaved so incredibly well that I was able to focus my complete attention on myself.

Refusing to allow the sea sickness to completely ruin the experience I somehow managed to pull on a very tight wetsuit. The guide told me that I would probably feel better once I was in the water. Willing to do anything to feel better, I jumped into the cage without any hesitation. I was the first out of our group to get into the cage and it did not even occur to me until after it was over that I was alone in that cage for quite awhile before the other divers joined me. In a way it was a blessing to be sick as I was so completely focused on not puking that I had no available resources to encourage fear. Being in a cage in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean was an interesting experience. There were bars above my head and inside to hold on to but I was to short to hook my feet on the bar below. My only positional options were to put my feet on the bars in front of me, which meant having my toes poking out of the cage or to let my feet dangle. It was a little disheartening to realize that my toes might become shark food if they drew any attention. We were fortunate enough to have 6 different Great Whites snack on our bait. When the sharks would come in close to the boat the guides would yell “down” and tell us which direction to look and we would dive under and hold our breath. It was eerily exciting to watch these predators swim by or chomp on bait right in front of our face, occasionally crashing into the cage in their attempt to remove the bait. While I did feel slightly better for most of the time I was in the cage, it was not long before the swaying cage got the best of me and I realized I was going to be sick. I could not believe that not only was I going to vomit but I was going to do it in a cage with 4 other divers, including Trent and my mom! Fortunately for all of us I was on the very far side of the cage and I was able to chum the water myself without getting it all over everyone! At one point one of the guides yelled down “are you going to be okay, do you want to get out?” and I remember saying, “I don’t know just yet” right before I lost the rest of my lunch. After it was over I was able to see a couple of more sharks underwater before calling it quits! I spent the rest of the trip, inside the boat trying to hold down any other stomach contents I may have left. It is sad to say but I was relieved to know I was not the only one that the sea got the best of. This poor guy that came with 3 of his friends spent the whole time holding on to two bars with his head over the boat. I felt so much empathy for him as he clearly looked like he wanted to die! You know someone is sick when freezing cold water is splashing all over them, their entire body is shaking uncontrollably but they can’t move! He wasn’t even able to move out of the way when my mom began launching her lunch up over the side of the boat and the direction of the wind forced the contents right onto the poor guy! That immediately triggered him to throw up again and then all three of us were hanging over the side of the boat! What a picture that must have been!

Even though we were sicker than dogs my mom and I agreed it was a worthwhile, once in a lifetime experience! Because so many of the divers were sick, Trent had a lot more opportunities to be in the cage, so he was thrilled! The very last shark sighting of the day included a 3.5 meter female smashing into the cage right next to Trent with her mouth wide open! Trent said it was so close he could literally count all of
her teeth! Everyone agreed that it was a great way to end the trip and we headed back to land. I was so excited to get off the boat! But even after feeling so miserable it was fun to watch the video and see myself disembarking with a big smile and both thumbs up!


  1. Great story!!! I can totally picture it. We sure missed Anna for her birthday though!!!

  2. Oh my gosh... I am feeling nauseas! I get sooo sea sick. What an amazing experience though swimming with those scary sharks! I do wish I could have seen a picture of Michel hurling all over that poor man...that would be so great.
    I miss you guys!


  3. Holy crap!! What an adventure!!! You are one lucky girl :)