We arrived in Mossel Bay the previous evening after Adam's bungy jump and found a really nice hotel to spend the night with views over the bay. Dinner was also a really excellent buffet so we were well fed.
The next morning we had to check out early and head down to the head office of White Shark Africa in the town. We had booked to join the tour several weeks earlier as places sell out quickly so after checking in we had the opportunity to have a second breakfast and to watch a video all about a local researcher who has been studying Great Whites for a number of years. The video was actually really interesting and gave us a good idea of what to expect on the boat.
Once this was over and everyone had arrived we then headed off to the harbour to find our boat. Annabel did not want to come with us so had brought a book with her to read for the next few hours. We had tried to get her on the boat without diving but it turns out that was exactly the same price so she declined. It later became quite obvious why just being on the boat isn't any cheaper.
Once on the boat there was a brief introduction and we headed out into the bay. None of us were quite sure how far we would have to go to find these sharks or even how the crew would locate them but it didn't take long for us to get quite bored as we headed in a straight line for the best part of an hour without seeing so much as a seal.
We started to draw close to a beach much further down the coast when we stopped. It was actually quite disturbing just how close to the beach we were. In the distance a little bit further along was another boat which looked exactly the same as the research boat we had seen on the video that morning. It turns out it was.
Our crew chummed the water and used the head of a tuna fish as additional bait. The fish head looked quite old though and I'm not sure how effective it was. Unfortunately though we waited for close to another hour with no success.
The crew explained that this particular spot has been successful for them since last November but the sharks could move on at any time and they would have to set about finding them again. They also explained that further down the coast towards Cape Town the sharks have moved on completely due to the high water temperatures. The water where we were was 24 degrees. At just 25 degrees the sharks find it too warm and head to cooler waters!
The research boat we could see apparently had sharks swimming around it although only the crew had good enough eyesight to see this. The crew dropped a visibility gage into the water and we could still see it up to 7 metres which was really good. But still no sharks!
The captain of the crew radioed the research guys which was a big surprise to me because I'm used to researchers not being particularly happy about tourist companies. However, it turns out they have a really good relationship with White Shark Africa and are happy for tourists to learn to respect the sharks and to realise that they are nothing like they were depicted in Jaws!
The other boat crew informed us that they had 5 sharks swimming around them and we were welcome to "steal a few" but our own chumming had been unsuccessful. The captain asked if we could move a little closer and they were more than happy. We hauled the anchor in and got underway.
We pulled up almost right alongside the research boat. I could just about make out the faces of the people on board. But still we waited and nothing happened.
We could make out from the body language of the crew on the other boat that there was a lot of action over there but no matter how much we chummed the water we just couldn't even entice one single shark over to see us. It was very frustrating.
I should add at this point that the cage was already in the water and ready to go. When we had moved we'd actually dragged the cage alongside us where it was tied. All the snorkel masks were ready and waiting and there were even wetsuits for anyone who wanted them. But unless we managed to steal a shark soon we would run out of time and head back without having seen anything.
This is always a risk with any wild animal. You know they are out there somewhere but you can never guarantee to see them. I was really anxious that we wouldn't be one of those people!
Then we received news from the research boat that they were heading back. This meant they would stop chumming the water and the only boat around for miles was ours…our luck was in!
We waved goodbye to the other team secretly thanking them for giving up and going home and continued to chum the water like crazy. The crew kept throwing the tuna head into the water, dragging it along, hauling it out and throwing it in again. Just like they were fishing…for a humungous fish!!!
All of a sudden the crew started shouting and people were told to line up ready to get in the cage. We all looked over board and caught a glimpse of a shark circling the boat. It was incredibly exciting!
Adam and I rushed forward and were amongst the first 6 to enter the cage (it takes 6 people at once). Unfortunately my Dad wasn't quite quick enough but he was happy to wait and take photo's. He's become quite attached to my camera and is thinking of buying one for himself.
Once in the water we only had a snorkel mask to rely on so we couldn't stay underwater for any longer than we could hold our breath. The top of the cage is above water meaning you can be in there but keep your head above water for as long as you like. There is a bar in the cage itself for you to stand on and another one to hold onto so you don't have to put your hands or feet anywhere near the outside bars. As you can expect we were strictly forbidden from putting so much as a finger near the outside bars!
We would wait there with our head above water until the crew would shout "shark coming in from the left" or whatever. Then we would take a big breath and plunge underwater all looking left to get the first glimpse.
I can't really describe what it's like. Sort of surreal in a strange way. Anyone who has swum with fish either diving or snorkelling will know that the fish almost seem to fly around you with complete ease underwater and the shark was exactly the same. It's almost like we were watching them from afar and they weren't really just a few feet away. They are incredibly graceful and even beautiful and it's amazing how long you can hold your breath underwater when you really don't want to come back up for air!
Each time a shark would disappear from view we would all burst up gasping for breath and waiting for the crew to let us know when to go back under. I'm not sure how long we were in the water that first time but it felt like seconds. In truth it was probably closer to 10 minutes.
Once out it was time for the next group of people to have a turn, including my Dad, and we grabbed the camera and headed to the top of the boat for a better view.
From up there we could see the sharks circling the boat which was fascinating to watch. Every now and then they would make a grab for the bait which was the ideal time for pictures. Several times they would come straight up from deep water right in front of the cage and you would just see the white outline of their belly's. This was quite disconcerting and made us think of what it would be like to be swimming or sat on a surf board and looking down to see exactly that…
The sharks were just playing with us though. Occasionally they would make a serious attack on the bait but even then I think they were only testing it to see if it was edible. A bite like that would undoubtedly hurt or even maim but it would be unlikely to kill.
We all had several turns in the cage and at one point Adam was in there but I was taking photo's from above when a shark came around and made very close eye contact with everyone in it. It then circled around and when it came back it had its jaws open heading straight for the cage. I would have loved to have been in there at this point but only Adam was lucky enough to experience it.
The shark grabbed hold of two of the bars on the cage, twisting its body sideways at the same time. It shook the cage fairly violently but there was no chance even a Great White could cause much damage to those bars which it quickly realised and let go. There was still no sense of threat at any point. It was almost like a dog trying to get you to play. Because the shark was still underwater the photo of this particular event didn't turn out too well but if you look closely you can just make it out.
At one point during the morning the crew became very excited and starting cheering and shouting "Shakira Shakira!" they caught my confused expression and explained that Shakira is a female white shark that has visited them regularly for the last 3 years. They are all very familiar with her and she with them. She knows the drill. Shakira was also one of the largest sharks to swim around us although none of them were a big as they can get in other areas. The crew told me they recognise her from her scars and she always puts on a good show. She certainly did!
All too soon it was time to start heading back because there would be a second group heading back that afternoon. Everyone on the boat had at least 2 or 3 turns in the cage as well as the excellent viewing opportunities onboard but I don't think anyone was quite ready to return. I wasn't!
One thing I didn't add was that almost the entire time we were stationary we were surrounded by thousands of little sardines and the crew were fishing. As there were so many the fish were very easy to catch and each one was dropped into a bucket where they would bleed out through their gills and die. Not very nice and until they did die they would thrash around spraying bloody water all over anyone who got too close. At some point it was explained that these fish were to be tomorrows chum!
On the way back to the harbour several seals swam past jumping like dolphins as they went which was nice as it's the first time I've seen them in the water.
Once back on dry land we watched the video the crew had taken, which was really good but very expensive, and then made a quick exit as we had to get back to the farm! An amazingly good day though and one I would recommend to anyone!