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cage diving with(out) great whites

Updated: Nov 15, 2018

It was the eve of Christmas, in 2012. My friend Lindsay and I had just arrived into Cape Town, South Africa, full of excitement and wonderment! After two amazing weeks of safari and visiting Victoria Falls, we were looking forward to transitioning from the wilderness portion of the trip to the city bit!

The next day was Christmas so not many establishments were open, We decided to make it a beach day. We headed over to Clifton Beach. The sand was white, the water blue and the people gorgeous! I’m pretty sure we even spotted Jesus himself, sunning himself in the buff. Merry Christmas to us!

After sufficiently frying our bodies (the ozone is severely depleted in South Africa), we headed back to the hotel to clean up and enjoy a few happy hour cocktails. We then decided to head down to the V&A Waterfront and see if anything was open. It turns out several places were. We found two spots at the bar, at Ferryman’s Tavern, and parked ourselves there for the rest of the night. We somehow forgot to eat dinner, but we did manage to taste a lot of that South African wine!

At some point, we must have found our way back to the hotel, because I was awoken at 2am, when the phone rang. I was still fully dressed (shoes on even) and passed out, face down, on top of the covers. Our transportation had arrived and was downstairs waiting for us. Silly us, we had booked our shark diving adventure for Boxing Day and then got too drunk to remember.

We managed to drag ourselves out of bed, gather a few necessities and make it downstairs in a nominal amount of time. We then squished into a tiny car, with 4 other passengers, and embarked on a 100 mile drive to Gansbaai. The carsickness coupled with a raging hangover was less than ideal, especially at the wee hours of the morning.

About 2.5 hours later we finally arrived at the crew house for Sharklady Cage Diving Adventures. We were fed a welcome breakfast (none of which I could stomach). We then signed our lives away, after a short briefing and a safety video. I made at least two trips to the bathroom, where I was violently ill, during the video.

We then walked to Kleinbaai Harbour and took a boat out to Shark Alley. The boat ride was actually making me feel a bit better, with the wind in my face and all. However, it only lasted about 15 minutes. Once we arrived at Shark Alley, the engine was turned off and the cage was dropped into the water. The staff began chumming the waters while we were each outfitted with wetsuits, booties and goggles.

Lindsay and I were the first volunteers for going in the cage. The water was absolutely frigid and my equipment was far too big, so water kept bubbling up inside my wetsuit and creeping behind my goggles.

The cage had four compartments and was partly above water, so a diving license was not required. Basically, there were two bars inside the cage that ran horizontally. One was up top, that you held on to with your hands and the other was at the bottom, where you tucked your toes underneath so that you could hold yourself underwater. Whenever you needed to breathe, you could simply pop up and get some air.

Being five feet tall was not helpful in the cage contraption. I was unable to reach the bottom bar. As a result, my legs were wiggling around within my section of the cage. I didn’t really know what to do with my limbs and I was nervous that my feet might slip in between the bars just as a shark came along from behind me, which made me feel a little uneasy/anxious.

Luckily (or rather, unluckily) we never really saw any sharks. One fin passed by but it wasn’t nearly as exciting as I anticipated. All other sharks that came nearby our boat were only visible from the viewing deck on board.

After being in the cage, hoping to see some sharks, for what seemed like an hour, I had had enough. I was thoroughly frozen, unable to stop my legs from squirming around and still massively hungover. I did not want to be in there any longer and was decidedly unhappy.

Just as they let me out of the cage, I felt another wave of nausea come on. I ran to the bow of the boat and was ill over the railing. There was a six-year-old girl who was nearby and happened to be a witness. Unfortunately, my sickness caused a chain reaction and made the poor girl also get ill. She then started crying, which made me feel even worse (if that was possible).

The combination of early morning wake-up, hangover, carsickness, freezing cold water, lack of sharks, ill-fitting equipment, not fitting in the cage and making a small child puke did not make for a very nice Boxing Day. I’d like a re-do please!


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