Author: Bev D.
Date of Trip: September 2011
Ever since I can remember, my one and only bucket list item has been to cage dive with Great White Sharks. I don’t know if it was seeing the film Jaws that generated this enthusiasm but whatever it was, this month it became a reality.
I began researching in October 2010 and immediately found loads of trips leaving from Gansbai in South Africa. My feelings were that there were so many commercial trips leaving for the same spot, it would not be a real insight into the world of the sharks, more of a sharky X-Factor!
Further research led me to read stories of murky water, crowded cages and dubious baiting practices. Back to square one — where else in the world could I experience this but seeing the sharks on their own terms. Good old Google led me to Isla Guadalupe, off the coast of Mexico. Again I found a few companies offering trips, but the one which stood out was www.sharkdiver.com which was the only one to offer a shark guarantee. If you didn’t see a shark on your trip, you could return for free. Paying $3000+ dollars and travelling half way round the world, this was very appealing to me. I rang Patric, the CEO of the company and his enthusiasm rubbed off on me and before I knew it I was signed up and on my way!
It is not an easy journey to dive with Great White Sharks at Isla Guadalupe. For me there was a 11 hour flight to Las Vegas followed by a couple of days of R&R (and gambling!) then an hour long flight to San Diego. On joining the boat in San Diego, there is an eight hour trip to Ensenada in Mexico to clear customs then another 18 hours to Isla Guadalupe. We were fortunate to have some of the calmest seas that the crew can remember — for this I was very grateful!
The boat, which is home for the five day trip is the Horizon. She is a beautiful vessel, not fancy but perfectly suited to the needs of 16 crazy shark fans and a seven man/woman crew. On arrival on the boat at 9pm on the first night, it was a case of getting to know our fellow adventure buddies, having a safety talk from the Captain and also Martin the Dive Master on what to expect and then to bed for a rest while the boat made her way to Ensenada. Clearing customs took no time and we were on our way. Our escort out of Ensenada was a huge pod of Pacific White Sided Dolphins who escorted the boat for several miles. An uneventful day of fitting wetsuits, reading, gossiping and sleeping followed and again we were all ready for an early night in preparation for what was to come the next day.
I woke early, feeling the boat come to a stop and hearing the engines shutting down. Along with a couple of other bleary eyed travellers, I made my way on to the deck and got my first glimpse (albeit in the dark) of the vast wall of rock that is Isla Guadalupe. The sea was jet black and I could only imagine what was going on beneath the boat! I surfaced for the second time along with my other fellow divers at around 6am in time for a cooked breakfast and safety briefing and then before we knew it, it was shark time! The first shark we saw from the boat was even before the cages were put in the water and the level of excitement on seeing that first dorsal fin was incredible. Little did we know what was in store for the rest of the day!
With 16 divers and four divers per cage taking hour long rotations, it was soon time for my team to enter the cage for the first time. I had an amazing group of cage buddies including Tracie and Munro from Vancouver and Gary from West Virginia. We got on brilliantly both above and below the water. As non-certified divers, Tracie and I both received individual help from Dive Master Martin to ensure we were comfortable clearing our masks and replacing the regulator underwater and then it was shark watch!
Seeing our first Great White from a distance will be something I will never forget. They move so slowly and gracefully, quite unlike the media would have you believe. The first hour was over in a flash, and we had seen a shark. Could it get any better — oh yes!
During our second rotation of the day, we came face to face with Shredder. Shredder is an adult male Great White Shark around 16 feet in length and as Martin so nicely put it, he is not the most careful shark! His shredded dorsal fin and numerous scars are testament to the scrapes he has been in. You can read how he got his name here http://bit.ly/n56AFk Shredder decided that our first day in the cages was going to be the Shredder show and he treated us to lots of close passes of the cages from all angles, some lovely toothy grins into the cage and also some antics on the surface to ensure those watching from the deck didn’t get bored. Shredder is definitely the comedian of the shark world! Occasionally he would give a smaller shark the chance to say hello but chased them off the minute he felt he was missing the attention of his adoring public. For eight hours he was cruising around the boat and cages and once the cages had been lifted for the night, he breached next to the boat almost as if to say, ‘hey guys, what are you doing, I’m still here!’ Apparently this was the best ‘sharking’ day of the season so far as 13 different sharks were identified.
After a full day of diving, we sat down to one of many amazing meals on board (Mark and Naomi the cooks do the most incredible job of feeding everyone despite not being anywhere near a shop for the entire trip) We were fortunate to have Maurizio, the Islands Shark researcher come on board to talk to us about the sharks and his adventures to the bottom of the sea bed in a small submersible. A few beers and comparing tales and photographs from the day and everyone was ready for bed!
Days two and three were quieter on the action front but even so, our rotation saw at least one shark on every dive and it was nice to be able to identify some different sharks. Sharks are identified by their white markings on fins and gills and permanent mutilations. We had a book on board to help us identify the individuals. After two rotations each on the third morning, we set off for the return trip to San Diego. On our way out of Isla Guadalupe we saw the elephant seals which the sharks like to eat (I never realised they only had to eat around once every two months. Hardly crazed killing machines!)
The journey back was slightly rougher but still calm according to the crew and it was a chance to relax and enjoy the company of our new friends before arriving back in San Diego. It was sad to say goodbye but an amazing experience and I made some great new friends. The trip did not finish when I got off the boat as I had sea legs for 24 hours after getting back to the more ruthless sharks in Las Vegas!
I would like to say a massive thank you to all the crew of the Horizon — Spencer, Cary, Mark, Nick, Mark, Naomi and Martin for making such a memorable trip.
Cheers, Bev Downie