Shark diving, without a cage
One of my main goals during my visit to Thailand in November was to scuba dive and get my PADI Open Water Certification which I did and ever since all I’ve wanted to do is dive. The only problem with diving in Cape Town is the cold water of the Atlantic Ocean compared to the balmy 28 degree water of the Similan Islands off Thailand. Nothing a wetsuit (or two) could remedy but it takes a lot more effort. I booked the dive with Pisces Divers in Simon’s Town where you can rent all the gear you need (if you don’t have your own) and off we went to the boat launch at Miller’s Point. As I stood on the jetty I couldn’t help but ask myself if it was worth all the effort. Wearing a full wetsuit, booties, gloves and a second short wetsuit and hood over the top it was hotter than the sauna at my gym. Not to mention carrying the air tank, mask and fins.
Once we were on the boat motoring to our first dive point, the cool breeze and excitement of diving underwater again made me forget about all the gear I was wearing. We arrived at our first dive spot which was Partridge Point, known for the colony of Cape Fur Seals that live there and after a safety briefing our skipper counted us down three, two, one … and we all dropped over the side of the boat into the water.
Thankfully the water wasn’t as cold as expected at 19 degrees but the visibility was only 4-5 metres which I’ll be honest was a little disappointing after having dived with 20 metres of visibility in Thailand. Having not dived for a few weeks, and now wearing a whole lot of extra gear I struggled to get my buoyancy right but it was great to be back underwater. We lost the main group so my buddy and I swam around until he was low on air and then surfaced after only about 30 minutes encountering a whole bunch of cape fur seals as we were doing our safety stop near the surface.
A short ride back to the slipway, we changed our tanks and then we were back on the boat and heading towards Pyramid Rock, a dive site known for its Seven Gill Cowsharks. These are prehistoric apex predators and are easily recognisable by their lack of a front dorsal fin and seven gill slits while most sharks have five. They are nocturnal feeders while during the day they swim slowly up and down the channels here and are more curious about us as divers then anything else. They do pass within arms reach of the divers but we were briefed not to provoke them and to date there hasn’t been an incident here.
Our group descending down the shot line to the bottom depth of 12 metres.
I didn’t think I would enjoy diving in kelp but it was actually pretty cool.
The first shark I saw came out of the murky water, just a shadow at first and then the tell-tale features became more distinct and sure enough I had a 3 metre shark swimming overhead, an unbelievable experience. I wasn’t scared but frozen in awe as it swam past, effortlessly and gracefully.
Then another approached swimming straight towards me and only turning away at the last moment but never once did I feel threatened.
It’s hard to describe the experience and I just wanted to stay there all day. So I settled down on the sandy bottom and just sat there as this shark swam back and forth in front of me. Absolutely amazing.
Here’s an overhead shot showing just how close the sharks come as this one swam past the rest of the group in one of the channels.
All to quickly the pressure gauge indicated that we were running low on air and alas we had to surface but we had been at on the bottom for over 40 minutes and it had been an incredible dive.
Yes, all that gear is as uncomfortable as it looks but a small price to pay for the experience.
Our skipper Dave was at the surface waiting for signal to come and pick us up. It’s a bit of a trick getting back onto the boat, removing your weight belt and BCD first and then kicking and pulling yourself up. All back on board it was back to the take out point as everyone on the boat swapped stories with the tell-tale fast-paced speech that goes along with recounting a euphoric experience which this certainly was and will be for any scuba diver.