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A traveller waving from a shark cage on the surface of the water

Utterly Jawesome

By Jenny McLarney

Last updated: 5th November 2011

The poignant fish smell surrounded me as I tentatively lowered myself into the water. Just as I’d fully submerged myself I was desperately flailing and spluttering as I stared straight into the creature’s eyes.  It was hopeless,  all I could do was gurgle….’LAURA GET OUT THE BLOODY BATHROOM!!!’ But it was too late, she had seen all…how embarrassing.

A group of ladies on a boat

To say we are a close volunteering house would be an understatement. We certainly share the wonderful fresh, fishy smell after being at sea all day…especially when carting round the shark bait or ‘chum’ as the boat crew call it. The nightlife may be pretty slow in Gansbaai but when any group of 20-30 year olds get together you can find fun, the pubs open late and you are driven everywhere so you can easily catch several games of pool or bring out some corkers at karaoke.  However I would STRONGLY advise only to drink the night before a no-sea day…getting up at 6.30 am to look after sea sick passengers on a rocky boat in South Africa is just too difficult to handle. No, dear rose-smelling people of England, when you are hungover in the South African town of Gansbaai, chum is not your friend.

Three ladies with drinks in a bar

The sharks on the other hand certainly are. What fantastically fascinating creatures to be around everyday.  The conservation team are so passionate about the animals you can’t help be swept up in the urgent need to save this rapidly decreasing species. You also never lose the thrill of seeing these sharks jump out of the water to rip the meat clean off the hook only meters in front of you. Especially as you get the chance to go out onto the boats almost everyday.

The boat rides in themselves are brilliant. As a volunteer, you get to sit right at the front as it speeds through the choppy Atlantic sea spraying you from left right and center.

We don’t need life jackets or oil skin raincoats like the passengers, no we are right at the front with the crew daring the waves to reach over the boat and drench you. I made the point of taking this position up every day, even on a rather windy day when the crew wouldn’t sit with me…the result was a soaked Jenny with mascara dripping down her face, salt encrusted hair and a cackling group of South African men gleeful at my complete stupidity and stubbornness.  Well you only live once…but yes possibly not my brightest moment.

A shark breaching the surface of the water

I have to say the crew were particularly caring and friendly. Constantly offering you towels and mints to cure the occasional sea sickness.  They also had some brilliant stories. One of the crew members used to poach a rare type of shell fish off the coast of Dyer Island. This incredible job had him swimming the five kilometer trip there, picking up a huge amount of the shellfish and swimming a strong backstroke with a full net back to the shore. Not only is this a feat in itself but you’ve also got to remember this is one of the most great white shark infested areas in the world!  Talk about a risky business.  Give me my part time job in a supermarket ANY DAY.

Shark diving in itself is a brilliant experience. After rolling around the boat trying to drag your wetsuit on, you don some weights and goggles before carefully stepping down into the cage. The crew then should ‘DOWN LEFT’ or ‘DOWN RIGHT’, you take a huge gulp of air and duck below to see a great white shark a foot away from your face. Your instant reaction is to pull you hands back and push yourself to the back of the cage. But after a while you are clinging onto the bar eager to see the sea’s largest predator slide past you. At one point the chum was dragged right in front of me and I was literally staring into the shark’s mouth before it grabbed the food and swerved to the right of me.  I tried to scream, choked on water and rapidly rose up for air. I’ve never been so happy to choke on chum-filled sea water because that will be a memory that I’ll carry with me forever.


Tomorrow I’ll be popping back to Cape Town before departing on the Garden Route, a fun-filled frolic that should lead me to the world’s largest bungee jump…ay caramba!

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