I get picked up by Marine Dynamics at 5:20am for the 2hr drive from Cape Town to Gansbaai. The driver is expecting two people in my party. Last I heard Alejandro was to meet me at my hotel for the drive. The driver reviews his paperwork again and finds it was not updated. Alejandro made his reservation online and scheduled his own pickup. The weather is chilly this morning getting up to 66F and partly sunny. Being a quadriplegic, not having full temperature sensation, I’m more concerned with the cold water temperature than getting in a cage to see a Great White Shark. The vehicle is a minibus with a sliding door. I transfer to the floor of the bus then to the seat. My chair placed between my seat and the door. We have two more stops to pick people up before heading out. I sleep most of the way before arriving at 7:50am. I chose Marine Dynamics because they say they are the only operator with handicapped facilities. They do have a ramp up to the entrance landing that is too steep. I’m able to make it half way up before our bus driver helps push. There is also a big lip through the entrance door I need help with. The check in area, lounge and bathroom are all accessible. They have an upstairs where they serve a light breakfast and do the safety orientation, this is not accessible. A few of the staff do offer to grab me something to eat. There is a TV located in the lounge where Alejandro, Jordan and I watch the safety orientation video. Marine Dynamics is the only company with a marine biologist on every trip. We make our way to get a bright orange rain jacket and life jacket. The orange jacket is very large making it rather difficult to wheel. The walk to the boat, Slashfin, is about 1000ft and my bus driver offers to drive us to the dock. Hennie, is the captain of Slashfin. There are 24 people on the shark trip today. The weather is warming up but it’s still a little cloudy. The ramp down to the boat is too steep so I go down backwards with help from a crew member. Four crew members pick me up in my chair and place me on Slashfin. I transfer to a seat for the 20 minute ride to shark alley, between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock. This area is great for seeing Great Whites because of the Cape Fur Seal population on Geyser Rock. The seas are calm making the boat ride smooth. The 60f water temperature is much warmer than I expected, but still cold. On the ride out, Peter a crew member, briefs me on how they will get me in the cage and what to do in the cage. He will also be in the cage with me. As we get closer to shark alley, Andrew a volunteer with marine Dynamics, helps put on my wetsuit. Marine Dynamics has a volunteer program to learn about shark behavior, biology and ocean conservation. They supply all the equipment needed for the dive, 7mm wetsuit, booties, mask and weights. When we make it to shark alley, the crew drops the cage into the water, starts chumming the water and uses a seal decoy to attract the sharks. Within 5 minutes our first shark appears. The first group of 8 gets in the cage which is attached to the port side of the boat. I watch the first round with Peter to get an idea of what to do in the cage. There’s a hand bar and foot bar to help keep you under water to view the sharks. I won’t be able to use the foot bar but I do have some hand function and should be able to pull myself under the water. Peter has offered to help me get under the water if I need it. You also have a set of weights over your shoulder to help get down easier. I am certified scuba diver so I’m very comfortable in the water. With Pete in the cage, I place my legs over the side of the boat and transfer to the edge. Peter takes my legs and two crew members help lower me in the cage. The water does not feel as cold I expected, probably from the adrenaline of seeing this magnificent shark. There are two crew helping spot sharks from above. They’ll say “down, left”, so you’ll take a breath, pull yourself under water and look left. Visibility is about 16 feet. We see 7 different Great White Sharks in total ranging from 10 feet – 13-1/2 feet. The sight of a 13-1/2 foot great white a few feet from you is exhilarating. Each cage session is about 20 minutes long. There were not 8 people for the third session so I was told I could stay in longer. Still not cold from the adrenaline, I stayed in another 15 minutes. I get out the reverse of how I got in. Pete and two crew members lift me from the water to the side of the boat and then the two crew place me in my chair. After the dive we make a trip by Seal Island. The smell of Seal Island is not pleasant. We return to port around 11:45am to warm up with a hot bowl of soup and watch the video from the morning trip. Alejandro and I make plans to meet at Mitchell’s to watch the USA vs. Portugal World Cup match. I return to my hotel around 2:45pm to work on photos from Table Mountain, Robben Island, Wine Flies Tour and the Shark Cage trip. I have dinner at the hotel bar watching Belgium beat Russia 1-0 and part of Korea vs. Algeria before heading to Mitchell’s. It’s about 10:30pm; I ask the bartender how safe it is going to the waterfront at this time of night. He says it safe and I shouldn’t have any trouble. I make my way to the front desk to ask the same question, they say I should get a cab. I get a cab and arrive at Mitchell’s about 11pm. I see a few people I’ve met before and have a drink with them while waiting for Alejandro. He arrives and we watch a heart breaking 2-2 Tie with Portugal. We get a cab together that drops me off at my hotel first then takes him to his lodging.
Link to Marine Dynamics blog with photos (photos by Kelly Baker)
The shark cage trip was amazing and the crew was great helping me experience this adventure. The Great White House, Marine Dynamics name for their building, is mostly accessible. The ramp to the entrance is too steep and the lip through the entrance door is too big. There are a few smaller lips through doorways that are easily negotiated and the bathroom is accessible. They offered to bring breakfast down from the upstairs area and made arraignments to watch the safety orientation in the lounge. The ramp to the dock is steep. You will need to be carried on the boat but the entrance is narrow. You will have to be active and in good shape to do this trip. If you are a wheelchair user, you must contact Marine Dynamics in advance so they can accommodate you.