As I stand on the wharf in Port Lincoln and watch the crew of the One & All secure the lines, readying the tall ship for us to board, I hope my two months of penny-pinching and hard work have been worth it.
From the first time I heard of tourists diving with the much-feared great white shark, it became a must-do adventure for me.
I board a plane with friends Jamie and Andy and arrive in the quaint settlement of Port Lincoln. At midnight we are greeted by the crew of One & All, the chartered boat we will call home for the next four days.
When I wake the following morning we have arrived at the Neptune Islands, 120km off the coast of Adelaide. We waste no time in getting suited up so we can start the adventure. The crew help me into my wetsuit and Scuba equipment, and I’m lowered with three others into a steel-barred cage that will take us to the bottom of the ocean, 18 metres below. Other divers have just surfaced and are squealing with delight after having six great white sharks circling their underwater cage. With one last smile back up at the group, I put the regulator in my mouth and plunge into the shockingly frigid Southern Ocean.
The four of us are locked in and the cage begins its mechanical descent into the natural habitat of the great white shark. We reach the bottom and there is a moment of still silence – the only sounds coming from our own breathing. I peer left and right, searching, hopeful to catch sight of any sharks. When I don’t see any, I fix my attention on the massive ray gracefully careening towards me, just inches above the ocean floor.
Perhaps I’m too fixated on the ray because I don’t see the shark approaching.
Suddenly the cage is rattling and shaking, tipping from side to side as a shark takes a test-munch on the support cable above my head. Unimpressed by the lack of flavour, the shark turns away, the swish of his tail leaving me in a cloud of bubbles. I blink at my friends in sheer astonishment and giddy amazement. This is even better than I hoped!
When the bubbles clear, I am surrounded by massive sharks – they’re everywhere! As their curiosity mounts, the sharks move in closer to the cage for a better look at the strangers in their habitat. A large five metre female, known affectionately by the Fox Shark Research and Dive Team as Mojo, closes in on us.
She slowly circles the cage; after completing the circle, she turns back and circles again in the opposite direction. Over and over she repeats this figure-eight motion, inspecting each of us. From less than an arm’s length away, she pauses in front of me for a better look. I’m breathless as I lock eyes with this magnificent animal. She holds my eye contact for what feels like an eternity. I feel no fear as she inspects me – instead I’m filled with intrigue, my mind captivated. I’m overcome by the grandeur, size, grace, and magnificence of this animal.
After three days of unforgettable dives, we surface for the last time before the sun sets behind the islands. Enjoying a home-cooked meal, we huddle together, a new group of friends bound by our encounter with great white sharks.
September 13th, 2010