Thursday, June 18, 2009

Erin versus the Sharks

I'm afraid of lots of things. The death of loved ones. Dark allies. Being murdered, etc. But, most of my fears are (at least fairly) grounded in reality. I'm not scared of spiders, or heights, or the dark (when not pertaining to allies).

I am, however, scared witless of most ocean critters. Fish, crabs, jellyfish, dolphins, whales... and the worst of them all: sharks. I've gone a long way in conquering those fears on this trip. Snorkeling in Kenya and Tanzania (with real fish. and coral.), swimming (if briefly) with dolphins in Zanzibar, but it’s all been building up to the ultimate confrontation: shark cage diving in South Africa.

Usually great whites prefer to eat the multitude of fish that roam around the harbor of Cape Town, but those are scarce in the winter months here (that’s now), so they head to an area known as Shark Ally where 65,000 seals that make their residence there year round are systematically hunted down and eaten alive. It's the perfect time of year to use fish heads and chum to lure the sharks up to the surface and directly into your face. For fun!

Even before booking our plane tickets, I was sending YouTube links to Lisa and Paul insisting that they save the 100 odd bucks needed to come to face to face with my greatest irrational. I'd managed to avoid thinking about being caged underwater with hungry sharks for the majority of the trip, but was forced to deal with the idiocy of my spontaneous and rash decision. Unfortunately, Lisa and Paul had to deal with the consequences too. I guess it's the price to pay for my amazing company and lifelong friendship.

Which is how we found ourselves, this morning, facing giant swells and giant sharks on a relatively tiny boat with 20 other morons. After a two our van ride, a one hour boat ride that reminded both Lisa and I of the movie “A Perfect Storm” (How did no one puke in that movie? They just ran around acting heroic and coming to terms with their inevitable demise. Unlikely.), and a suspiciously short and confusing “safety talk” our guides began hurling our woozy fellow shark cage divers into a “cage” that was little more than a wire box with foam duct-taped (seriously) to the edges and tossing a disgusting fish slurry into the water around them.

Then came the sharks. Big ones and “small” ones (1.5 m – 5 m in all). Ones that had ragged fins, and ones that looked like they could swallow our boat whole. Lisa and I stood on the top deck snapping pictures while others suited up and were hurled (6 at a time) into the cage as others were dragged out proclaiming the “AWESOME” nature of their dives (which often included close calls involving fingers and elbows and entrances and exits).

Well, I hate to disappoint, but neither Lisa nor I ever made it into the cage. In fact, we didn’t even make it in to the wet suits. I could blame it on nausea or cold water or freezing weather, but that would only be a half truth. The whole truth is: I was scared completely shitless, and I had reached the limits of my bravery. I’m totally scared of sharks. And you know what? I have good reason to be. They’re crazy strong, huge, can turn on a dime, have two rows of razor sharp teeth, and while they don’t like to “eat” humans, it’s not entirely unfeasible that they wouldn’t try – especially if they came across a band of human idiots careening in and out of the water in to a shoddy, duct taped, wire cage surrounded by fish heads and guts.

So I failed, I guess. Paul went in after he puked and said it was “pretty cool”, and I was really proud of him for doing something that scary. So tease at will, but it took a lot for me to step on to a boat that was essentially shark bait. I guess that’s as fearless as I’m made.

Next stop, Manila.


  1. OMG!!!!
    I am sooo proud of you for making what I think was the only reasonable are too good for shark bait!!
    Also, I will now be able to sleep through the night.

  2. Who wants to stuff yourself into a too-tight wet suite to paddle around in vomit-filled waters?


  3. Go Paul!

    Erin, I totally understand, I unlike any of my friends- don't ever want to skydive, bungee jump or dive with sharks. Because my life will probably be cut short anyways, so yeah. I'm a wuss too. Let's hang out and talk about it.