Getting the Blues…
Text by Dray and Karin van Beeck
It was early in the morning, at five o’clock, when Steve Benjamin from Animal Ocean, called us. Our much anticipated dive trip was off because it was too windy. We grumbled a bit because on the False Bay side all looked quiet, but went back to bed. What else can you do? At seven we were woken up with different news; the wind was dying down on the Atlantic side of Cape Point and we were leaving from Simonstown harbor at ten! We were over the moon. This was the last day we had the chance to try and dive with Blue sharks and Shortfin Mako’s.
At ten, we helped to load the 8 meter double hull motor boat and then headed out. Immediately outside the harbor the waves were already quite high, but Morne, our skipper, assured us that it would probably calm down once we were past Cape Point. Oh well, the sun was out and we had a chance to see sharks, so we put on our brave faces and tried to get used to the bumping and rolling for the next 30 km’s to the Point. Luckily we were blissfully unaware of what was still to come...
Cape Point looked stunning in the sunshine and even Steve and Morne took photos of it on their mobile phones. Once clear of Cape Point, Morne warned all of us to hold on because now (contrary to what we hoped for earlier) it was going to get really rough! From that point onwards we were tossed about and even the most potent sea sick tablets struggled to cope with the impact of the sea. The 100 kg tuna (for bait) that was quite interesting earlier when we arrived on the boat, now looked and especially smelled, like something out of a nightmare.
Three hours later and sixty kilometers out from Cape Point, Morne finally shut down the engines. The much anticipated relief from the bouncing was denied us since the boat immediately started behaving as if it was caught in a washing machine, tossing us in all directions. Steve immediately started to prepare the bait drum with anchovy oil, and pieces of tuna were cut off to attract the Shortfin Mako’s. The stink of the bait and the rocking around felled two of the divers and a bucket soon became their new best friend...
After half an hour and nothing showing up apart from the magnificent albatross and some dolphins in the distance, Morne and Steve decided that we had to go out another 5 km’s. The normal procedure when looking for Blue Sharks and Mako’s is to go out 40 km’s and start looking for blue, warmer water. This happens where the warmer Mozambique current flows past the cold Benguela current and the temperature at that point can rise with up to 5 degrees. Finally our fish finder indicated the much sought after temperature rise, but unfortunately the blue water was nowhere to be seen and we had reached the maximum distance we could go that day. We were 70 km’s from Cape Point and 100 km’s out of Simonstown. Land was nowhere to be seen in any direction. The bait bucket was dropped overboard again, some sardines thrown after it and….there they were! Two dark shapes appeared under our keel.
Steve told us to get kitted up. Karin tried but gave up after 5 minutes of falling around the violently rocking boat. A guy whose name I don’t know because he was seasick the moment he arrived on board; did not even bother. A French tourist, Phillipe, although seasick the whole trip, was brave enough to kit up and go in the water with me. We descended and found ourselves in cold, green water with only around 4 m visibility. Steve was free diving above us to keep an eye on things, when out of the green our first blue shark appeared.
Blue sharks (Prionace glauca) are very distinctive looking with very slender bodies and wing-like pectoral fins. They also have very big eyes and their fins seem to be deep blue in color. They are normally not scared of divers. We saw five different individuals on our dive, all females, and they were extremely curious. We were actually told before the dive to wear gloves and to keep our hands tucked in because they are so cheeky that they will sometimes try to nip at your hands! I certainly experienced that when I pulled my glove to the side to check my computer and had one blue shark swooping down to nudge my hand! They are a photographers’ dream though, giving you plenty of opportunities for full-on head shots. I was taking photos like a man possessed. Unfortunately no Shortfin Mako sharks (Isurus oxyrinchus) showed up. They are usually a lot shyer than the Blue sharks and tend to stay on the outskirts of the action. When you have low visibility conditions it is unlikely that they will show up.
After 45 minutes (normally you get unlimited dive time on this trip) we were called back to the surface. The weather had gotten worse while we were diving!!! Morne told us that we had to start the return trip immediately as the wind was still picking up. The ride out to the dive site took 3 hours and was really rough. The trip back took more than 4 hours and was horrendous. It felt like we were on a toy boat in a bathtub with an overexcited toddler! It seemed like Neptune was on a mission to make our lives hell. It got to a point where more than one of us considered rather swimming back to land, it had to be better than being on that boat... We finally rounded Cape Point and it calmed down a little bit. Morne stopped the boat to check our fuel. We were still 30 km’s from Simonstown and fuel was getting a little bit low. Normally they use 160 liters of fuel per trip and we had 320 liters when we left that morning. The big waves and wind had made the engines very thirsty though and we basically made it back to the harbor on fumes.
Needless to say, when we set foot back on land the pope’s ritual was performed by kissing the ground. We all were happy just to be alive. Like one of the guests said to us: I think I’ll go home now, have a cup of tea, cry a little bit and then crawl into bed. We couldn’t agree more. In the night it felt as if the bed was moving in every direction. All that and the sore muscles we had as a souvenir the next day were all just minor discomforts to endure for the experience of a lifetime though!
In conclusion: This was an exceptionally rough trip because everyone got surprised by the weather. The forecast predicted a calm, windless day, but the southeaster had its own ideas. One of the other guests had done the trip at least 6 times before and he had never seen conditions like we had on that day. Normally it’s a lot calmer and infinitely more enjoyable! Having said that; even under the best circumstances it’s not a trip for the fainthearted. Steve said to me when we booked the trip: “Taking a seasick tablet is not optional, it’s a necessity.” That just about describes it in a nutshell! If you can get past the uncomfortable journey though, the diving is wonderful and seeing the sharks makes up for everything.