With everyone on-board, life jackets fitted, Mitch covered the safety run-down.
Willow listened with bated breath. “I feel like I’m on a plane when the flight attendant goes through the safety procedures.”
Christian reached for Willow’s hand and squeezed it. “You nervous?”
Before she could answer, Mitch raised her voice. “People, please, whatever you do, do not reach through the cage bars and touch a shark, no matter how close to you it gets. Believe me, you will be tempted – but you will be injured. The animals are not covered with regular fish scales; they have tiny teeth-like structures that can, and will, puncture your skin.”
There goes that fantasy, Willow thought.
“Don’t try to feed them either,” Mitch continued, “and don’t even think about jumping into the water for a frolic. A shark sees the boat, the cage, and everyone on-board as one thing ― much larger than itself. But alone in the water, especially in a wetsuit, you’ll look like a tasty, bite-size seal meal.”
“So they do hunt people,” Mr UK honeymooner said to no-one in particular.
“We look like a tasty meal,” the teacher offered, “but we’re not to their liking. Too many bones, too much sinew. Not soft and fatty like seals. I read that somewhere.”
Mitch smiled and nodded. “That’s correct. People tend to die of their injuries when a shark’s taken a curious bite out of them.”
The group mulled over this information as they motored about 10 kilometres into a gentle breeze, before stopping in what seemed a random spot, and dropping anchor.
Mitch explained: “This area is known as Shark Alley, flanked by the Geyser Rock and Dyer Island ecosystems. It’s a shark hot spot, so get into your wetsuits and be prepared for a mind-altering experience.”
The not-so-eager honeymooner held back, as everyone else barged forward – Willow in the lead. He mumbled. “It’s not like there’s a guarantee we’ll see a shark.”
One of the deckhands, buckets of mashed pilchards and fish blood in his hands, stopped next to him. “That’s what these are for, mate.” He lifted the foul-smelling containers. “This is called ‘chum’ and will attract them.”
“But, that’s feeding them. They’re supposed to be ruthless killing machines.”
Mitch flicked her head to the deckhand, who scurried away and dumped the contents into the water.
“Sir, we have a 100 percent safety record, and we adhere to the strictest regulations.”
Willow, wiggling into a wetsuit, kept an eye and ear on the interchange.
“In fact,” Mitch said, as she steered Mr UK closer to the diving gear, “we’re the only operator out of eight with a marine biologist on board. These trips form part of the observation, research, increasing public awareness and education, and preservation of the shark, as well as the safety of beach goers. Our work focusses on eco-tourism and conservation.”
“That’s correct, Tom,” Mr UK’s wife quipped as she stepped in line for a wetsuit. “I did my homework. Now stop your dawdling around and let’s have some fun.”
In the partially submerged cage, tethered to the side of the boat, the first group, consisting of Willow and Christian, Mr and Mrs UK (at the wife’s unrelenting insistence) sunk beneath the water, as calls from the boat called out, “Shark in the water! Straight ahead.”
Willow stood next to Christian in the capsule-shaped cage, eyes behind goggles, strained for a sight of the apex predator. God, the gaps between these bars are a bit wide, she thought, as she clung to the cross bar to keep her body submerged and all her limbs inside.
Five metres away, gliding through the water, a shark approached the cage. Willow suppressed a giggle as she imagined the music from the Jaws movies playing. The shark swam past: seven metres of majestic grace. It circled the boat, and on its second curious inspection, nudged the cage. Willow’s heart jumped into her throat. She clutched Christian’s arm, and felt like crawling into his wetsuit.
After 15 more minutes of heart-stopping shark viewing, they surfaced and clambered out of the cage.
“I can’t believe it! That’s the best damned thing I’ve ever done,” crowed Mr UK.
“Well worth the wait and the cold water,” his wife agreed, through chattering teeth.
“Come on,” Christian said, taking Willow’s hand. “Let’s go to the viewing deck. We’ll see more action from there.”
Looking down, they observed the powerful movements of the sharks as they patrolled the water, breaking the surface every now and then in a splash and flash of teeth, creating a wave of exhilaration.
“You ready for another dive?”
Willow looked at Christian, lowered her eyes and shook her head. “I … once was enough for me. They’re not exactly the mindless, man-eating monsters from the movies, but they’re still hellava scary.”
Christian folded his arms around Willow, comfortingly. “How about we stop in Hermanus on our way back home and watch the southern right whales lolling near the shore?”
“Sounds like great a plan.”
Tell us what you think: What does her wish to go shark cage diving tell about Willow’s character?