Diving with great white sharks was on top of my bucketlist. My wife was kind enough to allow me to go, and to come with me for, the trip of my life.
The folks at Great White Adventures had a deal we couldn't beat. So we reserved our spots and finally flew from my base in Japan to San Diego, California. We met the bus and our fellow travelers at a hotel called The Pearl in San Diego. The Pearl is very reminiscent of the '50's style hotels you see in the movies. Roll is taken and then the bus heads out to Ensenada, Mexico on a short, picturesque route that goes through Tijuana and down the coast of Mexico.
We entered the harbor at Ensenada and the crew offloads everyone's baggage and we get to meet Lawrence, chief wrangler and morale officer on the Solmar V. The Solmar V herself is a beautiful live aboard, each cabin has a full size bed with a single bunk bed above it, tv/dvd combo and bathroom/shower facility. The main cabin has flat screen screens for movies, power outlets for charging personal electronics and plenty of seating for all meals.
Day 1; We Travel
The first day is mainly a travel day, you arrive, share drinks and snacks with crew and passengers and take care of the immigration and park fee paperwork. As you leave the harbor you can see the sea lions on the rocks and for our trip we were able to look up at a massive Carnival Cruise ship docked at the pier. Unfortunately for us, this first trip of the season was met with very rough seas that put a large portion of passengers in their bunks. For me it was the only downside to the trip but by the time I awoke we were at Isla Guadalupe.
Great White Sharks all Around
The Solmar V is dropping anchor 300 yards from shore in a depth of over 200 feet. The shores echo with the sounds of seal and sea lion pups and minutes after the cages and bait box are lowered the mackeral and birds appear. In less than two hours the first call of Shark! was made and we cycled into the attached shark cages in groups of three or four for the first glimpse of these amazing great white sharks. Each group spent about an hour in the cages before we rotated for the next group. These dives are hooka dives so each of us must don a weighted vest and ankle weights over our wetsuits to keep us from floating. The hooka means no bulky scuba tanks and BCs which really matters when you're angling for the perfect shot as a great white rockets by.
Even more Great White sharks on day 3
By the time we ate breakfast and got our gear on the sun was out and the day was gorgeous. This day we saw our largest shark, a big male that had been tagged twice in the past and was called Jacques. This morning started the use of a dive platform that most of the passengers scrambled for. They would lower it 30-40 feet down and it provided some amazing shark footage.
Thankfully the crew pipe a feed from the video to the main cabin so we can all gather round and see. What it meant for me was a chance in the boat-side cages all alone for hours on end. I stayed each day until I was too chilled to stop shivering. On this day I was alone in the cage when Jacques passed not two feet from the cage and we looked at each other, his eye followed me as he calmly swam past it was a site I'll never forget.
Chasing the great white
Burned off after breakfast gave me two 3-4 hour stints in the cages. The amount of mackeral at the boat was amazing and we had no less than 5 great white sharks between the dive platform's teams and those of us at the boat's cages.
That evening the Solmar V shifted positions along the island maybe a quarter mile. We even had a yellowfin tuna show up to chase the smaller baitfish around. However the tuna proved very difficult to capture on film as it was constantly in motion and quite fast. This day also say our first close ups of a female sea lion. She was a brazen beast and even managed to chase off one of the smaller male sharks. She even stuck around when the larger sharks came by. Apparently she knew they weren't a threat yet.
Day 5; Making Our Last dives
The new position turned out to be murkier and visibility was down to maybe 30 feet. This proved to be the amazing for me for I had slid back into an outside corner of the cage, or the corner nearest the ocean and away from the boat. I had seen a shark pass opposite me and was trying to figure out where it went when I heard a splashing behind me. Now throughout the excursion, the Solmar V has two "shark wranglers" who's job it is to keep large hunks of tuna in the water, tied to rope.
They are supposed to keep it from the sharks so that the sharks stay enticed. When I heard a splashing behind me I thought it was a wrangler tossing the bait out again. Imagine my surprise as I turned around to see a Great White chomping on the corner of the cage not two feet from my head!
I found out from those aboard later that the shark had lunged for the bait and missed but due to its path during the attempt it came down mouth first on the cage. I'll never forget the site of that snow white throat ringed in triangular teeth. It was awesome! The shark was apparently startled though, it chomped twice and fled the scene. We didn't see it again until a couple of hours later.
Heading Back To The Harbor
At midday the cages are stowed, the lose items are secured and we started back for Ensenada. As we weighed anchor and started on our way we saw a large female sea lion come to the boat, followed minutes later by a small pod of dolphins. The last thing I saw as we really started picking up speed was a small Great White male, maybe 6-8 feet long that approached the boat. I waved goodbye to him and Isla Guadalupe.
Our last memory? An hour from Ensenada the Solmar V made a sudden slow and turning as a blue whale and her calf made an appearance. This is not uncommon as these beautiful lords of the sea migrate up and down the coast. We stayed with them for nearly 30 minutes, never coming too close but within enough distance to see the broad, long, dark backs and the spouting from their blowholes. After that is was back to port, load up on the bus and head back to the Pearl.
For me the trip was magical. We have a couple of souvenir t-shirts and a DVD that you can get that is from footage on your particular trip. My son has seen it and now wants to go so I hope to see Isla Guadalupe and the beautiful Great White again sometime.
Guestpost written by Tom Parker