I made this trip with Great White Adventures, which also does 1-day trips to the Farallon Islands off of San Francisco. We left from San Diego on November 2nd 2007, on the sports fishing boat Searcher, a 95-foot cabin cruiser. Everything was perfect. The weather was as calm as could be.
On the way, we all watched “Jaws” (it’s a rite of passage for anyone doing a great white trip). It took us a little less than 24 hours to get to Guadalupe Island 240 miles south by southwest from San Diego,160 miles off the coast of Baja California.
The first great white shark shows up
It is a very impressive chunk of rock, about 20 by 5 miles, with volcanic cliffs towering up over a thousand feet to the mid-island ridge. We anchored in the lee of the island, and the sea was so calm we came to call it "Lake Guadalupe." Within five minutes of dropping anchor, I heard a crew member yell “We’ve got sharks!” I ran to the stern and saw a very large, brownish-grey dorsal fin cutting the water, and the body I could see attached to it was a lot bigger than any shark I had ever seen before.
I knew that I was finally looking on Carcharodon carcharias, the fish of my dreams, the Great White shark. We promptly lowered our port and starboard cages off the stern. I suited up in my 3mm suit. They put a harness of weights on me so I wouldn’t bob around the cage. Air would be supplied by a hookah attached to the boat generator. I placed the mouthpiece in my mouth and took a giant stride into the cage. Underwater visibility was about 100 feet, water temperature about 77 F.
When the bubbles cleared, I saw a great white shark about 30 feet away. Then another appeared out of nowhere and swam right by the cage. My adrenalin was going off the chart. This was just like Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, only REAL!
Great white sharks all around
For the remainder of our three days there, the sharks were with us around the clock, at least two, and sometimes as many as five at a time. We were visited by thirteen individual specimens during our trip. This was the fulfillment of one of my oldest dreams. I found the great white shark to be a beautiful, majestic animal, not a monster at all. I had to periodically take a reality check and tell myself "This is not television. I'm in a cage with great white sharks swimming by it." It is hard to believe that these beautiful animals are being killed for their fins everyday.
They cruised slowly and leisurely, usually below our cages, but occasionally coming up to inspect us more closely with those dark, staring eyes of theirs, just above those tooth-studded jaws. But not once did I feel in any way threatened. They were between 12 and 16 feet long. I was struck by how massive they were, some were nearly five feet thick through the body. And their ability to silently approach from whichever direction you are not looking in was uncanny.
Picture perfect sharks
I took many photos, and could have taken many more. Often, as a shark would pass, I would stick my camera out of the cage for the full length of my arm to reduce to distance of the shot, and never did a shark react. Even when we threw a chunk of tuna on a rope in front of a shark's nose, it usually would only make a lazy snap at it and then cruise on.
These animals were obviously very well fed, both on the elephant seals we could see lolling on the beach and on the big yellowfin tuna we could see swimming down below the cages. They ignored the zillions of mackerel that swarmed everywhere.
Accidents do happen
We did have one moment of excitement on the second day. One of the crew threw a tuna bait in front of a 14 foot male shark named SeeSea. He chased it and caught it, but had built up such momentum that he couldn't stop himself and slammed into the port side cage.
His head went into the open viewing port that ran around the upper part of the cage, all the way to his pectoral fins. His full, 3,000 pound weight came down on the bars, and the whole front panel of the cage snapped off like it was made of match sticks! But understand, it was an accident; he was not attacking the cage or the divers, he just wanted the tuna.
Needless to say, both of the guys in the cage were out of there in a fraction of a second, while SeeSea was still thrashing around trying to get out himself, which he did and then swam off. So we were limited to one cage for the remainder of our time there.
Later that day, the biggest shark we saw during the trip, a 17-foot female named Big Mama came up along the port side of the ship where the chumming was taking place. She lifted her head out of the water and inspected us, then swam just an inch below the surface until her whole length was parallel with the front of the cages.
Then she turned sharply out to sea and slapped her tail, shaking up both cages and sending a small wave over our dive master, who was standing on the stern step. As she swam away, I had a feeling that she was just showing off for us and letting us know that she was the dominant shark.
Anyway, during the three days, I spent a total of 10 hours in the cage. When we hauled up and began our day's trip back to San Diego, I felt a tremendous sense of privilege and fulfillment. Everything about the whole experience was great. I simply can't recommend Great White Adventures and the Searcher too highly.
The boat was comfortable, the crew really professional and always ready to help, and the food outstanding. I'm sure we all put on some pounds. We had wonderful fellowship as only divers can have, as we talked of the trips we've done and the trips we hope to do.
When we got back to San Diego, our trip leader, Scott Davis, said that this was his best trip of the year, so much so that he said if we ever wanted to do it again, he'd knock $500 off the price, or $250 off of a Farallon trip, all we had to do was mention that we were on the Nov. 2-6 2007 Guadalupe trip.
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This guest post is written by: Alan Kempner