Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Coming face to face with a Great White Shark

In the third of a four part series Mark Graham goes through the trials and tribulations of the West Cumbria MUSC Branch on tour!

Monday 17th July
The 08.55 flight to Cape Town arrived at 11am, where we were met by Edu Sports. The players were boarding the tour bus so after hanging around with them for a while we proceeded to Southern Sun Cullinan Hotel, in Cape Town. It was about a five minute walk away from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, which is a massive shopping and tourist area.

History says it was the docking point for the British Army before they were slaughtered by the Zulus in the battle of Rorke's drift. These days old harbour buildings make way for a large shopping precincts - the picturesque backdrop of the harbour provides an ideal place for shopping, eating, and bar hopping!

We set out to explore the local after being imprisoned in Durban, and finding the Waterfront and a spot of lunch was enough to see us all split up for the day. One of my hobbies is keeping tropical fish, so under the recommendation of a local I the "Two Oceans Aquarium" on Dock Road, which houses ragged Tooth Sharks, Knysna Seahorses and African Penguins to say the least!

Tuesday 18th JulyAs the game was due to kick off late we decided to venture up the 1085m of Table Mountain. The summit offers a 360 degree view of Cape Town and excellent views of Table Bay, Robben Island whereby Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, Cape Flats and the Cape Peninsula. The Cableway opened on the 4th October 1929.

The opening ceremony, led by the then mayor of Cape Town, drew 200 guests and apparently to date has seen more than 16 million passengers reach the summit. We were quickly aboard, taking about 10 minutes to reach the top of the mountain. The cable cars work on a counter weight system weighing 134 tonnes each; with 1200m of cable weighing 18tonnes to whisk you briskly up the mountain.

But the top does afford some great views including:

Dassie Walk - Spectacular views north, west and south;

Agama Walk- This popular route has been specially chosen to offer spectacular 360 degree views of Cape Town and Cape Peninsula;

Klipspringer Walk- views along the plateau edge to above Platteklip Gorge.Our group took both the Klipspringer and the Agama Walks, and finally ending back at the cable car hours later. We even bumped into a friend of mine, Roger, a man I only ever seem to see in far off destinations of the world thousands of miles away from Old Trafford!The second match of the tour was against Kaizer Chiefs at the Newland Stadium (home to the Stormers of the Super 14 Rugby, Ajax Cape Town of the Premier Soccer League and Western Province Rugby Union).

As we entered the stadium we were dismayed by the news that there was NO alcohol for sale, forcing us to settle for Ribena and a Chunky Kit Kat! I took it upon myself to ask why there would be no drink, and the guy behind the counter who asked to anonymous told me people go "goo goo!" But as I sunk my second Ribena I was approached by one of the caterers who asked if I "still wanted beer." Has Pinocchio got wooden balls?

Of course we wanted alcohol, which came in Coca Cola cups with the lids on. We were instructed to pretend it was juice of some sort. He then served us about 30 cups of Dry Cider instead of beer but we didn't care!Wednesday 19th JulyUndoubtedly the best experience of the trip was the Shark Diving expedition we took at "Shark Alley", near the fishing village of Gansbaai.

The trip was offering the opportunity to dive and meet a Great White Shark, face to face - and on your own terms. It was unmatched by anything I have ever done before. It's an education and you will soon learn that this magnificent creature is in fact, highly misunderstood. One that should be respected, not feared. However, the sheer presence of the magnificent beast called for some "squeaky bum time," as Sir Alex puts it.

We sailed out to sea and anchored near Dyer Island where we were met in the water by nine or more Great White Sharks including a massive 15ft female we would almost touch later. Wiehann Myburgh, our guide, showed us where the wet suits and other equipment were located despite your reporter, Dave and Peter all struggling to get into them!

The skipper, Hansie vd Merwe, had several Tuna fish heads as bait for the Sharks and would throw them two to three metres away from the cage. The idea was for all divers in our wet suits and snorkels to duck down and look straight ahead at the most awesome sight you're ever likely to see - a Great White Shark literally yards away.

Each time this happened up to six people would be in the cage with the sharks around. When feeding actively around the boat, the sharks may occasionally brush their tail against the cage, but NEVER attack the cage. They are very curious though and often come close-up so that an eye-to-eye encounter is a guaranteed.

From the smallest sand shark to the enormous whale shark, they are sleek, muscled, and some are almost as agile as a dolphin. There is no doubt that they are the most evolved predators in the ocean. Row upon row of teeth and capable of sensing the blood of an injured animal from over a kilometre away, it's not surprising that they are the most feared creature beneath the waves. And of them all, the Great White is the most awesome.


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