This was about three years ago or so. I don't really remember
the time of the year but I think it was in October. Hmm..... not
really sure. Anyway, it was just around the time that Nat first
started diving. For a while, I've been hearing about these shark
dives they do in So Cal. Now, I need to tell you that up until
then I've seen a couple of nurse sharks on my first and definitely
last trip to Caribbean, and a few swell and horn sharks in Channel
Islands. That's it. I've not seen anything that actually looks
"sharky". So I started calling these shark dive places only to
find out that all of them do either cage dives or steel chain mail
dives. Nat and I discussed it and decided that we want a much more
intimate encounter. Finally, I found an operation from Long Beach
called Hydrosphere (from I understand they are not around
anymore). They said that they put divers right in the water with
sharks except for night dives - those are cage only. So Nat and I
packed up and went on a road trip. 7 hours later we arrived at the
doc. The Explorer was a tiny little thing and held only 8 divers
and 4 crew.
Nat and I boarded still completely in shock that we are actually doing this. The 2 hour ride to the Avalon Banks hurt me badly and dang near killed Nat. She was the shade of green that I've never seen before in a living human being. I managed not to puke but she started chumming waaaaaaay before we got to the site.
Now, I need to describe where we ended up. The depth was around 3000 feet. There was no land anywhere in sight. It seemed that we were simply in the open ocean. The closest piece of land was Catalina Island some 10-12 miles away. We idled the engine and Nat's chumming efforts were joined by the crew armed with barrels of frozen rotten fish heads. Nat, still bent over the rail, was the first on to see a shark. In the next few minutes we got the following (rather alarming) briefing: "Three divers go at any one time. The dive is limited to 20 minutes. There are 3 30-foot lines under the boat. As soon as you get down, grab a line. Each one of you will get a personal body guard who will be on the same line right behind you. The bodyguard will have a push stick and will cover your back. You are responsible for everything in front of you. If you have a camera, use it to push the sharks away, if not we'll give you a push stick." Nat and I were in the first threesome. Here, I have to tell you that this was the first of 3 dives that day. On subsequent dives, the number of sharks in the water got to about 12-15 and there were a couple of 9 footers amongst them. But it is the first dive that will forever be imprinted in my memory. I almost missed the line on descent because I immediately went into shock. There was no fear whatsoever (later Nat told me she felt exactly the same way)-only shock, total unadulterated shock. Sharks were EVERYWHERE. They were close and far, large and small - I realized I wasn't breathing. There were seven sharks in the water between 4' and 7' long. They were GORGEOUS!!! Here's a link if you've never seen a blue but take my word for it - the picture doesn't do it justice. http://www.sdnhm.org/kids/sharks/shore-to-sea/blue.html (also known in some parts as blue pointer) What was amazing is that they didn't seem to be feeding much. They were a lot more interested in us than they were in the fish guts floating around. They would speed up and go straight at us and then veer off just inches from our faces. After a while I found courage to stretch out my hand and touch them. I expected a soft and silky feel (I didn't know that much about sharks back then), as you know, it was anything but. Their skin felt like sand paper. The realization of what I was actually doing sent me back into shock and I forgot to breathe again. After a few minutes my bodyguard noticed that I was touching the sharks. He yanked my arm and gave me a look that was impossible to misinterpret - look of a person who has very low liability coverage :-). Later, he had a "talk" with us and no one touched sharks after that. That's it. I will mention that during the following two dives the action got a lot more intense. Sharks were coming several at once now and I do remember feeling a little uneasy a couple of times. The whole experience was very emotionally draining. Although, I didn't realize how mentally exhausted I was until we were well on our way back. We went with them 2 more times in the following year. Each of those trips was great (we even saw a short fin mako once but got pulled out of the water right away) but none could match the first time.
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