Twenty hours from Ensenada on a boat that rocked ceaselessly, so that even friends who grew up on boats and claimed they’d never been seasick were green, we awoke to a cold sunrise that set rugged vertical brown cliffs aflame in gold.
Waking up to the sight of the barren rocky cliffs of Guadalupe Island, I was shaking with excitement. I was about to be in open water with Great Whites!!!!!
Coated from neck to toe in thick rubber, 7mm dive suit, 5mm booties, gloves, but no hood (wouldn’t look as good in the video), we climbed into cages just big enough for five of us to stand shoulder to shoulder. Something like eight feet long by four feet wide by ten feet high, made of smoothly rounded steel bars, a three foot square trap door in the roof and a metal ladder that allowed access to the open top deck.
Super stoked on my dive buddy Jenna Meistrell!
With a hookah regulator in mouth and weight belt on waist, we are dropped to forty feet like bait in a cage. A small burlap bag of fish parts turns the immediate vicinity blood red when shaken or kicked with a “thunk, thunk, thunk.” Our eyes, searching the deep blue emptiness for shadows. An insistent tap on my shoulder and I turn around to see Jenna pointing into the distance off the corner and all of us cram to that side, eyes wide, as the outline takes shape. A fifteen-foot female great white shark.
Photo: Bernie Campoli
She swims closer, casually. Slowly. Tail graceful and strong, waving side to side propelling her towards us. Mouth relaxed, just open enough to hint at rows of pearly daggers. She passes and disappears.
“Shit, where’d she go?” Searching. Split up to the four directions, and one looking down below. Desperately shadow hunting as our hearts race.
I hop to reach the bottom of the ladder, just slightly negatively buoyant, and pull myself along its rungs ‘til I’m standing. There’s a single waist-level railing along three sides, the fourth totally open. I stand there on top of the cage, my toes hanging over the edge of the fourth unprotected side and soak in the adrenaline. I’m open and exposed in great white shark filled waters.
The initial sensation of delicious danger fades into the emptiness and I try to catch the silvery fish that swim past in a school with my gloved hands. They’re too fast and while the water temp is about 65 and I’m coated in a thick wetsuit, without moving around the cold slowly seeps in. Arms crossed tightly for warmth, I straddle the railing, gripping with my legs as the current and stormy surface above jostle the cage.
Suddenly there’s movement in the cage below. Everyone crowding to one corner, pointing, and I look in that direction. There she is again. She comes from below this time, swimming at an angle up along the cage to pass not more than three feet from me. I could reach out and touch her. Give her a friendly stroke her as she passes. Her big eye close and clear, showing intelligence, curiosity, and confidence. Not one hint of aggression. I’m there within easy striking distance, open and unprotected, but she makes no move to harm me. Just looks. Then keeps on swimming.
Photo: Bernie Campoli
I feel like Timothy Treadwell aka Grizzly Man. There’s a quick moment of almost fear as she comes so close and then intense respect and love as she keeps going. I’m not afraid of being eaten. Even less so now. There are so many ways to die, car crash, plane crash, earthquake, drowning, illness. I wouldn’t mind going by shark bite, becoming nourishment for something so awesome.
Jenna Meistrell, Scott Smith, and I with a couple of the crew of the Nautilus Explorer.
Looking for sharks with dive legend and Body Glove founder Bob Meistrell
For a couple videos I made from the experience, click here: