Thursday, July 20, 2006

Swimming With Sharks

I had to admit I was scared. Two days earlier Jill had signed us up for an excursion on a boat trip to feed sharks and rays.

As we got on the boat the weather went from slightly overcast to clear and beautiful. The boat took us from Cook’s bay (named after Captain Cook) back to Opanahu Point just in front of our hotel but about 200 yards offshore.

The captain, a indegneous man originally from the Marquesas Islands slowed the boat down and anchored. Everybody on the boat began to suit up. “Good, they’re already here,” he said as he threw a bucket of chum into the water.

I looked over the side of the boat at the wrong moment. As soon as the fish guts hit the drink the water began to boil with the trashing of dorsal and tail fins, which could only mean sharks.

Major anxiety and the butt pucker factor kicked in. I mean it’s only natural to be fearful of sharks, to fear getting into the same water with a creature that was meant to consume you.

Before I jumped in I noticed that one of the deck-hands was throwing out about 20 feet of rope attached to a large buoy. “Stay to the left side of the rope an you’ll be safe, “ yelled the captain. Ah the rope rule. All sharks know the rope rule. You stay on that side and I’ll stay on this side. Right. Just like on the Discovery channel.

“Get into zee water!” the Cameraman yelled.

“Not so fast Frenchy,” I thought to myself.

Not wanting to be showed up by the Frenchman, the Japanese tourists and everybody else on the boat I jumped in. I could hear a loud repetitive, deep rasping sound along with my heartbeat. It was my panicked breathing through my snorkel. I wanted to just get a bearing as to where I was. I wanted to see where they were at relevant to where I was.

Once I saw the sharks, albeit many of them I was okay. Nobody was immediately consumed upon hitting the water. The sharks did not zero in on anyone and feast. Life was going to be okay.

I’m not sure how the current was running that day but the eau de chum must have wafted our way. Several of the sharks swam at eye level right towards us, but upon seeing us darted away. Mutual respect in nature is a good thing.

Then, one of the sharks disobeyed the rope rule and swam 4 feet directly below me. Once again I puckered, but despite my fear I managed to squeeze off a couple of shots.

We were in the water with the black tip reef sharks for about a half hour. Both Aimee and Jill had jumped in behind me without so much a moment’s fear or hesitation. Jill stayed with Aimee hanging onto the rope, Jill pointing out the different sharks and minions of fish that abounded. Both got back on the boat as soon as they got tired of treading water and had their fill of viewing the man-killers up close.

Shortly after that we headed a short distance to shallower waters and were greeted by a school of rays. Unlike the skiddish sharks the rays were friendly and downright social. They swam directly up to all of us and let us touch and pet them. Aimee had a harder time with the rays because she was not use to them and she thought they looked “freaky.”

Even though we were able to stand waist deep I dove down under to get on the same level as the rays. The rays glided up to and right past me. About 10 feet in the distance I could see 6 sharks, it was time to get back on the boat.

More than just an excursion on a vacation, the trip was life changing for me. Much like my days as a paratrooper I had a fear and without showing it faced it directly. I was able to share part of the experience with my wife and daughter.

It was an incredible day.

1 comment:

Barcai said...

Truly awe inspiring- I dream of going to someplace other then San Diego or L.A.

You must make a whole series of these - so ppl like me can live vicariously through your narrative of the trip!

I'm envious :P

Let's hear some details of the hotel and staff and guests you met - let's walk along with you into the town and shop the curios that tourists can't seem to get enough of.