The alarm sets off and I pull the bed covers firmly up over my head. It is Friday the 13th and I am not getting out of bed! But not for the ‘normal’ superstitious reasons… I have a special date: an intimate rendezvous with a shark.
Bravado eventually got the better of common sense as I lay there reasoning with myself. “I have told too many people of my proposed adventure to back down now,” I mutter as I reluctantly climb out of bed.
Too nervous for breakfast I gulp down some coffee and speed through my normal morning routine. Before I know it, and way before I can come up with a plausible reason to cancel, I find myself in the driver’s seat, heading for uShaka Marine World on Durban’s beach front, with a positively bubbling and optimistic Barbara at my side.
To save face, let me explain: Barbara is an underwater photographer and diving instructor – and swimming with sharks and other sea beasties is something she does every other day. But her blasé attitude did little to stem a growing nervousness that had me talking and laughing way more than usual.
Friday the 13th dawned beautifully crisp and clear, something I almost failed to notice in my nervous anticipation of diving in a tank filled with sharks - even if I would be in the relatively safety of a cage. I also noticed very little of the great Disney-like atmosphere as we walked into Durban’s splendid ZAR 735mn marine theme park, heading for the reconstruction of a 1970’s era wrecked cargo steamer – the home of uShaka’s Sea World, and more importantly; the venue for my rendezvous with the sharks.
No amount of explaining from Barbara could convince me that the ragged tooth shark in the dive tank was harmless. He swam effortlessly and lazily through the water, his cold emotionless looking eye sizing me up for a meal! At least that’s how it felt with him grinning at me, rows of teeth gleaming, and just a few millimetres of glass between us.
The fact the uShaka, which boasts the fifth largest acquarium in the world, has the largest collection of sharks in the southern hemisphere did little to quell my desire to turn tail and run away screaming. But I was soon standing at the water's edge listening to the list of instructions.
I entered the cage and the bracing water with my nerves on full alert, and to my surprise, found the experience most enjoyable. I was able to float comfortably around the viewing cage, and manoeuvre for the best view of the sharks. The sound of my own breathing was pervasive and mesmerizing and I found the whole experience intriguing.
For the most part, the sharks ignored me, swimming in casual circles below – but in true fisherman story telling Style: “I was swimming at uShaka and came nose to snout with a shark. It was literally just a meter or so away from me.” I shall simply fail to mention that I was safely within the confines of a protective cage.