Wine Dine and Play: Great White Shark Cage Diving

Great White Shark Cage Diving

What An Adrenaline Rush!!
Gansbaai, South Africa
Played with sharks on the 5th of December 2013
By Sean Overpeck (CFE)
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We all have our little needs to want to go out and do what seems to others as stupid or crazy things. There’s bungee jumping, skydiving, rock climbing, edge walking, and then the crazy stunt for me, diving with great white sharks. I had been planning my trip to South Africa for several months, and I ran across an advertisement for shark cage diving while doing some research. I investigated it further and knew that this had to be on my list. I chose my adventure with the Great White Shark Tours company just outside Cape Town, near Gansbaai, the home of the biggest great white shark colony in the world.

Brian McFarlane
Courtesy of

The owner and founder Brian McFarlane is a professional diver and skipper who has always made a living from the sea. He started diving for perlemoen (abalone), then moved on to become a commercial fisherman for 6 years and spent another 6 years diving in search of wrecks along the southern coast of Africa. This was followed by the diving for diamonds from the seabed for the next 20 years. He has become a local legend with his fascinating tales about the sea and underwater experiences. During the time when Great White Shark fishing was allowed, Brian caught Great Whites, some weighing more than 1 ton. Today, he dearly regrets this and now spends his time and efforts in finding the great beasts to be observed and photographed at close range. Brian has worked with the Great Whites for 18 years and has only had 6 non-sighting days in the last 10 years.

It was going to be a long day, so I started it early at 5:00 AM to drive from Cape Town to Gansbaai, roughly a three-hour drive (160 km or 100 miles). Now if I wanted, the company would pick me up from locations in Cape Town for an additional R350.00, but after the diving, I had plans to drive further east to L’Agulhas, where the true southernmost point on the African continent was located, and the marker where the Indian and Atlantic Oceans met.The trip normally begins at 10:00 in the morning along the coast from the village of Gansbaai, so I gave myself plenty of time for the drive, and they also offered breakfast at the office and lunch on the boat, so I didn’t have to worry about food. The drive was spectacular; I had no idea that South Africa was so beautiful with rolling hills, valleys, mountains, and so much more. You see shows on National Geographic and think that this country is desolate or barren; far from the truth.

While enjoying the drive, every radio channel was announcing the news, Madiba as he was affectionately known, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela had passed away early that morning. Now being a foreigner to South Africa, I knew he was revered by the black people, the Martin Luther King Jr, of Africa so to speak, but I did not realize until that day talking with white South African’s, how much he was truly loved by all the people, black or white. He was known as Madiba which a sign of respect in the Afrikaans language.

Nelson Mandela
Picture courtesy of

I arrived just in time, hitting some heavy traffic along the way, and just made the briefing, and gobbled down some breakfast pastries. The owner Brian introduced himself and then went over the events of the day, explaining how to position ourselves in the shark cage, what to do, and not do and so forth. He also mentioned that one person would after seeing a shark up close refuse to go into the water. “The Jaws syndrome” as it is known, and yes, one person, a gentleman refused, and just enjoyed the ride. His wife, on the other hand, did go in. After the safety briefing, we walked from the office down to the dock where our boat The Apex Predator awaited. Now I forgot because I was running late to purchase an underwater camera which they did sell for R200.00. It was instructed because of high tides and winds to bring a warm change of clothing, sunblock, and other essentials.

There was about 25-30 of us on the boat plus the crew when we set sail, going for about 30 minutes to an open area, one of two locations to spot the sharks. The second area was Dyer Island where there was a colony of the Great White Sharks favorite food and main diet, seals. This trip we were not near the island, so we didn’t see any seals. I knew that we would spot sharks, however, since this company had an 18-year long record, where there were only three times that a shark was not spotted. Hell National Geographic would hire them when they were making a documentary on sharks. 

We dropped anchor, and the crew begins attracting the Great Whites with a specially-formulated ‘Chum’ mixture, according to their website was made from completely legal ingredients, which has taken Brian years to perfect, and is a highly-guarded trade secret. Well, whatever it was, it worked. We saw about five other boats in the distance, moving from one location to another trying to get a spotting, but for us after ten minutes, the first shark was spotted.

I called her big momma, and though she only hung around for about ten minutes while the crew prepared the cake and put it into the water, big momma was a sight to see. It looked like she was a good 17-20 feet long. A person next to me said, “Shit, that’s Jaws!” After big momma or ‘Jaws’ left, a few other Great Whites showed up, and the fun began.

The first group put on their wetsuits and got into the cage. I had never seen a Great White Shark up this close and waited for the second group to dive so that I could get some pictures. The cage held 6-7 people for about 20 minutes at a time so I would have my chance. Brian even said that we could go back in if we wanted to. My answer to that was, “is the Pope Catholic?”

Besides the chum, once the sharks arrived they place large cuts of fish on a hook with rope and threw them out into the sea so that they could lure the sharks closer to the boat. They also placed a dummy board into the water with another rope attached. It was black and looked like a seal or a surfer. They would use this to pull the shark in closer as well. The first group was having the time of their lives, one lady even screaming out with excitement when the shark came closer then she expected. At this time I was putting my wetsuit on.

Now the cage itself, once you get in there are several bars or rails along the edge. The top bar which was the only part of the cage that was not submerged was used to hang onto with your hands, then about 4-5 feet below that under the water, was a bar for you to rest your feet on. Then below that was a railing at the bottom of the cage that you used to tuck your feet under to hold your body down when you went under to view the sharks. Now you did not need to have any previous diving experience to do this, and you were not required to have a scuba certification. You were in the wetsuit with goggles, but once in the cage, you would hold your breath and go under, then come up for air. So you did not have any scuba gear and stay under for long periods of time.

I entered the cage as you can see from the picture above. Someone had my camera and took the picture for me (above). SHOCK…Holy shit that water was cold, 51o(10.55 oC). It was summer time in South Africa in the Southern Hemisphere, which meant it was also warming up a little in Antarctica 2000 miles (3220 km) away, and as a small amount of the ice melts down there since they get 6 months of 24 hours a day sunlight in the summer, the water here gets colder. Funny enough, they mentioned that in the winter, the water was warmer because the sun did not melt the ice in Antarctica. Once inside and semi acclimatized to the water temperature, Brian, and the crew through more bait (chum) into the water, and the little blackboard that looked like a seal. If a shark came close to the cage, they would yell at us, “down, down, down” which was our queue to hold our breath, go under, and attach our feet to the bottom pole holding us in place, and watch as the sharks would swim by. 

For the first time in my life, I understood why people fear sharks so much. Yes, they can bite you and eat you, but so can any other wild animal. When I was in that cage the waves and choppy water rushed over us, and as I looked around, I could see birds flying around, diving down to eat some of that chum in the water, but from our angle with our heads just above the water, you can’t see a shark. That is what makes them so scary, and great 1970 horror movies. You know they are there, but you can’t see them. This is what it feels like to be a swimmer or surfer when a shark is nearby. The fear rushes through you. When you swim in the ocean you feel something brush against your feet. What is it? A shark? Who knows, but the fear is there, and I felt that fear. Even though I was protected in a cage, the fear was there. Damn what an adrenaline rush!

“Down, down, down” I went under the water, very murky thanks to heavy chop from a storm the day before, with visibility of about three to five feet, and then there she was. Gliding by the cage without a care in the world. Eyes folded back into her head, black as night, dorsal fin above the water, and huge razor-sharp teeth, hundreds of them. Can you hear the Jaws soundtrack playing in your head? I could. 

My 20 minutes in the cage was over and it was time for the third group to go in. As much as I loved it, and didn’t want to leave the water, the coldness made us get out avoiding hypothermia. But, I went back in, not once, but two more times. On the final dive down, I was next to the edge of the cage, when the wildest activity of the day was progressing around me. A shark, going for the dummy seal came right at the cage, mouth open, and at the last second, turned away from the cage, crashing his tail two feet from me. I nearly urinated on myself with that one. That was a big mouth with a lot of teeth.

Then a few minutes later, another Great White got ahold of the dummy seal, and would not let it go. He was thrashing about the water, twisting and turning, and all of this within view of the cage. I couldn’t hold my breath anymore and had to surface, but very quickly went back under to continue to see the action. It was incredible. I am so glad I ran across this while doing my South Africa research.

We returned to shore where a certificate was presented to us certifying our dive with all the dates, signatures, and information on the Great White Shark. We were also able to purchase a DVD of the day’s adventure for an extra cost of R250.00. Well worth it. If you click on the YouTube link below, you can watch the video that I bought of the shark adventure.

Full Video on the Cage Dive Tour:

For those traveling to South Africa, you must add this adventure to your list along with the safari you planned. I would like to thank Brian, the crew of the Apex Predator, and the entire staff at Great White Shark Tours for making this day one to remember for the rest of my life. When I left, I journeyed on to L’Agulhas to see the southernmost point of the African Continent and then did the long four-hour drive back to Cape Town. I was tired, and had to be ready for yet another adventurous day in the Western Cape, but just when I thought the day could not get any better, for dinner in Cape town I had made reservations at The Test Kitchen, listed at # 61 in the top 100 of the best restaurants in the world (2013) on the San Pellegrino list. It was the best meal that I had on my trip to South Africa, and second only to the best meal I had in my entire life at Alinea, in Chicago.

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See the whole list by visiting “The Wine Dine and Play Article Glossary by country

South African Winery's:

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De Trafford Winery in Stellenbosch, South Africa
Sijnn Wines in Stellenbosch, South Africa
La Motte in Franschhoek, South Africa
Cape Chamonix Winery in Franschhoek, South Africa
Ken Forrester in Stellenbosch, South Africa

Adult price per person
Price chart:
$£€ -                Under 50.00 
$£€ x 2 -          Under 75.00 
$£€ x 3 -          Over 100.00 
$£€ x 4 -          Over 200.00 
$£€ x 5 -          Over 400.00 

My bill:
Currency :
Price chart :

££ ½

No.8 Swart St,
Kleinbaai, 7220
Gansbaai, Western Cape
South Africa
Cross streets:
Van Dyk Street & Kus Drive
GPS Coordinates:
34°36'52"S - 19°21'18"E

Contact Information:

+27 (0) 28 384 1418
Online Bookings:
Social Media

Other Pictures:

“Culinary perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, 
But in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
-Angelique Arnauld (1591-1661)

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