Hell is a Small Boat on an Endless Sea

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Africa » South Africa » Western Cape » Hermanus
August 26th 2009
Published: January 17th 2010
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I woke at 4am this morning, ready for what was bound to be one of the most memorable events of my trip, cage diving with great White Sharks! It certainly was memorable, but not for the reasons I was hoping. To begin with I swam up from sleep at the persistant call of my alarm clock and fought the urge to roll over and go straight back to sleep. I forced myself up and into the shower, and then perched on the edge of the bed with a cup of tea, trying to force myself awake. I ate a quick breakfast, ignoring my rebellious stomach and finally made it down to the dark streets of cape Town for 5am where a taxi was silently waiting. The driver let me in and paused further down the road awaiting two girls from another hostel. They eventually dragged themselves out of the door and joined me. We exchanged muted greetings and fell into silence and then sleep. We woke up much later as we picked up the rest of our group in Hermanus and drove onto the centre. Still feeling a bit tired and sick, the additional people and the slowly growing buzz of excitment was catching and I was soon eager for the trip. We drove via the coast to see if we could spot whales but apart from a coouple of distant black shapes we didn't didn't see anything. We parked beside a non-descript building, entered and went straight downstairs where we found table and chairs set up, and breakfast plates and tea and coffee prepared. I decided I'd feel much better after some food and would have woken up properly after the lecture. We were supposed to spend a good couple of hours watching a DVD on the great white sharks and getting the full safety lecture and information on the trip. As I picked at my breakfast I swallowed the sea sickness tablets I'd brought, not wanting a repeat of my truly awful whale watching experience in Iceland last year. I had been promised by the chemist that they were practically infallible, and only warned to make sure I took them a couple of hours before getting in a boat. I was understandably panicked then when they announced due to predicted bad weather we were going to get out on the boat right away. We changed into our swimming costumes and put our clothes back on, as we were told there was no point in getting in the wetsuits until we were out in the boat. We approached the shore. The skies were grey and dismal and the waves crashed against the rocks. We filed onto the little boat, locked our belongings into the tiny cabin, only just big enough for a couple of people to stand in and settled on the benches. We were warned it was going to be rough getting out of the harbour and I sat on the middle bench bracing myself for the trip out. The boat started out and before long we hit the first wave. The boat tipped up and crashed down. My stomach flew up to my throat, and my arms locked to the bench I was sitting on. We hot a second wave. I took a deep breath and told myself to hold on. The third wave was even bigger and I actually bounced upwards and crashed back onto the bench. I stood up, lunged for the door frame of the cabin and pulled myself in. I said in a gabble that I was getting over flu, I was feeling sick and I just couldn't do this for three hours and wanted to go back before we got too far. The poor man looked quite terrified and said a few minutes when we were sat down and he could hear me properly that he thought I was having a panic attack about safety. As the boat lurched up and down and my stomach flew up and down between my throat and chest, though never back to its proper place, I repeated that I just couldn't do it and wanted to go back, hating myself for wasting my money and not doing the trip I'd been so looking forward to. The man explained they couldn't just turn the boat around and at best they'd have to wait until we were further out and then get another boat to come and fetch me. I have to admit he did a good job of talking me into staying, not that I could have prised myself off the bench to leap of the boat anyway! I sat huddled forward, enduring every bump and we got further out, experienced divers on the boat telling me that I'd be fine in just a moment, getting out was always the hardest part.
Finally we were out of the harbour. People around me laughed and joked and got excited about the shark viewings. I was encouraged to 'look at the horizon'. Why do people always say that? As far as I'm concerned watching the strip of ocean between the boat and the horizon widen and narrow only serves to emphasise how much the boat is moving. In this case I physically couldn't keep my eye on the horizon as the boat was pitching so much the side of the boat kept coming up to obscure the view. I was soon flat on my back staring at the sky, which seemed the only reliably still thing in the world. The boat tipped from side to side, the cage we were to dive in swung in its restaints and gulls screeched overhead. People started grabbing wet suits and changing and we finally came to a stop. Stopping the engines didn't sop the boat pitching though. I lay staring at the clouds overhead wishing I could join in. I felt like my internal organs were all swimming around wildly inside, my muscles were all frozen and I was so cold I swear my bone marrow was shivering. I have honestly never felt so awful and the bizarre thing was I wasn't even being sick. I just felt terrible. To make it worse the boat was tipping so much the waves were sloshing up the sides and I got a faceful of seawater a couple of times.
I started getting splashed with cold water regularly as people took turns getting in and out of the cage. We apparently had three white sharks circling the boat and people were squealing about how close they were coming and how amazing it was. I felt so frustrated. I just wanted to get up and join in but everytime I made a move to sit up my head swam and I fell back down. Finally I was told that the weather was turning bad and as we'd been there for over an hour and everyone had been in the cage a few times it was time to turn back. They said if I wanted to see the sharks it was my last chance. I forced myself up, and started to struggle out of my clothes into the wet suit..... I got as far as half undressed, one leg in the wet suit and head hanging over the side of the boat as I was finally actually sick. I fell back on the bench really hating myself for not having the strength to get up and just do it. I was there, the sharks were there, all I had to do was get in the damn wetsuit.
It didn't happen. I emptied my stomach and struggled back into my clothes, suddenly even more cold than before. I struggled to the side of the boat to at least try and view the sharks from above, then couldn't stand being upright anymore and turned away.. just as a shark broke the surface of the water. I returned to lying down and barely glimpsed the seal colony as we passed. I was soon moved out of the way as people stripped off their wetsuits and all huddled back on the benches. I sat in the corner, bracing myself against the wall as the boat rocked side to side and pitched up and down. Each wave sent me bouncing on the bench (I am going to have a nice set of bruises). The motion went on forever and ever. Everytime I thought it must almost be over and took a glance towards the shore all I saw was rolling waves and grey cloud. I seemed to have got as cold as I possibly could and I'd apparently given up shivering. I started to find the whole situation rather amusing as I ultimately do when I'm truly miserable. I mean who forks out 70 quid for three hours of torture?
We finally arrived on dry land, filed into the coach and were soon settled back in the chairs while lunch was brought round and the DVD player set up. I sat trying to warm up and finally started shivering again. I amnaged to get hold of a cup of tea, but couldn't face the admittedly beautifully presented plate of food in front of me. I got a few sympathetic comments and everyone assured me the seasickness would go away now I was off the boat. It didn't. I sat and shivered and rested my head on the table while the others watched the DVD. I did wake up long enough to be relieved they'd edited me out of the video.
I slept on the long trip back to Cape Town and before leaving was presented with a pack of shark photos... not much of a compensation prize really. I staggered upstairs and into a hot shower before I caught a chill. I had to perfect the art of washing my hair with one hand while holding on with the other as everytime I shut my eyes I lurched sideways and crashed into the wall. I changed on the bed because I couldn't seem to stay upright and slept away the afternoon.
Eventually I had to get up to track down the local supermarket. I met one of the guys from the hostel on the street who asked how my trip had been... you'd think my woeful expression and drunken swaying would have said something. I managed to locate a supermarket, buy food and get back to my room where I remained decidedly horizontal for the remainder of the day!
Today has been a hellish trip, not to mention a waste of time. I HATE little boats. I HATE the sea. And if there are sightings of mermaids and salsa dancing sea serpents off the coast of Cape Town I am still not getting back in a boat again. EVER!


23rd January 2010

feeling your pain
Just finished reading this blog with intense interest. When i signed on for vicarious travel, I admit I didn't see a blog like this coming - it was marvelous. I remember the first time I went deep sea fishing in my youth, on a small boat. The ocean was rolling, and I spent the whole time on my back on the deck of the boat. When we got back in to the calm waters of the inlet it subsided and I was actually able to fish a little. But you did it up right through the day. What a sensitive creture your are :) Take Care (Looing forward to Mexico)
31st January 2010

In my defense, and as I frequently wailed at the time, I had flu!!! :D

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