A moment in the bay

in travel •  last year

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I live in the beautiful city of Cape Town, South Africa (you know, the first city in the world that's about to run out of water - but that's a story for another time).

I'm an open water swimmer. It's my drug of choice. Open water swimming in the cold Atlantic keeps me sane, alive and appreciative of the beauty of this wonderful continent.
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(That's me and Lindsay de Kock. My first Robben Island crossing. Lindsay's 18th.)

I also free-dive. For that you need to be calm, meditate and learn to control your breathing, but that's also a story for another day.

The story I want to tell today is of my swim a few mornings ago.

I had a moment.

I swim with a bunch of guys called the Hot Chocolate Swimming Group, because we always drink hot chocolate afterwards to warm up after spending around 45 minutes in water that can go down to 8 degrees Celcius (46 degrees Fahrenheit).
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I got to Camps Bay late (a pretty coastal village in Cape Town), and most of the swimmers were already in the water.
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(This is a picture of Camps Bay)

So I swam alone, thinking I would catch up with them somewhere in the Bay. After crossing the bay to Maidens Cove on the north side of the bay, about 50m after turning around and heading back, I saw flashes of white and grey under me.

White and grey as in SHARK.

So now I'm panicking. And then I'm not panicking, I'm just bracing myself for the hit, because once you think about it, what can you do?

You're 200m from shore.

So I'm thinking 'Ok, ok, if this is how I'm supposed to go I can't think of a better way. Out in the Bay, beautiful day, in my mother Atlantic's arms. Just hurry up Mr Shark and make it clean and quick, ok?'

This all goes through your head in a microsecond.

But then they got closer. Dolphins. Duskies. Must have been about twelve juveniles.

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I remembered back to my freedive off Oudekraal, and how close the seals got, so I took a deep breath and swam DOWN.

That seemed to do the trick because they literally swam to within an arm's length. All around me - above, below, beside - I was literally surrounded by them.

I had to surface not so much because I ran out of breath but more because I couldn't suppress an irresistible urge to laugh. These creatures have a way of inspiring awe and joy that is totally inexplicable but unstoppable.

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(This photo was shared with us by Aletta Harrison, who was on the beach that day.)

On shore all the other swimmers had also had dolphin experiences - there were two pods in the bay. I felt slight stings while swimming and noticed swarms of small jellies in the water so I'm not sure if they were feeding on these, but they stayed in the bay for a long time.

God smiled on us that day. Dankie Here (as they say in Afrikaans).

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I have heard Cape Town is one of the most densely populated areas for great whites! YIKES! you are brave. I have a mental block when it comes to swimming in the ocean with out a board. I am a very strong swimmer and I have actually had to be rescued because I was panicking and losing control of my breath. I am following you now, and looking forward to more under water photos!!

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The White sharks are normally the other side of the peninsula, in False Bay (the Indian Ocean side). Camps Bay is on the west (Atlantic) side of the peninsula where Whites are much more rare, although they have been sighted there occasionally. As a scuba diver, I've dived a lot with sharks - tigers, black tips, bull sharks, ragged tooth, etc. Humans are not a shark's natural prey. It's extremely unlikely that even a White will take a human in clear water. A friend of mine proved this point by swimming in the shark pool at the Cape Town Oceanarium (with two scuba divers under him, for safety). If a shark can see you, it would be EXTREMELY unusual behaviour for him to attack you. Most if not all shark attacks on humans happen in turbulent or murky water where a shark has mistaken a human for a seal or other fish. By the way, I feel a lot safer in the water WITHOUT a board. Surfboards or boogie-boards on the surface, with your legs hanging off the back: you look A LOT like a seal!! You're also floating stationary a lot of the time. Remember sharks are also scavengers. Something that's floating around and not going anywhere looks to a shark a lot like something that is injured or dead = lunch! A swimmer in the water has a much more different profile and rhythm, and is therefore much safer, IMHO.