Mike MacEacheran | Shark cage diving in Cape Town, Singapore Airlines
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Shark cage diving in Cape Town, Singapore Airlines

What do you see when you look deep into the inky-black darkness of the beady-eye of a great white? Up close and nose-to-nose, with only a few thin bars of steel separating me from the jaws of a predator that would have no hesitation in finishing me off before I could scream out – “I’m gonna need a bigger cage!” – I see two things.

The first is hunger: lured to our boat by chum – hunks of tuna-fish bait cast from the hull above the surface – it is ready to feed. Without the wire-frame cage, wrapped like protective gauze around myself and my dive buddy, I would not survive one second.

As the shark draws closer and presses its nose up against the cage’s bars, both probing and persistent, I see a second thing: an otherworldly determination. With no underwater predators to hunt it, the great white is utterly fearless and knows no, if very few, limits. Then I sense a third thing: another shark marauding in the background like a black shadow. Within a few seconds, it too is upon us with the brute force of a jack-hammer.

Two hour drive from Cape Town in South Africa, the small fishing community of Gansbaai was once known for its quiet, shingle beaches and seamen, a place where fishing boats chugged to and fro from the waterfront with the tide. In truth, not much happened. Now it is better known for the knife-edge dorsal fins that cut through the water offshore and these same fishing boats are used to ferry tourists out to the shark’s habitat – deep aquamarine channels where from the deck of the boat, fleeting shadows, with the unmistakable outline of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, pass in and out of view.

It took some persuasion, but I have come to experience the world of the great white first-hand and – after entering the submerged cage, which hangs from the side of the fishing-trawler-turned-tourist-boat – I realise that I am closer to a killer predator than I ever thought possible. The shark patrols the cage, circling the boat in ever decreasing circles as though it is starring in a Hollywood movie – it is an underwater adrenalin thrill like no other.

Still, despite all the drama, shark-cage diving is perfectly safe and trips run every day in season (priced around $120). But this doesn’t stop me from feeling ever so slightly nervous as the shark comes round to eye me one final time. My breathing quickens and I can feel the strain from the diving equipment as it pumps air down into my mask from the boat deck. The shark grabs the tuna fish chum, tears it to pieces with a mouthful of arrowhead-shaped teeth and lurches under the boat like a torpedo. It disappears into the darkness before I can regain my breath. Sheesh, what a thrill ride.