Meet the boss

Introduction by Dave Moran

Meet The Boss - Shark Cage

Meet The Boss - Shark Cage 2

top: Please take my picture, I’m so beautiful!

above: Peter Blunden wonders if the gap in the divers’ cage is just a little too wide!

below: That’s close enough – thanks

Meet The Boss - Shark Cage 3

We had not reached the entrance to Port Adelaide before the resident dolphins were frolicking at the bow of the stately tall ship Falie. The 16 expedition members spread themselves around the ship’s spacious deck enjoying the warmth of the mid afternoon sun, there was a feeling of expectation, excitement and anticipation. The dolphins’ farewell escort was a fitting way to ease expedition members’ apprehensions and to wish us luck on our high sea adventure. Next stop, the Neptune Islands which lie at the mouth of the Spencer Gulf off Port Lincoln South Australia.

One of the joys of being on such an expedition is the mix of nationalities drawn together by the prospect of seeing a great white shark in its natural environment.

We had Russians (a first for these expeditions) Canadian, American, English, Irish, Dutch, Australian and a bunch of New Zealanders. Many a tale was told around the evening dinning table of adventures in far flung places!

Rodney Fox’s life changed direction forever when he was attacked by a great white shark in 1963 and survived.

After the attack he made it his passion to understand this most feared of sharks. His expert knowledge and ability to interact with these sharks has opened many doors worldwide. Soon after his recovery he was called on to help produce the first films that showed live white sharks, Great White Death and Attack by a Killer Shark. Rodney’s expertise was also used by Peter Gimbel in 1969 to film, Blue Water White Death. Director Steven Spielberg knew who to call when he was contemplating producing a film from Peter Benchley’s blockbuster story, Jaws. The live shark action was filmed at the Neptune Islands! Regular expeditions to the Neptune Islands commenced in 1976 and have continued to enthrall divers and filmmakers from every corner of the globe. It was an honour to have Rodney on board the Falie with us. A true gentleman, always having time to quietly chat to the guests on board while ensuring his son Andrew and Dive Master Ian ‘Pato’ Paterson were doing their utmost to entice the main actors to the stern of the Falie.

The Falie crew always had time to assist a diver or to have a laugh. I’m sure their mission is to ensure everyone on board leaves the historical Falie with a lump in their throat.

I asked some of the expedition members to tell us their experiences of being part of an extraordinary adventure to one of the most remote and exciting place on earth….

Alistair Kerr (Outram, NZ)

Sixteen months ago I was attacked by a great white shark close to Stewart Island. I was doing some spot diving with dive buddies around the Mutton Bird Islands when after surfacing from this very scenic dive I signalled for the boat to pick me up, for some reason I looked down into the water to see a great white coming up from below with its mouth open and showing all of its teeth, ready to bite. With cray snare in hand I made a pretty feeble attempt to fend it off but I do remember the shark changed direction by coming up the side of my leg, picking up my catch bag in its mouth (which probably saved my arm) and then bit my forearm. I remember holding on to the shark with my other arm as it lifted me out of the water.

It was a very frightening and fearful experience which I will always remember and have a very vivid memory of those few seconds.

The boat fended off the shark which was about two and a half metres long or as wide as the boat; or so I was told. They got me on board and I just lay in the bottom of the boat all the way back to Stewart Island, gutted that I was going to miss the oyster season. I didn’t feel a lot of pain then, that came later. The shark opened up the back of my forearm down to the bone cutting the tendons.

The next three months was quite hard with reliving the experience 20 times a day with people asking about it but that was nothing compared to my first few dives as soon as I was able. Fearful, frightened, paranoid and anxious all at once when I saw a common sand shark and aborted the dive in a panic. I had to do something. It was suggested that I should talk to someone about my fears. Rodney Fox’s name kept coming up. I emailed him and it was suggested I do a great white shark dive to meet my attacker face to face. So I did.

Standing on the stern of the Falie and seeing a three and a half metre shark swimming graciously by, eating the fish baits and chomping at the rope at will demonstrated the power he has. Eager to get into the cage I was in the second group to go down so I had plenty of time to get excited and anxious. Time to get in the cage and be lowered into the water down to the bottom at 20 metres waiting and waiting. Then, out of the murk, came this huge fish and it came so close to the cage just to check us out. An amazing sight that I hope I can store in my head along side my other memory. To be so close, to feel anxious and yet safe. I feel I have a better understanding of the great white shark now knowing they are not always there when you are diving.

Lance Kennedy (Auckland, NZ)

After three days sitting at anchor in the lee of North Neptune Island, listening to the wind howl, and the seas crashing on the rocks, we were getting despondent. If one more day passed with no sharks, we would face the slow,15 hour cruise home to Adelaide through heavy swells, and sickening rolls without achieving what we had come so far, and at substantial cost, to accomplish. Sure, we had been lowered in cages to the sea floor to view the thousands of barber perch and toothbrush leatherjacket attracted by our chum trail, and had filmed the giant eagle rays and sting rays of the area. But the payoff had to be Carcharhinus carcharias, the great white shark.

The final morning and up before daybreak. Twice now, we had seen the whole fish tied to a line, hanging below a float had disappeared. No sharks had appeared. With fading hope, I gazed at the water off Falie’s stern. Suddenly a great body rose and thrashed the surface. Nine feet of power. The cry went out; ‘Shark!’ Within minutes, all the slugabed types were crowding the space at the stern hoping for its return. With a fresh fish on the line, we didn’t have to wait long. My video camera was soon humming, recording the magnificent creature each time it rose to take the bait. However, no-one had told it that aggression was supposed to be the watch word. This shark seemed to know its business – eating – and did not want to waste energy on non essentials.

Soon we were in the cage, ready to be winched overboard. With rough weather, and the Falie rolling at anchor, it was not safe to bob about on the surface so we were lowered to 12 metres. We waited. Thirty eight minutes we waited, attended by the myriads of small fish attracted to the whole tuna in the cage. Then suddenly it was there. Despite four pairs of eyes scanning the water in all directions, no-one saw it approach. Nine feet of torpedo shape and teeth appeared by magic from nowhere. Amazingly, none of us felt any fear. Wonder, awe and fascination overwhelmed any negative feelings. Again my video camera hummed, following the curious beast as it circled the cage three times, coming close enough to count the teeth in its mouth, before it disappeared. At no stage did it show the least sign of aggression. Merely curiosity at the weird intruders upon its domain. I am sure to this day that we could have swum freely with it, with no risk. Of course, it had just been fed, very well, and may have been feeling that comfortable, relaxed, sated feeling that overcomes us all after a feast.

More divers followed us, descending inside the cage to experience the presence of this wonderful animal. Most returned awestruck. However, the shark must have felt that enough was enough, and it soon disappeared – not to return.

The cruise back to Adelaide that night, through heavy seas, passed quickly, with 16 divers raving about their experience. None of us will ever forget the sight, and beauty of our white pointer encounter.

Jacqui Rogers (Auckland, NZ)

For me, as a scuba diver, to fulfil a lifelong dream and have the opportunity to dive with great white sharks would be the ultimate experience. The ultimate dive! When my husband announced that he had paid for me to go on the expedition for my birthday, I was thrilled.

The morning the sharks arrived was unforgettable and although diving in a cage with a great white shark circling closer and closer was incredible, the highlight for me was standing on the duckboard as a great white surfaced about two metres away. He turned to his side and eyeballed me with those deep black eyes – we were eyeballing each other – and that is when my heart raced and I felt I had experienced something really special! He then disappeared below the surface and I quickly retracted my feet off the edge of the duckboard.

Rodney and Andrew Fox were great hosts and we were privileged to have Dave Moran on board who was also able to share some of his diving experiences. The camaraderie on board Falie was great. The crew’s service was exceptional and I’m sure the chef was trying to fatten us up for the sharks because the food was outstanding and there was copious amounts of it.

I’m looking forward to going again and this time I will be taking my husband.

Peter Smith (NSW, Australia)

Some of my earliest memories are of watching the mysteries of the underwater world brought to us by Jacques Cousteau and his ilk. I knew then that this was a world I wanted to explore. As a teenager I read Peter Benchley’s book and later saw the infamous movie Jaws. Like much of the world I was left aghast at the horror of the great white death! I also learned of real life accounts such as the attacks on, Rodney Fox in South Australia and Henri Bource in Victorian waters.

After years of snorkelling and crab spearing I finally obtained my c-card and began to live my own underwater odyssey. I qualified as an Army Shallow Water Diver, which introduced me to the realm of working underwater. Still I wanted more, I pursued various other courses and eventually obtained my Master diver certification.

Through 20 years of diving however, I still possessed a nagging doubt/fear of the deep’s apex predator, the great white. I do not have a total fear of sharks. I’ve had plenty of shark encounters over the years, having dived aquariums, the Great Barrier Reef, UK, Africa and Fiji. I’ve been circled by two large tiger sharks 30m Off Heron Is, which was quite nerve wracking, bumped off my feet in the pitch darkness at 36m in Sydney’s Middle Harbour (a renowned shark breeding ground) scary. Also I’ve dived with the grey nurse, white and black tip reef sharks, an oceanic white tip and numerous whaler, Port Jackson and wobbegongs. I respect and admire these beautiful creatures. Yet still I had my own fear of a face to face encounter with a great white.

My Rodney Fox Shark Expedition on Falie provided me the opportunity to do just that. Most of us have come to learn the truth about the great whites. Skilled and deadly hunters yes, but not the murdering man-eaters of legend. In all my years of diving I would rate my nose to nose, bottom cage encounter with a 10ft great white as the most remarkable thing I have done, an experience I’ll never forget and would love to repeat.

Although I still have reservations about such a meeting outside the cage, I proved to myself I was able to escape my nagging fear and was in fact in awe of a truly magnificent animal. As for the rest of the trip, it was excellent. The Neptune Islands were beautiful, the vessel majestic, the crew/staff great, the food/fare fantastic. A fellow diver said to me ‘…divers are a rare breed, they socialize well and I’ve yet to meet any I didn’t like…’ This was spot on, the wealth of experience and camaraderie of the multi-national dive team was truly memorable and commendable.

Our trip was also fortunate enough to be hosted by Rodney Fox, a living legend, again something I will never forget. Let me close by saying if you’ve ever considered making this trip, then stop thinking about it and do it, do it now, you’ll love it, I did. It truly is a great white experience

Phil Watson (Alberta, Canada)

Ever since I was a young boy I have been fascinated with the underwater world and sharks. The great white being top of the list. I always wanted to see one in the wild but not while I was diving. I had read everything there was on shark cage diving and chose Rodney Fox’s great expedition. It was the only place where they put the cage down to 50-60 feet so you can watch the shark in its own environment. All that was left to do was to convince my wife, Colette. ‘It’s a big boat, honey’. Being in Australia helped with the coaxing and yes she gets to pick the next holiday. So, I immediately called Andrew Fox and booked us for a six-day adventure.

Ten months later we are walking into the Rodney Fox Museum like a couple of school kids with smiles a mile wide. The staff are excited to see us and extremely helpful. We have a meet and greet the next night with all the other divers. It was a great icebreaker for all. The museum is great to visit.

Up early the next morning, picked up at our hotel and off to the boat Falie. When you are actually standing on the boat, with three shark cages plus all the gear you really begin to feel like you’re involved with National Geographic. This is not another boat dive. This is an expedition adventure.

We sailed all night to anchor at Neptune Island. You feel driven to stand on the deck all day so you don’t miss any sightings. At night, we watch shark documentaries and listen to Rodney Fox tell stories. It’s a good time to relax for it’s much too dark to see anything. The food and crew are exceptional throughout the trip.

The first dive in the cage is a real experience. You know that if there is a problem it is six minutes to the top or exit the cage and ascend. There are no sharks on the first couple of dives, but lots of fish, groupers (or as the New Zealanders say, wrasse) and large rays. You are constantly looking into the distance for a shark. We began chumming from the moment we anchored, the cage is full of bait and you feel a little like bait yourself. No shark for the first couple days, but it’s still great to be in a cage looking out at the underwater world.

It’s the last morning. Just getting out of bed when someone yells shark. It’s all you can do to get dressed, get your camera and onto the deck. Your first glimpse puts all the other days behind you. It’s a great white shark that is 11 feet long and it is a very big fish. He swims with little movement rolling to one side to look at you with that black eye. The girth is wide and you can feel the aura of confidence he projects as he swims by. It’s a great white shark! Me with a great white! Now, I’m standing at water level at the stern of the boat trying to get that great picture. No fear, but lots of respect. You can’t help but smile when he goes by and even try to touch his tail. He is huge! Now the hard part, leave the back deck and the shark to get suited up. Four to a cage and while you wait your turn you imagine the encounter and hope the shark sticks around. It seems like forever and then the other team has signalled that they’ve seen the shark. The smile is back. Cage comes up…divers out…I’m going down in the water. We reach 55 feet and during the entire descent you do 360s trying to find the shark. Has he left? Twenty minutes go by and no shark. I begin taking pictures of the other divers. When I’m done I turn back around to look out and there he is. He’s right there. There was no sound no warning, just in front of me about one foot away. Our eyes meet and we just watch each other. We were so fixed on each other that taking a picture didn’t even cross my mind. I kicked backward to my teammate to let them know he’s here. Again, no sense of fear for myself (I’m in a cage) just admiration. The shark circles a couple of times then leaves. The cage is nothing but smiles and bubbles. It’s a group high five. The shark returns a second time. I found that taking pictures was great, but you needed to put the camera down and just watch. His grace, sense of calm, and effortless movements makes you believe that you could exit the cage and interact. But his size keeps you in the cage. I can’t image being out diving when this fellow shows up. He’s not aggressive, just curious. The shark entertained us twice and left as quietly as he came.

As we surfaced it was like we all became 10 years old and couldn’t stop talking. We joined the other group that also saw him and we couldn’t talk fast enough to tell what we saw. We dove one more time that day, but no more sharks.

For the next couple days there’s an emotional high with remembering the experience. Then the pictures are developed and you relive it again. Then your shipmates send their photos and you relive it again. Now I just have to go back to that day and I remember the excitement of seeing the great white shark.

© Copyright 2004

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