It all started with a Facebook post.
My friend Jodie works for Ocean Enterprises' travel department and was looking to fill some spots on a 5-day great white shark trip to Guadalupe Island – this was something I've wanted to do for years! I've been diving with several species of sharks (I'm mildly obsessed with them) but not with any that I'd consider threatening. None that I'd need a cage for. I contacted my friend immediately and told her I was in. Two months later, I met up with my travel group and departed San Diego with the goal of coming eye to eye with the biggest great white sharks in the world.
We took a bus down the coast of Baja to the marina in Ensenada, Mexico. There, we boarded the Solmar V, a 112-foot live-aboard dive boat. I can't say enough good things about the crew, and this goes for the entirety of the trip. They were knowledgeable, friendly, and a whole lot of fun; they always made us feel right at home. They even made a cake and sang Happy Birthday to our friend Jeff, who's birthday was a week prior to the trip.
We left port around 1:30p with an 18-hour journey still ahead of us. Everyone's excitement was electric. We hung out on the railing and looked out over the ocean, drank beer, and got settled into our cabins. We lounged on the sundeck as the boat cut through the waves. Camille posed for an obligatory arms-spread-out Titanic photo at the front of the boat. We checked our watches to see how many more hours we'd have to wait to arrive.
About 6 hours in, everyone started to feel the churning of the ocean. I don't tend to get seasick and was in heavy denial that I was, but after trying (and failing) to cure it by staring at the horizon or standing at certain parts of the boat, I had to face it. Luckily, our friend Steve brought some extra motion sickness patches that he began handing out like Altoids to our group. After a few more hours of uneasiness, we all managed to get acclimated to the rocking of the boat and got some much-needed sleep before arriving to our destination the following morning.
That first morning, I literally jumped off the top bunk of my cabin at 6am. Breakfast wasn't for another hour and we were still a few hours from Guadalupe, but people were already out and about on the boat. Some were getting their camera equipment ready or making sure batteries were charging, some were on the sundeck enjoying the morning breeze, and others were chatting excitedly in the salon about the day that lay ahead. I heard one of the boat divemasters tell someone that you could see the outline of the island in the distance. We were close.
Guadalupe is a volcanic island 150 miles off the coast of the Baja Peninsula. We anchored on the northeast cove in the middle of the island's volcanic crater, with the surface of the crater sitting nearly 300 feet underneath us.
While the crew set up the cages, we had a safety meeting planned with divemaster Daniel. He went over getting in and out of the surface and submersible cages, safety procedures, what to expect throughout the day, how to be courteous to fellow divers, and revealed the first few hours' surface cage lineups. I was in the first rotation, and was jumping up and down with excitement.
The crew had been chumming the water, throwing bait into the waves to attract the sharks. It wasn't long before we heard one of the divemasters shout out “SHARK!” After seeing the fin break the surface we all couldn't help but yell back in unison “SHAAAAARK!” We couldn't get our wetsuits on fast enough.
I had my GoPro in hand and all my gear on and ready. The sharks were out there, in the water just below us. I awkwardly made my way down the ladder to the surface cage for the first time, thinking "Holy shit, holy shit, holy shit..." with each rung. I ducked down into the water with Jodie, Renee, and Jeff... and the crewmen closed the cage over our heads.
At first we didn't see anything. We were getting used to the confines of the cage, getting our mandatory photos of each other in, and scanning the water for a sign of sharks. I started to wonder if we'd spend most of our time waiting. A half hour passed before we finally saw them up close. When one finally came into view, we all were hitting each other and pointing to make sure everyone knew he was there. People always say this, but it's so true - the photos I've posted here don't do justice to the size of the Great White Shark. They are massive. Most we saw on the trip were 8-12 feet long with the biggest being close to 16 feet. 16! That's longer than 3 of me!
Some had mottled blotches on their bodies and fins, freckled textures, skin damage; some had fresh wounds and a few old scars. We found ourselves naming the more distinctive ones, and we'd get really excited when we'd see a familiar sharkie reappear. One particularly battle-scarred shark we dubbed Rambo. One of the smaller sharks we saw we called Poquito. My favorite was a larger one with a bright white, unhealed cut on the top of its head… we called him Harry Potter.
One of the craziest things I noticed, particularly from the vantage point of the surface cages, was how fast Great Whites could go from cruising speed to killing mode. They would swim up to the bait lazily, and then out of nowhere they'd switch on the turbo, pump their tail and accelerate. Sometimes they'd just go in for a quick bite and swim away, other times they'd completely breach out of the water, occasionally banging into the cages when they'd splash back down. When they hit the cages, you could hear our muffled screams of excitement through our regulators.
While the surface cage was the best up-close view for the speed and action, the submersible cage offered a very different perspective. Once submerged 30 feet, we'd open the front door of the cage to get a larger, bar-free view with an added extra thrill. The sharks would slowly and smoothly pass by, often coming so close you could see the pupils in their eyes dart around and lock right on you. Nothing puts you more in your place than direct eye contact with an apex predator.
When we'd rotate out of one cage, we'd either warm up on the sundeck with some tortilla soup from Chef Tony or we'd hop right back in another open cage. We repeated this for three days straight, alternating between the two surface cages and the submersible cage that dangled 30 feet below the surface.
At night, we'd stand outside and recap the day's highlights while staring endlessly into the stars - the Milky Way Galaxy isn't something I'm used to seeing in the middle of San Diego. We played card games with the crew or flipped through books that catalogued all of the known sharks that frequented Guadalupe. We would get our equipment set up and go to bed fired up for what unforgettable shark activity the next day would hold.
I could've stayed out there for weeks. When it came time to leave, no one was ready. We made jokes about sabotaging the engine or the anchor getting jammed - anything to give us another few days. As we watched the island fade into the distance from the sundeck, a few of us nodded off, completely exhausted from the past few days. That night I slept soundly despite going through rougher waves from a distant tropical storm. I only woke up once while almost rolling off the top bunk as the boat rocked around.
The entire experience was wholly incredible and was over far too quickly. I found myself hugging the entire crew goodbye and thanking them for everything they did to make this trip one of my greatest realities. I was sad to be back on land and suffered from “land-sickness” for several days following. The trip ended less than a week ago, but me and my new friends are sure as hell ready to try and top this with our next adventure.
CHRISTA'S GOVX GEAR
My GoPro is up for any adventure I take it on, and this was no exception. This camera is so easy to use and it captured amazing photos and videos from my trip both above and below the water. With all of the available GoPro accessories out there, the only limit to what you capture is YOU.
This waterproof bag was perfect for storing my ID, my scuba cert card, dive insurance and my phone, when I wasn’t using it. When I’d get out of the water, I could even use my phone’s touch screen through the bag, which was handy when I didn’t want to dry off.
My go-to bottle for rehydrating after a dive session in the cage. You may be stationary in the cage and not swimming around, but experiencing the thrill of being in the water with sharks does wear you out. Getting back on board and downing water from my Hydro Flask kept me going. (That, and Chef Tony’s chicken tortilla soup.)
Casio was nice enough to send me this monster watch, which I’ll admit I was unable to use to the fullest extent of everything it’s capable of. It’s a solar-powered maritime watch with sensors for measuring atmospheric conditions. It's really sturdy and easy to use; I have money to bet a lot of you badasses out there can put it to the test properly.
How's THAT for product placement?
My fellow divers appreciated having the Blaster on board. We were able to enjoy music from my phone on the trip out to the island, and the rubber exterior proved useful when the choppy waves knocked it off the table a few times.
I got a lot of compliments on this phone case on the boat. It’s totally waterproof and built to take a beating. Perfect for a few days spent aboard a rocking dive boat.
This is my favorite backpack of all time, and it was the perfect size for everything I needed daily on the boat. I love the roll-top closure. Very handy for quick access to my water bottle and my sunglasses, and the padded interal computer sleeve saved my laptop from being crushed.
The air is so clear and the water is so pristine off the coast of the island that the sun was beating down on us with a lot of intensity. These glasses were great for dealing with the glare off the water when I was scanning the surface for fins.