Cage diving with great white sharks

A few years ago, I went cage diving with great white sharks. The experience was incredible. While living in San Francisco, I wanted to take full advantage of as many activities local to the surroundings like eating fish and chips in the Wharf, kayaking out of Sausalito into the bay with whales and sea lions, sailing a twenty-two foot sloop under the Golden Gate Bridge, and visiting the Farallon Islands, affectionately called the devil’s teeth, for some cage diving with great white sharks. The last was one of the most memorable and hypothermic experiences of my time on the Pacific Ocean.

For context, the Farallon Islands or Farallones if you’re channelling your inner Spaniard are a group of islands that sit about thirty miles west of San Francisco. In the fifties and sixties, it was reported to be a radioactive dump site. Get ready for some three-headed shark encounters. But all that apparently stopped in the seventies when a whistle-blower made it public. Before sailing out to the islands for my planned cage dive, I read Susan Casey’s The Devil’s Teeth: A True Story of Obsession and Survival Among America’s Great White Sharks. The book was interesting and definitely sets the stage for what you can expect on the islands. Her own story is a little creepy and so self-serving, you can’t help but to strongly dislike the author for her lack of common and rational sense. Nevertheless, a good book to get you in the mood for the great white shark, bone-numbing cold adventure that awaits you at the Farallon Islands.

There are many outfitters who are more than willing to take your money and give you a ride out to the islands so you can put on a wet suit, get inside a fishing cage, and submerge yourself under the 56 degree Pacific Ocean. I tend to find any business is just as good as its people, and people tend to come and go, so check out recent feedback and comments on a sites like Yelp or TripAdvisor before you pick one.

Usually you can rent a wetsuit, fins, etc. from the outfitter, but you might consider obtaining your gear ahead of time if possible. There are no guarantees the suit will fit unless you tried it on ahead of time and there’s no guarantee they’ll have enough when the time comes, unless you want to slide into someone else’s suit after they pissed themselves while in the cage. I recall a guy needing to use two right boots because they couldn’t find any lefties in his size. Same with the goggles. You want a pair that fits well and doesn’t let the water in or it’ll be a frustrating and probably painful experience.

It’s a fairly miserable boat ride out to the rock islands. If you’ve never sailed or boated around San Francisco, the winds are unlike anywhere else, as is the choppy water. The boat leaves around six in the morning so hopefully you skipped breakfast or it’s likely going to end up over the rail. I’d recommend packing a breakfast or CLIF bar to consume when you get to the islands and the up and down of the boat stops. For anyone with sea sickness, load up on the dramamine or skip it altogether. There are other ways to dive with the great whites and not spend almost three hours of your life puking on the rail.

Upon arrival, it’s still a balmy 50 degrees, foggy, with a slight wind coming from who knows which direction. Pack a beanie, waterproof coat and pants, and warm gloves if you plan on spending any time on deck.

As you look out from the boat, you see there is nothing else around but the jagged rock islands, which are in my estimate completely uninhabitable despite knowing from the book that humans could live on at least one of them, the boat under your feet, the people next to you on the boat, and the sharks.

Once the crew begins moving the cage into the water, setting up the air machine (technical term), and requesting their patrons change into their wetsuits, shit got real. The realization of what I signed up for hit home. I’m going into great white shark infested waters inside a fishing crate.

To lighten the mood, the crew pulls out cooking grills and tosses a few dozen burgers and hotdogs on. They also warm up a huge vat of chicken noodle soup. Hot chocolate and coffee is ready to ward off hypothermia for the poor souls emerging from their time in the cage. Make no mistake, the water is freezing cold and you’ll feel it.

Once in and under, the adrenaline kicks in and you realize you need to breathe through your mouth or you’re going to die, and you forget about the cold for a little while.

Even start to enjoy yourself. Hello.

I spent a lot of time looking at nothing. A few jellyfish, lots of really cold, green water, trying not to think about how long nuclear waste actually lasts in any given area and what long term affects this might have on any offspring, and wondering if I’ll actually see a shark up close.

Oh hey, there’s another jellyfish.

Knowing these killers are less than a football field away from you, lurking in the liquid green fuzz is still terrifying. Every shadow is suspect.

Then, bam!

Oh wait, that pic wasn’t actually taken by me, I poached it from a luckier diver.

After emerging from the thirty or forty minutes endured under the teeth-chattering ocean surface with those man-eaters – seen or unseen – one might feel like a complete badass.

The ride back to San Francisco is far better for what it’s worth. Traveling with the wind, it’s faster and smoother. With a belly full of warm soup, an adventure completed, and tiredness setting in, the ride is quiet and fairly quick.

The beautiful Golden Gate Bridge greets us and we’re back on land, oh lovely land, minutes later.

A few tips if you plan to go on your own shark diving adventure. In your duffle bag, bring a formidable plastic bag for storing wet clothes, wetsuit (if you bring your own otherwise they’ll take them from you), and anything else that is wet after your dive. It’ll save soaking your other clothing and your bag.

After you get out of the 56 degree water into the 50 degree air you will be cold. Don’t stay under water if you start shaking inside your wetsuit. Get out immediately and into dry clothing. Drink the hot soup whether you like it or not. At the time I was a vegetarian and all they had was chicken noodle soup. It was steaming hot and I was freezing so I drank it. And it was delicious. I witnessed a guy shake uncontrollably after his dive. According to the captain, once that starts, it’s tough to stop on the boat. He spilled everything he tried to hold to drink to get warm. Once he got out of the wetsuit and into the slightly warmer cabin, the shaking subsided.

There was a woman who brought a small pillow full of popcorn seeds. I had never seen one, but it was incredible. Pop that pillow into the microwave for thirty seconds and it was wonderfully hot for up to ten minutes. Place it on your hands, neck, feet, wherever you need to warm up, and it did the job.

Take lots of pictures and enjoy the journey.


Favorite apps for decluttering

Adventure doesn’t always need to be about travel, cage diving with great white sharks, or trekking to Everest. Recently, I’ve taken on a new exploit spurred by the minimalist movement. Decluttering.

A couple of years ago, I read the New York Times bestselling book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It interested me, and the idea of items sparking joy in order to stay in the house made me smile. I never thought about my stuff sparking joy, but it’s a charming way to think about the things we own. Or, depending on your view, the things that own us. Much of the rest of Kondo’s book I found a little out there. However, I took one big life-changing tip from it: folding clothing sideways so t-shirts look like books inside drawers. This little gem has been super helpful in both creating space and finding folded clothing quickly. Outside of that, I kind of forgot about the book until I came upon a newer book called Goodbye, Things: The New Japanese Minimalism by Fumio Sasaki.

In this quick read, the author shares his own experience going from an unhappy, somewhat of a drunk “maximalist” to a happier, healthier minimalist. I can’t say I feel unhappy with the things I own, but I do feel scattered. There is so much vying for our attention including our things, it’s hard to really focus on just one at a time. Even while reading the book, I found myself doing other things trying to stay productive while consuming information, as if reading a book isn’t enough to do at one single time.

Anyway, applying a few of his recommendations, namely leveraging auction and resale apps or websites to sell some of the things that no longer sparked joy, I tried letgo, eBay, and the old standby Craigslist to get rid of stuff. Here’s what I found:

It seemed like all the cool kids were on letgo, so I tried it for myself by posting a ruggedized camera. It was easy to take a picture from the app, post it for sale, pop in a dollar amount and bam, wait for the offers to roll in. But that’s where things got a little iffy. No offers or chats rolled in. I got one message asking if the camera was in good condition, in which I responded promptly. Yes, it is, only used once, never dropped or submerged in water. Then, nothing. She never responded back and no one else bothered. Overall, I think this is a great place to get rid of free stuff or simple, straightforward items quickly, the kind that don’t need a lot of explanation, like an article of clothing, baseball card, or dresser.

eBay worked best for reaching a large audience and shipping smaller, easily packed items. I put the same camera mentioned above on eBay’s auction site and it was bid on in the first seventy-two hours. Unlike letgo, there’s ample amount of space to put in details for the product, it even has a search engine that helps you find your item and makes a suggestion on how much to sell it for based on what’s sold in the recent past. In my opinion, eBay is where you can make the most money, if that’s your goal and you’re willing to take the time and energy to pack your stuff securely, make a trip to the post office, and understand/be comfortable with eBay taking a cut of the sale.

Craigslist worked wonders for me when I lived in Chicago. There are so many people near you in the city, the odds are someone is looking for what you’re selling. Over the years, I sold multiple bikes, a snowboard, even a Kitchen Aid, and had great success. Living on the peninsula in the suburbs outside San Jose, I didn’t quite have the same success. The bicycle I posted has been on the site for many weeks, me faithfully renewing each week, bringing the price down with every passing week without a nibble. And it’s not the price, it’s listed for a little more than half of what I paid for it only four months ago – and it’s been for sale for one of those months. But I have had success with cheaper items that I didn’t want to ship like a couple of skateboards. They were also dirt cheap, but this is a skateboard kinda town.

There are other websites and apps that can help you get rid of the stuff that doesn’t spark joy, of which, I didn’t test out. Going wider than three apps seemed like a maximalist thing to do. But if you’ve got a success story on a different app or website, let’s hear about it in the comments.