Nothing sets alarm bells ringing like the phrase ‘It’s perfectly safe’. It’s just not something people say about risk-free activities. It’s the kind of thing a chump in a ‘999’ recreation says before slipping into a shellsuit and napping in front of a bonfire. It’s one ‘Mwah-ah-ah!’ away from Bond villain dialogue. It is the least reassuring phrase I can imagine. Except, possibly, ‘Ooh! A Danny Dyer marathon!’
So after an induction into shark swimming that features exactly this phrase, I’m not calm. And things don’t get much better when I’m shown the protective ‘cage’ I’ll be inside. Call me a pedant, but I expect certain things of a cage. The main one being that it’s not made of string.
‘Don’t worry. It’s totally secure,’ says Ross, my guide. ‘This is way better than a metal one.’ It’s basically garden netting! ‘Yeah, but the sharks sometimes get stuck in the metal ones.’ They WHAT? ‘Please get in.’
I enter nervously. The water only comes up to my chest, but I’m told to grip the base’s plastic bars. I submerge myself and… it’s amazing.
A cluster of tropical fish hang right in front of my face. A weird leopardskin manta ray wiggles around like a Eurovision backing dancer. Two nurse sharks are stacked atop each other as though a nearby crab’s just yelled ‘BUNDLE!’ (must be a school of sharks). Everything is shimmery, azure and silent. It’s really soothing.
Then a two-metre-long brown shark glides within a couple of feet of my face. I’m eyeball-to-eyeball with one of the killers of the seas. And yet, I’m not even slightly unnerved. We’re just two cool guys, checking each other out. Except that one of us happens to have teeth that could mangle a rhino.
For the next 15 minutes, I get the most astonishing close-up views. Despite the tank being vast, the brown shark keeps swimming right up to me. Plus, even more impressively, I stay calm. And this incredible shark is basically circling me. When does that ever happen? Never. Well, not unless they think that… something… is… prey. Okay, get me out… RIGHT NOW!