“There are life jackets and a ﬁrst-aid kit on board,” Rodney Wendell, captain of the Zambezi, declares as we set sail for our expedition into the cerulean waters oﬀ Nassau, Bahamas. “I will be on hand in case of emergency.”
I usually tune out the requisite safety spiel delivered on tourist vessels; what, after all, could possibly go awry during an easy cruise in Caribbean waters? Today, though, I’m all ears, because this is no easy cruise: There are sharks involved. And I’ll be swimming with them. It’s a unique adventure that’s drawn me to Nassau, much to the chagrin of friends and family. “Go see them in an aquarium — or on TV. Do you really have to swim with them?” my best friend, Beth, moaned.
Intrepid, I boarded the boat at Stuart Cove’s Dive Bahamas, which has been running shark dives and snorkel trips for decades. The waters the boats cruise have time and again been ready for their close-up: Several National Geographic TV specials were shot here, as was footage for the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week. And I quickly see why: At our first two snorkel stops — warm-ups for the main event — I glimpse stunning sea vistas and robust reefs teeming with spotted eagle rays, yellowtail snapper and rainbow-colored reef fish.
“Start looking for ﬁns,” Capt. Wendell orders as the Zambezi heads toward its ﬁnal stop. Sure enough, I spy four of them, a sight that gives me an anxious chill. A crew member drops a box of bait into the water, and the captain instructs us to climb in and hold tight to the rope. “No sudden movements,” he says, “or the sharks will come up to the surface. As long as they remain feeding down below, they won’t care about any of you guys.”
I take a deep breath and descend the ladder. One look down takes my breath away: Some two dozen sharks circle the bait and, thankfully, pay me no mind. It’s an awesome sight, and I emerge from the water triumphant. When we’re all safely on board, our captain raises the feed, the sharks swim up, and it’s suddenly a scene from Open Water: We’re encircled by ﬁns, and I’m awed by my ﬁrst encounter with creatures I never knew could be as beautiful as they are menacing.