I GOT BACK INTO THE RIB ELATED, and was promptly sick over the side. Seconds later, another of our party, Mark, was also revisiting his breakfast.
In a few moments Simon had climbed the ladder and proudly joined the chorus of vomiting. Soon I was laughing, high on adrenaline and amused by the absurdity of grown men forking over wads of cash in exchange for a weekend spent spilling their guts out at sea.
Somewhere in the background, our captain quietly congratulated himself on maintaining his “100% chunder record” and the last member of our group, John, wondered why the visibility had taken a sudden turn for the worse.
The strangest thing is, I was loving the experience and would do it again in a shot!
We were floating 20 miles off the coast of Penzance, searching for the elusive blue shark in what has to count as one of the most spectacular wildlife encounters in Britain today. The trip is conducted by Charles Hood, who has years of experience leading visits to some of the most famous shark spots in the world.
Back in the 1990s, he would go in search of blue sharks Stateside but, over time, encounters became scarce. Their numbers had been noticeably diminished by commercial fishing.
Reminded that blue sharks are one of the ocean’s great pelagic wanderers and, presumably, were also present closer to home, his quest to find the blues in Cornish waters began.
These are sharks that spend most of their time in cool, deep water, beyond the limits of recreational diving.
Fishermen in Cornwall would hook the occasional blue, and provided guidance on where they could be found.
Charles tried chumming the waters to lure them in and, over a number of attempts, found reducing the amount of bait to be most effective.
This narrowed the area of the oil-slick, which led the sharks closer to the boat.
Over 10 years, the art of finding and attracting the blues was refined, and now the experience is open to an eager crowd of underwater photographers and marine enthusiasts.
Our group of four had boarded the RIB at 9am on a moderately sunny morning. We raced out of the marina to find a lumpy sea. Our outing the previous day had been cancelled because of bad weather, and conditions today were passable but not ideal.
Playful dolphins rode our bow as the coastline became a distant haze. After a 45-minute ride, the RIB came to a halt and Charles put out some pungent bait. A short while later the first blue shark appeared, boosting our spirits. However, Charles advised us to wait for another shark to appear, because this would make them less skittish around humans.
A long pause ensued, and as the boat rocked in the swell, most of us started to feel a little ropey.
Make no mistake, this is an adventure, not a luxury cruise. Once signed up, you’re in for a long day out at sea, exposed to the elements with whatever food and drink you remembered to bring aboard.
Enduring a little hardship only sweetens the taste of reaching your goal and, after a couple of hours, we had up to four blue sharks circling the boat.
A little confession: at this point, I’ve had a 19-year dive career that started in balmy Caribbean waters and never strayed from the tropics. I am, or at least was, a warmwater wuss.
Zipping up the thickest wetsuit I’d ever worn in my life, I was both excited at seeing the sharks up close, and apprehensive about my ability to deal with the cool water. Rolling off the RIB, I gasped as the temperature-difference hit, but this was quickly forgotten when a blue shark came straight at my dome-port!
My adrenaline was racing, and the sharks were now cruising just a few feet below the boat, taking turns to make passes at the small fish-head on Charles’ line. Positioning ourselves on either side of the bait, we could encounter the blues as they came in for a chomp.
This is run as a snorkelling rather than a scuba-diving tour and, as the sharks swam at pace right beneath us, it proved easier to forget viewfinders and just shoot from the hip. From a warmth perspective I was envious of those in drysuits, but the agility of a wetsuit did allow for more duck-diving to open up different camera-angles.
Adult blue sharks grow to somewhere between 2 and 3m, and these were on the smaller side. Later we found out that they were females, drawn in seasonally by the presence of squid in Cornish waters.
From about October, the squid run out and the sharks migrate back to the Atlantic, joining their male counterparts.