With schools still closed for the Easter holidays, my first few days have been dominated by my own swimming training. Thanks to Godfrey Mocke, the director of South Africa's SwimSafe programme, I've been out in open water getting ready for a 5km qualifying swim this weekend. If I complete that without a problem, I'm set to swim the Vista Nova Robben Island to Cape Town race later this month.
I was warned that the Atlantic coast would be chilly - it is, but that's the least of my problems. It is cold, but no colder than the Thames in the summer or the Hebrides. No, my real problem is fear. Fear of dark shadows under me, fins breaking the surface and of being eaten alive. I've watched far too many shark movies to relax in this water. Godfrey assures me that although there are Great Whites around, I wont be eaten. I'm not sure how he can be so confident.
In the past two days I've become an expert in the history of shark attacks around this coast. Godfrey's pointed out the two spots where people were last eaten alive - and you'd be surprised, they're very close to shore. One lady was taken a couple of years ago while she took her morning swim in Fishoek Bay. There had been a big catch that morning by local fishermen and she was warned to stay out of the water, apparently. But she kept swimming her usual backstroke close the rocks on the southern end of the bay. As she thrashed away, perhaps the shark thought she was an injured seal. He made straight for her, circled her three times and gobbled her up.
Then there was Henry Murray, a friend of Godfrey's son, who went spear fishing a few miles down the coast. He too was circled a few times before finally being taken. His last words were "ouch, ouch" or their equivalent in Afrikaans. His wetsuit complete with car keys washed up on a nearby beach the next day.
Godfrey believes the shark tourism is responsible for bringing the fish closer to shore. Boats run decoy seals behind them to attrack the sharks and encourage them to breach. But in doing so, they're moving sharks away from their traditional hunting grounds. There's been some recognition of irresponsibility by the local officials. Yesterday, the local government urged for new regulations to keep boats at least 100m away from sharks after a Great White jumped onto a rubber boat carrying seven tourists.
Anyway, I'm off to swim 3km in the green waters of Gordon Bay this afternoon. Godfrey says there aren't sharks there. We'll see.