WHEN JAMES SCOTT UNPACKS his underwater housing, everybody on the boat is interested in what he will place inside. The huge black Gates housing suggests a high-quality, expensive camera, and so it is: “I work with a RED Epic” the professional film-maker says.
Back in Toronto, where he lives, he has his own TV production company, but here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean he can live his passion. “A liveaboard like this is the ideal place for me to handle my housing without much effort,” he explains and he is referring to the Nautilus Explorer.
The well-known operator knows the environment in which it works intimately, and that includes this trip, which involves a 22-hour boat ride out.
The guests fly into San Diego in California and are picked up by a bus that takes them over the Mexican border and in 90 minutes to Ensenada harbour. The journey to Guadalupe Island can be rough, though usually it is not, and because it takes a whole night and the following day to get there, the crew schedules several briefings to prepare the guests for how the diving is done at the island.
The schedule is simple and fair for everybody as there are two surface cages, where everybody can hop in and out at any time they are open, and two deep cages, where time-slots for everybody are scheduled.
Typical cage-diving days therefore consist of three time-slots for every diver, usually in the morning, forenoon and afternoon.
Every new day the time-slots slip a dive earlier, so that everybody gets a chance to be in the water at nearly all times each day.
Given the opportunity to go into the surface cages every time you want, no guest should be disappointed. However, the amount of time you spend in the water increases the chances of close encounters with great white sharks, but cannot guarantee them. Sometimes you’ll just need to be in the right cage at the right time when the action kicks off.
That’s how it is in a natural environment, but let’s put it this way – the chances of not getting a close encounter with a great white are very low at Guadalupe.
“Look, there’s one right at the surface!” calls Al Spilde, captain of Nautilus Explorer, igniting the guests’ emotions. Even if you have seen great whites before, it’s always exciting to watch these elegant creatures cruising in their habitat.
There is utmost respect for these potentially dangerous but in reality relatively harmless predators. Spilde smiles at the reactions of his guests, though he has seen them 100 times before. A very experienced captain, he used to run his own boat on similar trips to Guadalupe.
Why did he quit? “Because now I can just do what I want and don’t mind about paying the bills,” he replies with a smile. Everybody can feel his passion as he takes his time to explain plans for the next days in detail at all the dinner tables, and especially while he’s in the cage, doing his job as a dive-guide, which not many captains do.

What kind of people have booked onboard? People who share the same passion, for great white sharks. For some it’s a trip to go beyond fear; for others it’s pure fun.
Waiting inside the cage is a feeling that takes getting used to. Loaded with 7-14kg weights to make us stand rather than float around feels uncomfortable at first, but after a few dives people grow accustomed to it and can concentrate on watching the sharks around them.
Sometimes the animals show no interest in the spectators, and all the human eyes start searching for the next contact. Then suddenly the action may be on, as three or four whites cruise in above, below and beside the cages.
These are the thrilling moments when time under water runs like sand between the fingers.
Unfortunately most of the time is spent waiting, but if an animal comes very close, because it is attracted by something inside the cage or something unusual happens, this pays off the waiting time in spades.
Nobody can explain why a great white suddenly bumps into a cage after having previously done its rounds patiently, but this is the sort of adrenaline encounter for which everyone is here.
Most of the sharks are no larger than 3 or 3.5m, which means about 320-360kg in weight. But when they grow longer than 5m the weight is over a tonne. This dramatic increase means a massive body and the sharks command even more respect, and are impressive to watch.

It’s hard to believe that these mighty hunters can reach a speed of 40mph under water and can jump clear of the surface, but this hunting technique can be witnessed at Guadalupe as well.
Lucky guests will see a great white breaching once or twice on a trip, even if it’s for no apparent reason, seemingly just for fun.
But usually this is a hunting technique used by the sharks to attack their favourite food-source – seals.
The high concentration of great white sharks off Guadalupe is the result of the large number of fur seals that live on the island.
During the high season, from August to October, marine biologist Mauricio Hoyos studies these sharks and is experimenting with tagging to get to know their behaviour and routes better.
The first taggings were successful and Hoyos and his team found out, among other things, that juvenile great whites don’t depart much from the coastline and stay in shallow waters.
This is in contrast to the adults, which dive to 200m and depart further from the coastline.
The receivers of the measured data that capture these movements have been installed around the island in 30m depth. Hoyos is currently planning to extend the field of receivers to be able to measure the data even more exactly.
During a trip on Nautilus Explorer he usually visits for a night to give a short presentation about what he is doing on the island and his achievements.
A dive trip to Guadalupe on Nautilus Explorer usually lasts for six days of travel, which means three full days at the island.
If that is not enough, bearing in mind the long journey to Guadalupe, a “Combo” trip is recommended.
This includes four more diving days around the San Benitos Islands plus an extra day for Guadalupe, which makes 11 days and 10 nights in total.
The good thing about this trip is not only the additional day with the great whites, but the days of proper diving, which are really enjoyable after the standing-and-waiting days in the cages.
The dive-sites at the San Benitos Islands are all rather similar to one another, but each offers a variety of things to see.
All around is the kelp forest, which provides many life-forms such as seals or horn sharks with a safe habitat, not forgetting the smaller creatures such
as Garibaldi damselfish, or the different types of nudibranch that can be found if the divers can focus in on something so small in such a big environment.

Towards the end of our journey the guests have time to share sight of photos or videos taken during the trip.
And that includes James Scott, who is showing off the amazing results of the RED Epic movie camera, taken at 120 frames per second.
This makes the great white shark look like the slowest predator ever, as it opens its mouth again and again.
Scott sits on the sofa, earning the biggest smiles from everybody – thanks to Al, his crew and his own professionalism he has captured the shots everybody wanted and deserved.



Nautilus Explorer
This 35m liveaboard is a modern boat that can take up to 26 guests. Its stabilisers make it very smooth in the water and its safety standards have been recognised with the prestigious SOLAR ISM certificate given out by Lloyds.
All nine lower-deck staterooms have private heads with separate shower stalls, central air-con and measure 8.5sq m. Six have twin beds, two have large double beds and there is one triple suite.
Bread, pastries and desserts are baked onboard and there is always lots to eat with up to four meals a day, a choice of entrees and plenty of snacks. A six-day Guadalupe shark trip costs US $2995pp (two sharing a double stateroom), www.nautilusexplorer.com

When to go…
Go between late July and late October, but the earlier the better, as the male sharks are coming in by the end of July, so there are more animals around at that time.
At the end of the season the very large great whites are more likely to be hanging around. This is called the “time of the titans” – but it is also most likely to bring bad weather.

…what to bring
For cage-diving you need to bring only your own dive-suit with boots, gloves and hoodie plus mask.
The water is usually upwards of 20°C, and Nautilus Explorer owner Mike Lever says he “feels comfortable in a 5mm suit”, but as divers don’t move much in the cages a 7mm semi-dry is recommended. Those wishing to spend a long time under water may consider a light drysuit.
For a combo trip full dive gear is needed – it can be rented but needs to be ordered some weeks before.