Our dive began with Nathan Annandale, a tall elastic of a man who loped forward to meet us on the Hout Bay Harbour quay, his long hand stretching out of his extra long wetsuit.
‘Nathan,’ he said, the look of the sea all about him. ‘Have you done this before?’
We hadn’t. Today would be our first time.
‘You’re going to love it,’ he said, leading us to a pile of wetsuits, booties, gloves, goggles, vests and flippers while he talked of seals. How many there would be (thousands), how playful they are (very), and how we needn’t worry about sharks (zero in twenty years).
We put our gear on in the hot sunshine and immediately felt the heat building under the thick rubber.
‘Leave the top loose,’ Nathan said, showing us how to drop the jacket so that we could get some air. ‘It’s hot now, but out there it’s cooold.’
He pointed to the cold Atlantic in the bay, the water dark under the sunshine.
Minutes later we were on it, speeding toward Duiker Island, a cluster of rocks nestled beneath the Sentinel, a tower of that same rock rising over the water and looking out toward the Arctic.
‘On some days guys base jump off there,’ shouted Nathan above the shriek of the motor, pointing, ‘you see them drop then the parachute snaps and they glide back around the corner, toward the harbour.’
We looked up at the Sentinel; wild, riven and caved, as wild as the sea and its creatures below us.
‘There’s no other experience like this,’ Nathan shouted. ‘We’re going straight into their house, their environment. That’s what makes this experience so special. On a safari you stay in the truck, with us you meet them on their terms. So remember, no touching.’
‘How long can you hold your breath for?’ I ask, eyeing his broad chest, his flippers for hands and feet.
‘Three minutes,’ he says, grinning.
‘A tip,’ he adds minutes later, as we bob at anchor and around us thousands of Cape Fur Seals sun themselves on hot rocks or slice through the sea, calling to each other. ‘Go down and hold onto some kelp. You’ll see, they treat you differently when you’re down there, with them.’
It wasn’t real until we dropped in. The cold broke the seals of our suits, our goggles, our gloves and our booties, but we soon warmed. It’s a different world, a weightless, salty place. Reality disintegrated.
Seals flew. They peered at you amidst bubbles trailing up like spaceships, discs of pure light pouring from their whiskered mouths.
They swooped, they hung on the surface and looked down, twisting like tear drops, watching, then torpedoing away with a flick of their bodies.
The big ones cruised the deep above the million hued kelp of the bottom, the old grey ones, while the little dark seals darted around them. Their eyes, small slits up on the land down there were giant, pools of intelligence taking the big, black suited and strange ones in.
A young seal fixed me with a look. Suddenly he charged, a playful dog with long teeth coming straight for me. I jerked away and he spun and flew over my shoulder, looking back and smiling, I swear.
It took time to relax, to breathe easy while floating in the open ocean, and then it was possible to suck a half a minute’s worth, kick down to the bottom and take up a kelp stem in each hand, like Nathan said, and sit there, watching.
An old grey and a teenager played, the younger grabbing a hold of blubbery skin with gentle teeth, hanging on as they swirled together, up toward the shining surface and down again, cruising. Two bodies among a symphony of seals.
Among them Nathan glided, the largest shape of all, his seal grin on his mouth while keeping a watchful eye, his body built for the water. The human travellers bobbed on the surface, their masked faces looking down while their go-pros stuck out like long antennae.
An our later it was realising I was suddenly cold that got me finning back to the boat.
The rest were already there, purring at the hot water poured into their suits by Nathan and the team. Their hands were curled around steaming mugs of hot chocolate and they were chatting away with wild seal stories.
Later, back on land, we sat shivering in the hot sunshine, the fresh cold still inside us and the memory of seals still swirling about our heads. The memory tastes like rubber and salt. It’s wet, wild and free, a different world.
Animal Ocean Seal Snorkeling operates out of Hout Bay on a daily basis, offering excursions at 9am, 11am and 1am. Visit Seal Snorkelling Adventures for more information and follow them on Instagram for pictures of their adventures. Visit Nathan Allandale’s Instagram Account for wonderful videos and pictures of his seal adventures too.
Milton Schorr is a writer and actor into all sorts. With a background in theatre he continues to create plays, act, write scripts, stories, features, and travel. His favourite topics are alternative, from Permaculture to Hitchhiking to Mixed Martial Arts. See more of his work at www.miltonschorr.co.za. For updates of his travels, follow him on Instagram here.