With my head submerged I looked around. There were plenty of them, but they were keeping away because the cage was a new addition to their environment. I imagine it was sort of like if someone drove up to your house and threw a hamster ball through the living room window – you're curious but cautious because people don’t generally do that sort of thing.
I felt safe holding onto the bars and balancing my flippers on the cage bottom (do NOT do this). Only the very tips of my fingers were outside the cage but I was able to hang on and be steady in the rocking water – having small hands is useful sometimes.
I could see the sleek gray scales, the shine of their skin. Their eyes were black but alive – no one could confuse them with the steadfast stare of a stuffed animal. There was something akin to curiosity, occasionally holding my glance before sliding back into the darkness around us. They got used to us and started to come closer, one actually bumping the cage (I believe by accident, the cage was moving with the water, but I could be wrong). I loved every second. The crew was right on that count – I felt a connection, a curiosity to learn more that comes only from direct contact with wild animals.
Time was up too soon and I lingered in the water until the crew got cranky. I finally climbed out, they collapsed the cage, pulled the ladder and off we raced to shore. The ride back was a nice one, fast and sort of bumpy, and I sat under the hull with my family to stay dry and warm. Tankini was still propped on the edge of the back of the boat.
Images of Goldie Hawn reaching for her ring in Overboard came to mind, but by some miracle (and, yes, weight) she stayed on. No one fell overboard that day, and only half decided to go in the water. But everyone had fun with a little mix of fear, which made them happy. And then they all bought sweatshirts, which made the crew happy.
The tours are still running. Admittedly, I'd do it again in a heartbeat. And I'd pay for it.
*Travel tip: Take a digital camera if you're shooting underwater. Make sure you have a dry and stable place to see what you've taken. Be sure to wipe down the lens (spit helps defog a camera lens, in addition to defogging your goggles - spit or fuzzy photos, you choose). Just don't give up too much time taking underwater photos because good ones are near impossible without great (read "insanely expensive") underwater gear. The best bet is to take a million up front and then put the camera away. Or, just take the experience and have someone else be the photographer.