Breathing hard into my face-mask and trying in vain not to swallow the salt water while a dozen nine-foot lemon sharks and a few eleven-foot tiger sharks swam around me, I glanced up to see tonnes of steel boat about to come crashing down on me. Frantically, I finned myself in my bulky scuba gear a few feet back and out of the way while holding on to a short yellow rope. The safety rope, yanked back by the lunging boat, nearly pulled my arm out of its socket, as I crashed into my safety diver. Again and again the boat’s stern was thrown in the air and threatened to come crashing down on me and my two safety divers Don Shultz and Jessica Templin. All the while nearly 20 large sharks were just under our feet. On the back of the boat was the ‘top side’ camera crew trying hard not to be thrown into the waters themselves. “There’s another tiger down there, hurry up!"
All I had to do was utter a short line from my script; “Just where are the deadliest waters on earth, and more importantly, what makes them so deadly? Let’s find out." Then I simply had to dunk my head underwater and take off on an underwater scooter. Sure. Easy stuff. In a swimming pool, not in raging seas!
For the third year in a row, Discovery Channel US asked me to host a special for Shark Week. Last year Dee Gurney from the production company, Gurney Productions, said “Hey Les, what do you think about being in a life raft, stabbing a knife into it and plunging down into a school of frenzied sharks?" “Umm well, OK," I responded. Talk about setting your bar high! Throughout the last year, the heads of the Discovery Channel referred to that scene in meeting after meeting as a defining image of Shark Week. So exactly what are we going to do for this year? Dee called and asked, “Hey Les, how do you feel about jumping out of a helicopter into a frenzy of sharks?" OK, I won’t lie. This one took some convincing. We all have our demons and mine is heights. I don’t do so well with heights. Nope. Don’t like ‘em.
So there I was, zipping up my wet suit on a tarmac in the Bahamas, getting last minute jumping instructions from the pilot. In fact both my cameraman, Andy Mitchell, and I would have to jump out, as he was to film it from the chopper and would have no way to get back on the boat without jumping himself. He had no problem with heights – he’d even sky dived, yet it didn’t escape me that he called his wife right before take off.