SPORT REPORT : Really, Truly Live Bait

Take my word for it; Capt. Rich's chum is disgusting. A mixture of blood, fish, guts, seawater and "secret ingredients," this pungent glop is repellent--except to sharks.

And the sharks come a-running, joined by thousands of scuba types who pay money to flip themselves into chum-slicked waters and swim the dozen or so feet from a dive boat to a cage where they can watch the sharks chomp chum.

Several charter boats run shark-diving trips out of San Diego's Mission Bay and San Pedro from April through October, chugging about 15 miles offshore to blue water.

Aboard one of those boats, the America II out of Mission Bay, Capt. Rich Cassens assures the divers that the cage offers decent protection from most sharks (did he say most ?) here. Blues and makos, the two most common species encountered on these trips, aren't generally considered man-eaters. But Capt. Rich does offer two simple safety tips--don't dawdle and don't wiggle anything outside the cage that you'd prefer to keep.

Now, Capt. Rich's 45-foot boat is a fine, seaworthy vessel, but I just can't shake images of the climactic moment of "Jaws," in which the big fishy hops into the back of the boat and crunches Robert Shaw.

Perhaps I look nervous, because Greg Ochocki, an experienced San Diego diver and underwater photographer, tries to reassure me by telling me about his first shark dive. "I was in the cage with another diver and I accidentally let a three-foot blue in through the photo port," he says. "Blues are pretty docile and the dive master got him out without anyone getting bit, so it was no big deal. But we were doing the Mexican hat dance in there for a while."

Call me conservative, but I never make it into the water. I think I'll work up to this shark-diving thing more slowly. I'm going to start by wiggling my fingers in my goldfish bowl.

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