Maureen enjoys close encounter with shark

Banbridge photographer Paul McCambridge captured this picture of a basking shark feeding on plankton near the Isle of Man.
Banbridge photographer Paul McCambridge captured this picture of a basking shark feeding on plankton near the Isle of Man.

A Hillsborough woman got quite a shock while swimming off the coast of the Isle of Man last week when a monstrous shark swam up alongside her.

Luckily for Maureen McCoy the fin that emerged from the murky depths belonged to a basking shark - a huge plankton-eating filter feeder that posed no threat to her or her swimming partner, Banbridge man Paul McCambridge.

Author and marathon swimmer Maureen McCoy. Pic by Paul McCambridge, MAC Visual Media

Author and marathon swimmer Maureen McCoy. Pic by Paul McCambridge, MAC Visual Media

The pair were swimming off the southern tip of the island when they came across a number of basking sharks. But one of the gentle giants, approximately nine metres long, decided it wanted to feed in the area where they were swimming.

Maureen, who has been a keen open water swimmer since she was a child, described what happened as “a very lucky happenchance”.

“I know basking sharks are known to be around there and we thought we might see them in the distance, but it was still a bit of a shock,” she told the Ulster Star.

“It swam round the boat a number of times and then came right underneath us, so we got to see it close up. At the closest point it was probably only about two metres away from us; it was quite amazing.”

The 48-year-old swimming teacher, who nine years ago completed a 14-hour swim across the English Channel, also works as a writer. She and Paul, a freelance photographer, were in the Isle of Man doing research for a new book.

Last year they published ‘Wild Swimming in Ireland’ - a book detailing the 50 best open water swimming spots around Ireland. The pair are now researching more wild swimming spots around Ireland and surrounding islands in preparation for publishing a second book, which will cover around 200 places, coastal and inland, that are a must-try for keen open water swimmers.

Maureen and Paul have had a number of close encounters with marine life over the years, but mostly curious seals and dolphins and nuisance jellyfish.

Describing their experience with the basking shark as “beautiful”, she added: “What amazes me is that they are so silent in the water. All we could hear was the tip of the fin cutting the water and you could just hear a little hiss really, but other than that it was just complete silence. When it decided to swim away it was just one lazy flick of the tail and it disappeared. It was just incredible.

“We think we can swim, but the basking shark put us back in our place!”

Maureen and Paul are hoping to publish their new book, which is as yet untitled, sometime next year.