It’s 8:23 am, we’re traveling at a conservative eight knots as we leave Mount Batten port in Plymouth, UK. Nick Pescetto is folded into a perfectly formed downward dog on the floor of the boat next to a yellow bucket of dead mackerel and a cool box filled with frozen fish guts.
Despite how much it feels like one, this is not a surreal fever dream. It’s the second day of our attempt to swim with blue sharks with the help of Paul&Shark and Shark Trust. The goal is to document the presence of the Blue Shark in the area as part of the Great Shark Snapshot initiative. For the Great Shark Snapshot, Shark Trust will buddy pairs, dive centers, clubs, and boats to join them in recording as many shark, ray, and skate sightings around the world as possible. Over time, each Snapshot will build a clearer picture of species distribution around the world and population changes for shark scientists and conservationists.
Today, Paul&Shark is in its third generation, led by Andrea Dini. During the late '50s and '60s, his grandfather Gian Ludovico Dini worked hard to ensure that the Maglificio Daco mill in Varese became the beating heart of his operation. Every aspect of the production process took place within the mill, from sourcing yarns to packaging the clothes. It was only when Gian Ludovico’s eldest son Paolo visited a sailmaker’s workshop in Maine at the beginning of the 1970s that the Paul&Shark brand was truly forged; in the small workshop, Paolo uncovered a disused sail that featured the inscription "Paul&Shark."
Shark Trust partnered with Paul&Shark at the end of 2019, working together on raising awareness about the difficulties faced by shark populations around the world through joint collections.
Together, Paul&Shark and Shark Trust launched their first capsule collection last season. The collection relied upon organic cotton for the vast majority of the pieces, with five percent of all sales proceeds donated to Shark Trust to aid the NGO’s global conservation efforts.
But back to our expedition.
We're traveling with Nick Pescetto, who's done this many times before. He tells me stories of times that he's swum with sharks in the past. I'm told that the sharks we're hoping to see are a whole lot smaller than the ones he shows me on his Instagram. Nick's the ideal companion on a trip like this. He's super experienced when it comes to anything outdoors. His life revolves around sustainability, circularity, and nature. Whether he's jumping off mountains with a parachute or hitting the trail on his mountain bike, he does it all with characteristic nonchalance.
After a swift sizing-up, we carried a wetsuit, hood, fins, gloves, and a snorkel each to our boat, optimistic about the fact that we’d need to use them. Once aboard, we traveled for around an hour and a half before reaching our dive site, where we had one job: wait. We were introduced to Damian, a man of few words who was referred to as The Shark Wizard by the rest of the crew. As he began to create a scent trail with the mackerel, the rest of us kicked back and waited for the sharks to do their thing.
Four hours pass. Many jellyfish pass. No sharks.
Considering the 90-minute journey out to the dive site, we had to call it a day to get back to the port in good time. We were disappointed but we’d go again tomorrow, earlier so that we could travel further west with a better chance of encountering some blue sharks. We were told on our journey back that it’d be highly unusual, even worrying, to spend two full days on the water in these perfect conditions without any shark activity.
So, here we are at 8:23 am. As I said, influencer and model Nick Pescetto is running through his daily stretches on the deck and there’s a distinct sense of hope and nerves in the air. Once we’re out of the port, our captain Hugo cranks up the knots and we travel for around two and a half hours before hitting our dive site. Damian gets to work, ripping mackerel in half to tempt the sharks in.
I’m definitely jealous of Nick’s Jacket, the Paul&Shark Re-Sail Jacket made entirely from disused sails. I think it’s obvious, too, because when I’m chatting with him about how the first sport he fell in love with was golf before becoming a professional mountain biker, he mentions it. “I just think it’s a really creative way to reuse products that would be thrown into waste. I try to keep my kit as simple as possible, but I brought this because it’s such a good example of how something can be updated functionally and stylistically.”
We have a long time to chat on the boat as we sunbathe and wait for any movement. Talking with Paul Cox, the MD of Shark Trust, I find out that blue sharks are the most fished shark in the world. They’re considered ‘wanted bycatch', meaning that although they’re not the target species, they often end up in the huge nets dragged behind boats and they’re not thrown back in because they’re hugely valuable. Luckily though, blue sharks reproduce faster than any other shark.
Several pods of dolphins swim past and play around the boat. No sharks.
Eventually, with a train to catch, we have to admit that we’re not going to swim with any blue sharks today either. Everyone’s disappointed. For starters, it’s a baking hot day which would have been nice to top off with a swim. More importantly, though, it’s a scary sign for those who’re in the know about the sharks. This time last year, it would have been really unusual to spend two days on the sea in these conditions and not even see a shark swim up to the boat. Damian wonders whether this could signal a surprisingly early end for the season.
“They’re spectacular animals, they’re charismatic. They represent longevity — they’ve been around for over 400 million years, so they’re an intrinsic part of the ocean,” says Paul, the MD of Shark Trust, on our journey back to shore. He’s right. 400 million years is good going, but in the last 50 years, shark populations have dropped by 70 percent globally and we might have just seen that first-hand.
Swimming with sharks would have been a perfect way to end our trip to Plymouth, there’s no doubt about it, but it wasn’t a failure. Having time to chat with people from Shark Trust was eye-opening, not only in terms of the sharks but also about how a successful partnership between a brand and an NGO can flourish. The two entities fit together perfectly, with aligned views and goals. With the direction that Shark Trust brings, Paul&Shark’s long-respected design is given a new reason to shine.
One piece shines brighter than everything else on our excursion. You guessed it. The Paul&Shark Re-Sail jacket that Nick's wearing, which, in a nod to that discarded sail found by Paolo Dini in Maine, is cut from disused boat sails. This wildly hard-wearing canvas is not only nigh-on indestructible, but it’s also waterproof, windproof, and looks great. Complete with the markings and prints from the upcycled sails, each Paul&Shark Re-Sail jacket is unique and strikingly eye-catching. As such, both the Re-Sail Jacket and the Sail The City Typhoon jacket perfectly represent Paul&Shark's commitment to circularity. The Sail The City Typhoon jacket will be available in the brand's SS23 collection.
As it happens, we’re raffling off five unique Paul&Shark Re-Sail Jackets, so be sure to stay tuned for your chance to win one for free.
To find out more about the work that Paul&Shark and Shark Trust do, click here.