Toomer does Bikini – Part 1

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BikiniA couple of years back, I had the most incredible Christmas. It wasn’t snowing, or even slightly cool.

It didn’t last for a mere one day either.

My Christmas present, to myself, was a trip to Bikini Atoll with Pete Mesley on his Lust 4 Rust Itinerary.

Bikini diving is not good diving, it’s not even great diving! Bikini is sell a kidney, a lung, your granny, the kids, anything diving. Bear in mind, this is where the ‘Yanks’,  the ‘Frogs’ and yes, even those really cool British, blew the holy hell out of everything, and I mean everything. We’re not talking piddly hand grenades, machine guns, bazookas and all that panzy stuff, we’re talking mushroom cloud laying mother****** stuff! Even wilder than an AK47! You get my drift?

I have dived Red Sea, South Africa, Thailand, Mexico, Caribbean, Mediterranean, America, The Maldives….. but Bikini Atoll is mind blowing. Whether you like wrecks or not, this is the best diving there is. Period!

The Americans used Bikini as a testing ground for their nuclear capability. It was not just meant for testing, but to also show the Russians what they were capable of. I guess it worked. The reason the US Army used Bikini was simply that it’s remote. The fact that they only had to ‘shift’ a few people off their paradise islands made life easier too. Funny how they always pick paradise to blow up!

BikiniAnd this leads to the reason why the wrecks are in such good condition – it’s VERY far away. If some of our British wreck hero divers got their little paws on these wrecks there would be sweet FA left. It would all be in some plonker’s garage or on his mantelpiece. Yes, I have a flea up my arse about raping wrecks with historical value; I want my son to see some treasure one day, but just like sharks, I guess that will not be possible. I’m off my soapbox now! Phew!

The itinerary, thanks to my new best friends Peter McCamley and Andy Macgorrispghterphrtes (or something like that) Gillespie, went like this. We flew from London to Abu Dhabi, then to Tokyo and then on to Guam where we had an overnight stay. Then on to Chuuk, Pohnpei, Kosrae and finally Kwajalein. Travel time so far, and that’s just airport and flying time – about 35 hours.

Kawajalein Island is essentially a US Army base. On landing we are met by 3 police officers and 3 deputies. This is a major league military base and they are taking no chances with a bunch of hairy arsed techies, especially the one with the earrings and tattoos! We are all interviewed, stamped and signed through security. After the rubber gloves, we are escorted to the luggage area and then to military vehicles (not tanks I’m afraid) and driven to the ferry departure zone.

BikiniNow, I’m pretty sure most of us have seen a ferry, yes? It’s normally big! Like full of cars and trucks and people ‘n that! Not on Kwaj. The ferry is a teeny weeny little boat that is inproportionate length and breadth wise. Like, it felt like it would fall over. And with 11 techies with rebreathers, cameras, videos, scooters, suits, fins, yada, yada, I was worried that we’d actually survive the trip to Ebeye Island, where our vessel awaited us, at all (we did of course, or otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this!).

Now I know I haven’t got to the diving at all yet, but this is an expedition man and you will have to join me and meet some of the people prepared to risk their house on financing a trip like this and also the tools prepared to pay around 7 grand to follow them. Yes, 7 grand! Not 7000 lire or sisterty or even Zimbabwean Dollars. No, that’s 7000 of the Queens finest British Pounds.

As we neared Ebeye we started to make out the lights and shape of our boat, ‘Windward’. If you’ve read any of my previous articles you will recognise that I classify excitement and fear on bodily functions. On seeing the steel hulled monster I think I did a little wee! Oh my God! We are gonna spend two weeks on this. No wonder Pete was so confident. Sure, this is one ugly boat, but sweet mother of God, this is an expedition boat. Actually, it’s not a boat, it’s a SHIP! It’s the Mothership! As we stepped (scrambled and fell) onto the boat we were met by our crew, the skipper, our guides, gas mixing panels that Buzz Aldrin would have had fun playing with,  a crane and…… a recompression chamber!

BikiniWhat followed was lots of open mouthed wandering, a briefing over a cool Tsingtao beer and some proper introductions to each other and the crew. I could tell immediately that we were going to have some fun. Pete then showed us to our rooms, well room. Because this is a working vessel not a gin palace, we shared a large dorm style room. But what a cool room it was. A wonderfully cool, airconditioned room with lots of storage space. 12 bunks each with personal lighting, Chinese copy Yves St Laurent bedding and a cubby hole for all our junk. I was in heaven. After settling in, we were introduced to Manggo, our chef. This man (along with Chris the skipper) provided gourmet meals for the whole journey.

The following morning we woke to the sound of Haskell pumps filling trimix and O2 for all the rebreathers on board. No open circuit on this trip I’m afraid – at 10 cents or so a litre, helium in twin 12’s is just not an option. After a quick briefing, Brian, the wonderful gentleman responsible for our gas and general safety, gave the shout that ‘the pool’s open’. Last time I did a check out dive it was on a bit of sand and involved me showing a Divemaster, with success thank God, that I could hover, remove my mask and share gas. The Lust 4 Rust check out dive was a little different.

BikiniOur check out dive site was on a 220 metre monster called the Prinz Eugen. Her props clear the water, she lies at a very shallow angle and yet her nose is at 34 metres. You can’t believe the size of this thing. And because of the viz, which is a good 30 to 40 metres, it makes the Scapa wrecks feel small. She lies upside down and you can easily swim under her decks. It takes a few moments to orientate your brain and then it all starts to make sense. Guns, guns, guns and more guns. Andris, Robin and I dropped into the water midships and were immediately mesmerised. No mask skills here. Just buoyancy, and it better be good as we are introduced to the Bikini rusticles ( like icicles but not cold and made of steel) dripping down the wreck, scratching at your loop, your suit, your skin. Clingy, orange particles blur your vision at the slightest movement. Of course this doesn’t deter McCamley from getting the first ‘video of shame’ appearance as a stealthy Mesley catches him squeezing through a tight restriction, knocking hell out of the viz. There were to be quite a few of these hilarious videos by the end of the trip.

BikiniWe did some limited penetration and found ourselves in the officers dining room, where there were chairs and tables scattered all over the back of the room and one lone one standing guard – unreal. I immediately grabbed my spool and laid a little bit of line down a passageway. My buddy Andris was keen to follow and we did a little reckie. Unfortunately I saw that the walls were moving in front of me. A quick helicopter turn, a big laugh from Andris and we were out. But it doesn’t end there; as we explored the bridge lying in the sand on its side, we were buzzed by a couple of reef sharks and then a little white tip. Could this get any better?

Well……. You’ll just have to find out next time when I will give you the lowdown on the Nagato, the Saratoga and lots of other incredible metal.

Paul is the Director of Training at RAID. To find out more about the courses that RAID offers, visit www.diveraid.com.

RAID

Paul Toomer

Paul Toomer

After living in South Africa for 23 years, Paul moved to the UK, where he discovered diving. Within months of learning to dive he had his own centre in London and rapidly progressed to Course Director before finding his passion for technical diving. Paul is an avid wreck, cave and rebreather diver, and has worked as an Instructor and Instructor Trainer for PADI, IANTD, and TDI. Paul recently held the position of Director of Technical Training for SSI, but moved on when he was offered the chance to co-own and run his own training agency. Paul now holds the role of Director of Diver Training at RAID International.

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