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Toomer Does Bikini – Part 2

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Bikini Atoll

Bikini AtollJust in case you missed the first part of Toomer Does Bikini (which you can read here), I was on Pete Mesley’s Lust for Rust trip in Bikini Atoll. I had taken you from leaving Heathrow with my two (crazy) mates all the way to Bikini and our “check out” dive on a 220 metre warship called the Prinz Eugen. I sound like one of those American dramas – “Last week on 24….”!!

On surfacing from the Prinz “Organ” as it was affectionately christened by Mr Mesley, we decided quite rightly to begin our journey from Kwaj to Bikini. To say there was a buzz in the air would be an understatement. I hope it was excitement and not radiation.

So we battened down the hatches and began the 30 something hour trek to Bikini. I reckon most of us thought that part of the journey would be boring, but with the Mesley /Mitchell road show we were entertained all the way and time just flew by. Again my feeling of remoteness returned when I decided to photograph the sunrise at 5 am and could see no other signs of life anywhere. No land, no boats, no birds, nada. It was liberating being there.

Arriving in Bikini Atoll is something like I imagine arriving at the gates of Valhalla. It’s not nice. It’s not good. It’s not brilliant. It is simply awesome, and I mean that in the English way not the American way. Whilst standing on the bow I looked around at my friends, and there was this amazing look on all our faces. Was that a tinge of green on McCamley’s cheek?

Nagato bow gun (2)Later that afternoon we decided to walk on the beach and take it all in. I will never have the ability to explain how I felt as my command of the English language is just not good enough. We were really there.

At 5 am the following morning the boat was alive! Cameras were being readied, rebreathers went through final preps, lights and scooters were assembled. We were moored at the “Nagato”. The two hundred-and-twenty-one-metre-long big ass pride of the Japanese Imperial Fleet warship was just underneath us!

Bikini Atoll

Bikini AtollThe Nagato lies upside down in around 50 metres of water. She has 8 sixteen inch guns on her, which were at the time of her launch the biggest guns on any naval vessel. And they didn’t fail to impress.  They seemed to stretch on into eternity as Andris and I finned gently down the length of them.

Because the ship is upside down it became real fun swimming upside down ourselves thus giving the feeling that we were cruising along her decks. She has penetration holes everywhere and we were all very keen to see what treasure was inside. Again we were impressed beyond belief. We found all sorts of items that reminded us of what life must have been like on this vessel. The odd boot, missiles still in their racks, bombs, chairs. Simon Mitchell managed to find some soldier’s gas mask rolled up in a corner.

Bikini AtollAfter spending nearly an hour in the 50 metre zone we left the water mesmerised and began what will become an all too familiar return to the boat via the deco station and a 100 or so minute decompression obligation.

The afternoon dive was a shallower dive than the Nagato. Pete explained that the dive would be our regular afternoon dive. This was because there would be a much shorter decompression obligation than on the deeper morning dives. We were all wondering what shallow tub we would be diving and then Pete got this little smile on his face. The all too familiar “Come on Man” echoed from his lips as he started to roar with laughter.

Our shallow bimble was to be the US Saratoga.

Bikini Atoll

I learnt to dive in 1996 with my friend Steve Axtell and a then young instructor called Phillip Short. They regaled all sorts of tales about diving trying to impress my biker buddies, and me when Phil blurted out the name Bikini.  It was winter and he was not wearing one so I guessed he was referring to the atoll. I remembered my Dad talking about it and the cold war. So as soon as I got back home I started looking at the place.  While doing my research I met a guy in America that sold me copy blue prints of the Saratoga. You know James May from Top Gear gets that tingle in his testicles when he drives a car that rocks his world? Well upon seeing those prints I understood what he was on about. The Saratoga is an aircraft carrier lying bolt upright on a snow white, sandy seabed in 52 metres of blue, warm radioactive water.

While waiting for the familiar cry of ‘the pool is open’ I may have actually done a little wee – again!

Bikini Atoll

Bikini AtollThe Saratoga is a wreck diver’s heaven. Over the next seven days we repeatedly dived all over the wreck. Penetration after penetration. Pete’s briefings were really awesome and he told us where to find (or guided us to in some cases) the real hidden treasures of the Saratoga. We entered a room that had two diving helmets in it which was enough to take your breath away, but the insane thing was the shelves full of thermometers and gauges that you passed on your way to this little room. We entered bomb elevators, found aircraft with folded wings, and my personal favourite was a dive through the tool room. Lathes and grinders and all sorts of engineering machinery were just sitting there, perfect in almost every way.

Bikini AtollBikini AtollWe were led to the surgery and dentist chambers, complete with chairs and surgery equipment. We dived through the radar room with all manner of communication and tracking devices.

Our final dive on the wreck included a scooter dive under the hull at the rear of the ship. The props were there and they were enormous. Huge blades towered up into the sunlight; it’s awe inspiring. And then there was the wildlife. And the emphasis is on the ‘wild’! The sharks on the Saratoga were a little, well; territorial, I suppose you could say. I couldn’t remember when I last had to aim a scooter at a pair of sharks to get them to bugger off. These two had their nictitating membranes drawn and their jaws thrust forward. The last time I felt like dinner I was on the sardine Run in South Africa and it was just as uncomfortable as I remember. Fortunately scooters are hard to swallow.

Bikini AtollBy that point Andris and I had become a brownish colour, and not from a suntan; it was rust. We laughed hard through our JJ mouthpieces as I flicked the rust off the back of his unit and we found large rusticles buried all over our kit.

The most hilarious thing about our ‘shallow dives’ on the Saratoga was that we amassed more decompression obligations on this wreck than any other!

Bikini AtollI remember getting to the surface on day one and while still wearing my unit all 11 divers on board started talking about the carrier. I looked at my friend Pete McCamley and we walked up to Mr Mesley, we shook his hand and admitted that even if we had to go back to Britain right then it had been worth all the effort and finances to get there.

The Saratoga is, quite simply, the best wreck I have ever had the privilege of diving. I am in a very, very, very small club. And I am smug! Really, really smug!

In Part 3 we will look at the final wrecks in Bikini and also our little road trip to Shark alley where I nearly lost my fingers and Simon Mitchell nearly lost his toes. All good fun!

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

RAID

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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Jeff chats to… Underwater Photographer Ellen Cuylaerts (Watch Video)

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In this exclusive Zoom interview, Jeff Goodman, Scubaverse Editor-at-Large, chats to Ellen Cuylaerts about her diving and underwater photographic career.

As an underwater and wildlife photographer, Fellow of The Explorers Club and having a front seat in exploration being part of the Flag and Honours Committee, Ellen is also a Member of the Women Divers Hall of Fame. She travels the world and tries to make the most of every destination and the path that leads her there. Ellen acts as an ocean citizen and believes as divers we should all be ocean ambassadors and lead by example. She is now based in the UK after many years in Grand Cayman.

Find out more about Ellen and her work at www.ellencuylaerts.com


Rather listen to a podcast? Listen to the audio HERE on the new Scubaverse podcast channel at Anchor FM.

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Marine Life & Conservation

Huge thresher shark is the latest of six murals to be painted around the Solent this summer

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The murals celebrate the Solent’s extraordinary marine life – marking National Marine Week.

Secrets of the Solent have commissioned street artist ATM to paint a series of marine-themed artworks at various locations around the Solent this summer. The latest mural to be finished shows a thresher shark on the Langstone Harbour Office. Langstone Harbour is an important area for wildlife as well as a bustling seaside destination for sailing and water sports.

Artist ATM, who is painting all six murals, is well-known for his iconic wildlife street art. This, his second artwork of the series, took three days to paint freehand, from a scaffolding platform. The thresher shark was chosen out of six marine species to be the subject of the artwork by the local community, who were asked to vote via an online form or in person on the Hayling Ferry.

Secrets of the Solent hope the mural will become a landmark in Langstone Harbour and inspire visitors to learn more about this enigmatic oceanic shark. The project, which is supported by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, works to celebrate and raise awareness of Solent’s diverse marine environment.

Aiming to highlight the exotic and unusual creatures found close to our coasts, artist ATM says: “I really enjoyed painting the thresher shark because it’s such an amazing looking animal, with a tail as long as its body. I hope when people see the murals, they will become more aware of what lives under the waves and the importance of protecting the vital habitats within the Solent.”

Dr Tim Ferrero, Senior Marine Biologist at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust says: “The thresher shark is a wonderful animal that visits our waters every summer. It comes to an area to the east of the Isle of Wight, and this appears to be where the sharks breed and have their young. Not many people know that we have thresher sharks in our region, and so having our mural here on the side of the Langstone Harbour Office building is a fantastic way of raising awareness of this mysterious ocean wanderer. I really hope that people will come away with the knowledge that the Solent, our harbours and our seas are incredibly important for wildlife.”

Rachel Bryan, Project Manager for Secrets of the Solent at Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust comments: “We are really excited to have street artist ATM painting a thresher shark on the side of the Langstone Harbour Office building. We chose this building because of its prominent location right on the entrance to Langstone Harbour so that anyone who’s visiting, whether that’s walkers, cyclists or people coming in and out of the harbour on their jet-skis or sailing boats, will all be able to see our thresher shark. People on the Portsmouth side of the harbour will also be able to see the mural from across the water.”

The thresher shark is a mysterious predator which spends most of its time in oceanic waters. It uses its huge whip-like tail as an incredibly effective tool for hunting its prey. Herding small fish into tight shoals, the shark will lash at them with its tail, stunning several in one hit and making them easier to catch.

Secrets of the Solent hope to work with the species this summer to discover more about its behaviour.

Dr Tim Ferrero explains: “Nobody really knows where thresher sharks go in the ocean. Later this summer we are hoping that we are going to be able to attach a satellite tag to a thresher shark and monitor its progress for an entire year. This will provide really important information that will help us learn so much more about the shark’s annual life cycle.”

The new thresher shark mural is a fantastic start to National Marine Week (24th July – 8th August), which celebrates the unique marine wildlife and habitats we have here in the UK. Over the two weeks, Wildlife Trusts around the country will be running a series of exciting events to celebrate the marine environment. We really hope people will be inspired by our murals and want to learn more about each chosen species.

Events in the Solent include the launch of a new Solent marine film on the 29th July, installation of a new Seabin on the 4th August to reduce marine litter, and citizen science surveys throughout summer.

For more information click here.

Header image: Bret Charman

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