Just in case you missed the first couple of parts of Toomer Does Bikini (Part 1 of which you find here, and Part 2 can be found here), I was on Pete Mesley’s Lust for Rust trip in Bikini Atoll, which as I write this has been the greatest dive trip of my existence.
Following the mind-blowing experiences of diving the wrecks of the Nagato and the Saratoga, it was time to move on to the beautiful wreck of the USS Arkansas. The Arkansas is a 220 metre dreadnought from WWI. According to the dive briefings, when you look at images of the “Baker” blast you can see a black line up the right hand side of the image; that IS the Arkansas! Can you imagine the force of the bomb that picks up a 220 metre long warship and throws it into the sky? Well if you can’t, all you have to do is glide along her upside down hull and you can see the concertina effect of the immense pressure exerted on her.
In all my life I have never seen anything like it, and it really brings it home how powerful bombs are. It makes you realise what an insane creature man is. We create an incredible ship, then we mount guns on it and annihilate fellow man, then we unleash a bomb so strong it takes all creation whether Devine or human and simply shreds it. CRAZY!!!
Andris and I headed straight for the propellers, which were stunning. We spent an age capturing images of divers silhouetted against those enormous blades. Then we started exploring, and like the little explorers that we had become, we found all manner of treasure. I’d say it’s safe to say that the gun, with spirit level and sights still attached, was the find of the day.
Yet again, most of the divers emerged from the water with that happy ‘rust orange’ glow about them. Grin factor 100%!!!
Midway through the expedition we decided to take a break from wreck diving and move the boat to a dive site called Shark Pass.
You can pretty much guarantee that any dive site named after a fish will reveal no fish of that particular species during the dive. We’ve all been to “Shark Observatory” this and “Turtle Cave” that and what do we see? Sweet Fanny Adams! Of course your guide will always tell you that last week it was teeming with sharks, turtles, mermaids…. whatever!
Shark Pass on the other hand did have Sharks, hence the word “Sharks” in its title. The “Pass” part comes from how the current affects you. Simply put, if you miss the anchor line due to the 50 knot current you will ‘pass” the exit point and will “pass” into no man’s land, where you will “pass” off as food and will “pass” through the digestive tract of many reef sharks.
As we arrived at the site the sharks started gathering around the boat. No matter how many shark dives I do, I always get that junior school nervous giggle, and this was no exception. Pete Mesley did a great job of geeing us all up, and the pre-dive banter was somewhat infantile. Love it!!
Entering the water it was immediately apparent that the sharks there liked divers. And these divers didn’t blow bubbles. The lack of bubbles and noise made the sharks super inquisitive as they glided through our group, in and out of the current like it wasn’t there. It felt a bit like I’d just been put on the menu at Shark Pass Takeaway. It was exhilarating; extreme current, rebreathers and sharks.
We all surfaced and decided to feed our beautiful school of squali. The crew dropped a large chunk of fish off the back of the boat which brought the sharks in close.
A few of us dropped our cameras into the water and filmed the sharks and Simon bit (?) off a bit more than he could chew. A beautiful shark grabbed the bait and literally swam up the dive deck stairs onto the deck at Simon’s feet. The shark severed the fish from the line and simply plopped back into the water. Unbelievable! We didn’t actually want our day with those wonderful animals to end, but we all agreed that the wrecks of Bikini were calling so we headed back to the wreck zone.
Surprisingly, out of that graveyard of wrecks – most of them huge – on my list of favourites was a little submarine called the Apogon. As with most Bikini wrecks, she sits in 50 odd metres of water, upright on the sand.
There is something about submarines that has always thrilled me. Perhaps, because we can see the whole wreck, we realise what every submariner must go through living in those ridiculous confines. Perhaps the fact that subs are mysterious machines used in the most clandestine operations thrills the exploring diver.
Whatever it is, the Apogon was as exciting a sub dive as any other I had ever dived – a real winner.
As we approached her in the gin-clear water we could pretty much see her from bow to stern. Armaments scattered her still-intact decks, and the coning tower silhouetted majestically. It was a sight to thrill any wreck diver. Her props were magnificent. There was so much to take in. She actually looked like she could set sail at any moment. On top of that she was encrusted in beautiful corals, had shoals of fish all over her and we even got a visit from a few sharks. Now that was wreck diving. Goose pimples galore.
We began our long return leg. No one cared how long it took; it had been so very worth it. Even staying on Ebeye Island (which should have been called Brown Eye Island) was not enough to detract from the fact that we had all been to diving heaven.
We dived a fair few other wrecks, too many to mention and in all honesty, only reading this is just not right. You need to go. Sell a kidney, a finger or your car. Sacrifice your career, extend your mortgage, make the arduous journey. Whatever it takes, just do it.
If there is a God, I’d like to say a little thank you. I need most of all to thank my wife Lisa for letting me realise my dreams and travel with unarguably the best “expedition” crew, team and organisers to what can only be described as the best wreck diving I have ever done.
Thank you all.
So what are you doing in 2016 Pete?
Photos included in the three-part series ‘Toomer Does Bikini’ courtesy of Simon Mitchell
Paul is the Director of Training at RAID. To find out more about the courses that RAID offers, visit www.diveraid.com.