For many years, Doug McEwan of EDC and I mused on the possibility of diving Bikini Atoll. In 2002, we decided to make it a reality and 11 of us (11 divers fill the island) set off on a trip in August 2003, stopping off in Hawaii (where Doug's brother lives) for build up dives before diving the 56 meter wrecks of Bikini. Since then I have organised several trips for others.
This site has the story of the trip, photos, links and general Bikini Info.
View the "Shark Pass" video MPEG!
"Dive" over a Hellcat plane in the hold of the USS Saratoga MPEG
See the USS Saratoga on the day of the Baker blast MPEG
See Diver with bombs in the Saratoga MPEG
See Diver at the deck guns of the Saratoga MPEG
Blast that sank the ships that made this Wreck Dive Heaven !
The trip crew consisted of :
|Michael Malone (who sadly had to drop out at the last minute and was missed by all)|
LINKS / STORIES / PHOTOS etc
After about 6 years of thinking about it, 18 months of planning it and a long trip to Bikini, stopping off en route in Honolulu, we were finally kitted up on the boat and ready for the check-out dive on the Saratoga - a 40 minute dive at 35 meters on the largest wreck in the world has got to be a good start to a dive trip!
As we piled down towards the deck, we passed the Gun Director and bridge, covered with coral and surrounded by jacks and bat fish. Massive grins all round as we hit the deck which stretched off in either direction. The bow and stern were invisible in the distance and the aircraft lift shafts were spookily dark, these were all treats in store for us on dives later in the week. We finned over the port side to see the bottom another 25 meters below, 2 aircraft on the bottom to be explored later in the week. We inspected the anti-aircraft guns and the heavy guns on the side of the ship before returning to the bridge via the huge double 5 inch gun in front of the superstructure. The bridge was perfect, light filtering through the slits in the dogged down ports. I finally got to try the tiny joystick that was used to steer this massive ship and see the dials and binnacles and the bugle hung up behind the bridge. On our next dive, we dropped down the lift shaft and saw the 500 pound bombs and the Hell Diver planes sitting in the hanger deck with wings folded. The rear flight deck is dented in from the A-Bomb test and the ceiling of the hanger deck has collapsed in, the main bulkhead sways eerily in the current like a massive curtain of steel. While the planes look almost useable after a good dust when you view them from a distance, when you get close, you can see the damage and also find that the fuselage metal is so thin that you cannot touch it in case you poke through it. Dishwashers and kitchen equipment from the deck above have fallen through, adding a surreal touch to the hanger deck. Also above, there are massive walk-in freezers that threaten the planes below.
On another dive, we entered via the rear aircraft lift to do the dive known as "the haunted house" as the dent in the deck has created two spooky tunnels on either side of the hanger. A solitary Mazda light bulb reflects your torch beam as you start the trip round, passing torpedoes, depth charges, racks of rockets etc. Faint blue light can be seen from ports above - leaving the starboard side, you swim over the gully and over to the port side, entering the wreck via a couple of hatches to gain entry to the port side of the hanger, again this is spookily dark and silty with faint patches of blue way above you as you work to the front hatch and rise slowly to the light above.
The bow dive has to be the most impressive sight, I swam out and out from the bow to try to see the entire sight, by the time I could frame it all in a 16mm lens, I was too far away to light it with a strobe. I took a couple of shots anyway but it is just too big. Under the bow, the main anchor chain flows out of a massive "mouth". Following the chains down to 55 meters and looking up at the bow rising to make a giant letter "T" where the flight deck meets it just has to be one of diving's greatest sights. Finning out from under the wreck, you find a Hell Diver with 2 500 lb bombs lying upside down on the bottom. Next to this there is an Avenger with a huge torpedo. Inside the torpedo bay, 2 clown fish have set up home, oblivious to the threat that the unexploded torpedo poses. As I passed, a huge stingray settled himself in the sand to hide - the 3 arm length remoras on his back did kind of give the game away though! As we swam back, the 25 meter high shadow that is the Saratoga's hull filled us with awe as we headed back up to yet another 40 minute deco stop on 75% Nitrox.
If you are a real depth hound, there is a scour on the bottom beside the port propeller that will give you 58 meters on your computer, the official "deepest point in Bikini". Swimming out, there is yet another dive bomber on the bottom. Rising back up the side, you swim along the covered companionway, looking into the cabins before dropping back down into the hanger at the mid point for another chance to photograph the bombs, more bombs, bigger bombs, torpedoes and the planes. On the way back up, you can check out the 5 inch shell charges and shells in the ready use store under the bridge and get Tim to pose with his collection of musical instruments.
The Saratoga is truly "awesome" as the Californians say! It defies description - DIVE IT!
Launched April 7, 1925 and commissioned November 27, 1927, Saratoga was a massive ship for her time and she still is today. She is 850 feet long at the waterline and almost 900 feet long at the flight deck. Completely loaded with fuel, munitions, aircraft and provisions, she weighed about 48,000 tons with a draft of 27.5 feet. Her 180,000 hp steam turbines drove her at speeds up to 34 knots [38 mph]. Saratoga was faster than any battleship of her day. [In comparison, Titanic was 883 feet overall, had a gross tonnage of 46,228 tons, 51,000 hp and a top speed of 23 to 24 knots.]
"OK" I thought when Tim Williams briefed us before the dive, "A destroyer is a destroyer, is a destroyer...small, guns, stuff..what's this after the Saratoga?". But this turned out to be a stunning dive - so good we asked to go back for another look.
Dropping down in a swarm, bubble tubes linking us to the surface like ropes, we raced each other the 55 meters to the Lamson. The ship is almost hidden by glassfish, I tried to photograph the bridge but all I got was glassfish! A nice shark stopped behind Paul for a photo shoot. Paul obligingly posed for the shot, completely unaware that a shark was lying right behind him. The wreck has big guns, small guns, torpedoes, depth charges, a telegraph with ruby glass for night lighting. One of the anti-aircraft guns has a red anemone round the end of the barrel with a yellow sponge inside the barrel..this looks like the flash of a real shot being fired from the gun. Dipping down the engine room hatch, the maker's name can be seen on the boiler plate.
This was a classic dive. My deco ended up taking a fair spell as my Suunto Vytec (again) registered the wrong depth, 5 meters shallower than reality and my Dive Rite Nitek3. So I had to do my 3 meter stops at 8 meters to keep the Suunto happy and then do my "proper" stops while the Suunto decided it was on the surface at 5 meters and went into surface mode. When we got back home, I returned it to Suunto and got a new one in the post.
This is a classic WWI battleship. As at Scapa Flow, battleships turn over as they sink due to the weight of guns and superstructure. As you drop down the side, you find a classic old battleship side gun mount. Carrying on under the ship into the dark, you come across the massive 12 inch guns that jut out the side. Coming to the bow, you see the "reverse" shaped bow which comes to a point on the bottom rather than the modern cruiser bows. This looks almost like an ancient Greek ramming bow and makes a great photo opportunity. Swimming up to the bottom, you see the massive damage the bomb made. The thick armour is twisted and crushed like tin foil, 12 inch plate buckled into contorted shapes. A fantastic dive!
Diving on His Imperial Japanese Majesty's Ship, the battleship Nagato, was a dive into history. She was the most hated ship at Bikini because she was associated with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Nagato's biggest sin was having been Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's flagship in 1941, when he and his staff planned the Pearl harbor attack. Ironically, neither Admiral Yamamoto nor Nagato participated in the actual attack. Nagato was the only Japanese battleship to survive the war and some thought using her as a target vessel was an act of revenge because of her association with the Pearl Harbor attack. Once a proud ship, 727 feet, 9 inches long and weighing 42,850 tons when fully loaded, she now lies upside down in 160 to 170 feet of water. Her huge propellers reach up from her hull; her bridge juts out to one side.
Lying upside down with a slight list to port, she is easy to get at. Diving under the massive deck, you swim "up" into the deck, entering the huge seaplane hanger and then exit through the side hatches. going back down, you swim under the wreck, blue light visible at the edge of your vision. At first you do not realise that they are guns..the massive 16 inch barrels are improbably huge and everyone just has to see if their head can really fit in the end! As the bottom is at 53 meters, you have to leave the guns some time and go to visit the massive props to get a few diver and big prop photos. As Tim says "those Japanese sure had propeller envy!" they are pretty big!!! A lovely grey reef shark followed us all the way back to the deco bar and slowly circled us as we did our 47 minutes on the bar.
The Nagato bow came later, again there was a nice shark at the bridge that is lying out to the side. This is a massive structure with gun director ports. A Pagoda of steel! A great chance to see where Yamamoto launched the Pearl Harbour attack with the cry of "Climb Mount Nitaka!". Carrying on under the deck, darkness surrounds you as you travel between the massive 16 inch gun turrets, rising up unto the wreck, you find the famous Nagato Wheel, nobody knows what the heck it does but everyone takes a shot of their buddy turning it anyway.
This is the Lamson on its side. 350 ft long with a nice prop sticking up for photos. Bridge is really accessible and a toilet sits strangely on the bottom beside it. Loads of destroyer stuff for destroying things: guns, torpedoes, more guns, depth charges, even more guns and a friendly house shark that seemed to be guiding me round, proudly showing off the features of the wreck. As with the Lamson, glassfish almost hide the wreck at times. While we toured around, Tim was continuing to try and pry open a hatch that will open up more of the inside...but a cunning buckle at the foot continues to confound his efforts. His cursing was almost louder than the noise of his lump hammer and chisel!
Having toured the USS Bowfin in Pearl Harbour, we were well prepared for this. An added bonus was a bunch of sharks that darted up to meet us as we started down the 53 meter drop to the wreck. I managed to get a couple of shots in before they got bored and went off to look for something more interesting. The sub is covered in whip coral and glass fish (which are also called Apogon!). There are two interesting Remote Torpedo Directors forward and aft of the conning tower. There is a nice big hole above the forward torpedo room and you can see the torpedoes, bunks and loads of brass!!! A lovely sub dive. As we started back up the line, the sharks returned, cruising effortlessly round us as we headed for another fun filled 40 minutes on 75% Nitrox before getting back to the sunlight.
The trip was a delight to organise, everything ran like clockwork - I just have to congratulate myself for my astounding efforts in making this such a success! We flew from Edinburgh to Honolulu with United Airlines, Honolulu to Majuro with Continental and Majuro to Bikini with Air Marshall Islands. Accommodation in Honolulu was Ohana Maile Sky Court and we stayed in the Marshall Island Resort in Majuro. Both were excellent value and very comfortable.
In Honolulu, we dived with Alex Mason's excellent AAA Diving - highly entertaining chap and very organised diving!
We were just a bunch of Scottish divers who wanted to dive the Saratoga, we did it and then some! We have fantastic memories of the trip and many photos to enjoy.
On Bikini - huge thanks to Tim Williams, Jon Salas, Edward Maddison, Ronnie Lokiar and all the guys who run the Island. All the dive briefings were thorough and comprehensive and also great fun. Every dive is 40 to 55 meters on air and deco is carried out at 24, 12, 9, 6 & 3 meters, the 9 meter and above stops on 75% Nitrox fed from the boat to the 3 bar trapeze below the boat. I had to admire the Scubapro MK25 first stage that fed all 15 of us on the bar - that valve must stay open for the full hour we hung there every dive!!!
I hope this inspires others to get out there and dive Bikini - it was my dream for many years and I can't explain how I felt to get there and dive the Saratoga. If I can help anyone arrange the trip - get in touch and I will sort it for you!
Contact GMdiving to get info on booking Bikini, Truk, Palau or any combination.
Click the thumbnails to enlarge
Bikini Atoll Home Page link
On our way to Bikini, we had some checkout dives in Honolulu on the YO, Sea Tiger and at Turtle Canyon. We dived with AAA Diving - "Hi Alex! and Thanks"