Of Sharks, Wrecks, and 007
By T. Dietz
Spring 2014 and we were all set for a summer adventure to Thailand. And then, in May, the Royal Thai Armed Forces executed a coup d’etat. The US State Department recommends against travel to Thailand. Although it didn’t appear to be overtly dangerous, as this is not a too uncommon occurrence in Thailand, we opted to postpone the trip until the following year. Where to go. I’d always wanted to drive the Florida Keys and so a quick re-planning effort had us heading to south Florida and then on to the Bahamas.
Writing this now after all the hurricane devastation in south Florida and the keys leaves a sense of sadness for the folks making that part of the world home. We wish them a speedy recovery. Here I’m focusing in on our Bahamas diving experience, I don’t want to imply there wasn’t grand adventure in driving the keys, stopping all along the way at just super cool spots and spending time in Key West including Hemingway’s house and some spectacular fishing with my boys.
The Bahamas – an area comprised of over 700 islands, cays and islets and was from 1718 a British colony that gained independent status in 1973 but retaining its Commonwealth status. Nassau, the government seat is located on New Providence Island which is also where Stuart Cove’s dive outfitter is located. It’s a special place in that thousands of famous and not so famous folks have dove from here. There are lots of photographs, some with autographed thank you comments, on the wall highlighting many famous clients.
Our first shark dive was at the Shark Wall. This site is close to the Shark Arena where the sharks are fed so they mill around hoping for a feeding. This provided lots of encounters from curious Caribbean reef sharks (Carcharhinus perezii, Poey 1876). My boys had eyes wide as saucers as the sharks worked their way around us, never coming too close as they were focused on finding the free meal ticket. Once back on the dive boat one boy couldn’t stop speaking about the encounter while the other one was dead silent – I wondered whether that one would head back down for the feeding.
As we approached the end of our surface interval (allowing nitrogen to be off-gassed before heading back under) one of the dive guides started suiting up from head to toe in heavy chain mail and what looked like an old motorcycle helmet. This was going to be interesting.
The Shark Arena. Stuart Cove runs an up-close encounter with dozens of Caribbean reef sharks. The arena consists of a circle of rocks big enough for you to grap between your knees as you kneel on the sandy bottom. The chain mailed guide has at his disposal a box containing fish chunks and a pointy ended spear to present fish with and to ward off too chummy sharks. The boys and I found three rocks close together and remembered the warning to keep your hands in front of you on your body. Anything hanging out there could look like a presented fish chunk.
The dozens of Caribbean reef sharks and one nurse shark and one very larger grouper are clearly acclimated to this event. They are highly motivated by the free meals being presented and enter and exit the circle with torpedo like speed, zooming in between the divers in the circle and over their/our heads. In fact, the boys and I were “rubbed” several times as sharks swam by.
Nassau and New Providence Island where it is located are featured in two of the classic James Bond, 007, films, Thunderball, from 1965, and its remake Never Say Never Again, from 1983. Part of Casino Royale, from 2006, was also filmed in Nassau.
Our next dives were on the James Bond Wrecks. A 92 foot freighter was obtained by the film studio and sunk. This vessel became the Tears of Allah from Never Say Never Again.
In the very clear waters you can see the wreck immediately upon entering the water. There are a number of openings in the hull including the famous torpedo holes that were cut into it for the movie. Bond escapes from a tiger shark attack using the sunken vessel. The marine life is plentiful on the wreck with lots of coral and fish both inside and out. We entered the wreck through its deck and after some exploring exited through the torpedo hole. Below is a photo credited to Stuart Cove and highlighting the torpedo hole.
Before we headed in to see the Tears of Allah, we were given a compass heading from which to find another 007 wreck, the Vulcan bomber set from Thunderball. In the movie, the evil SPECTRE hijacks atomic warheads from the plane. Just a few minutes swim off of the Tears of Allah’s bow we found a crude metal pipe structure covered in corals and teaming with fish. This had been the internal architecture for the Vulcan bomber. It originally had panels attached to give it the appearance of an aircraft but now it resembles more a jungle gym than anything else – it’s been called the monkey bars by many. Despite its shortcomings, it was its provenance that provided the allure. Stuart Cove gets the photo credit for the Vulcan bomber.