THE SEQUENCE FROM THE MOVIE Thunderball is familiar: Bond girl Claudine Auger steps into the sea and onto some toxic creature, and Sean Connery has to suck the poison from her foot. Interestingly, he sucks the wrong foot.
Equally interesting were the underwater sequences of secret agents fighting in crystalline water surrounded by sharks. The images were not only timeless but authentic. Topside, the Bahamas has changed dramatically since Connery was 007, but under water the same scenes could easily be filmed today.
After travelling to the islands we knock back a 27oz Porterhouse medium-rare steak before grabbing some sleep in a motel.
Now, sipping beers at the Tiki Bar in Florida’s West Palm Beach Harbour, we watch local heroes geeing themselves up to the deafening soundtrack of their helicopters.
Our liveaboard Dolphin Dream leaves at midnight, so there will be a few more beers to go. The beers could, we feel, be bigger.
Dolphin Dream navigates through the Atlantic for most of the night, heading for the westernmost part of the Bahamas. We see no sign of high-rise hotels or fast boats on arrival – an artificial bulwark and an approaching police car are the only man-made objects in sight.
Once past Bahamas customs control, the stone dyke proves to be the only man-made item we are to see off the boat on our six-day cruise along Little Bahama Bank. Everything around us is in shades of blue.
Travis and Sonny prepare the bait, a crate filled with the incredibly smelly heads of barracuda and grouper.
The intensity of flavour of rotting fish-meat and blood plays an important role in attracting the sharks.
We reach Tiger Beach, and the bait crate is dropped.
To spread the message to sharks as far and wide as possible, another smart system has been installed on board.
A metal drum with equally stinking contents is constantly fed with water on one side, releasing a cocktail of ingredients through another opening.
Now we must wait. Everyone seems to be busy fine-tuning their dive gear and cameras, yet all eyes are on the surrounding water surface.
“Lemon shark!” The animals have appeared almost instantly. An engine sound is enough to alert them to approaching food.
I am almost kitted-up when the less-popular call comes: “Briefing!”
Captain Scot offers helpful and concise information about the dive-site and the sharks themselves, then gives everyone the licence of complete diving freedom: “You can jump in the water whenever the boat is moored and the engines are turned off, remain under water as long as desired and, when you run out on air, simply climb up to the deck, let the guys fill the tank for you and go back in.”
I can hardly believe my ears. It’s an American dream!
Based on the photographs I have seen so far, I feel I have a very clear idea of how things might look under water, and as soon as my head is submerged any last doubts are removed.
Sunbeams penetrate the blue water to form a constantly changing light mosaic on the sandy seabed.
Six lemon sharks are occupied with the bait. Some are more than 2m long and about 100kg in weight, and in these shallow waters at 5m or so, every little detail emerges in true colours.
It’s amazing to be able to observe the behaviour of these large predators, to see their eyes and teeth at close range.
Travis jumps in with another bait crate, and immediately gets the sharks’ attention. They follow him like dogs, waiting for him to release a morsel.
If nothing falls off, they try to bite something off the box. They wrestle with Travis, who does his best to push them away from the crate.
I try to keep the camera as close as possible to the sharks’ jaws, with their rows of sharp pointed teeth.
We’re waiting for the most important actor to appear – a tiger shark. It takes longer to attract tigers to the bait, but we enjoy all-day diving with the lemon sharks.
Next day, Dolphin Dream is moored at a deeper coral reef about 1km east of Tiger Beach. The same gang of lemon sharks has increased to more than 20 animals, following us and still growing.
At Fish Tales a large group of Caribbean reef sharks join the action. They are smaller, faster and have smooth dark skin. Although the feeding procedure is the same, with more sharks the experience becomes considerably more full-on. The closer to the bait crate we are, the higher our adrenaline levels.

ONCE MY ADRENALINE has done its job, I have a different goal – capturing reef sharks in their natural environment, with a colourful background of coral and red sponges. However, my pursuit of artistic images doesn’t last long. When a large striped body appears, I know that corals must wait – I must rush to the bait.
The scene is now dominated by three tiger sharks at once, catapulting the experience into a whole new dimension.
With blinking eyes they raid the crate without taking into account either the reef or the lemon sharks. It is no longer sufficient simply to observe – divers have to monitor all three tigers closely, so that they don’t surprise us from behind.
A large female with a limp mouth-corner has especially strong traction on the target. Everything is expected to get out of Smiley’s way.
It takes a few minutes to adjust to this new game. Once I have acquired the necessary self-confidence again, I approach the bait to capture an unusual moment.
The technique of blind shooting now comes into its own – rather like firing from the waist with an assault rifle. Who would stick his head in with all those shark teeth about
Smiley’s biting teeth while being hand-fed are especially noteworthy. She doesn’t countenance failure and, with other sharks’ teeth rattling on all sides of her, instead of tearing off fish-pieces she tries to get everything.
The bared teeth and expressive facial muscles that control her powerful jaws very clearly demonstrate her strength. It’s not pleasant to contemplate what those teeth could do to human skin, muscle and bone.
In the winter months smelly bait is often said to attract another large predator of the Bahama sandbanks, a loner that can grow up to 6m long – the great hammerhead.
It is early afternoon. Although the baitbox has been releasing its tempting juices for several hours, nothing larger shows up. It almost seems to be a dead day – and then suddenly, two dolphins jump out of the water.
Friendly Atlantic spotted dolphins sometimes require a vigorous swimmer to entertain them, but I decide to grab a tank with regulator and get into the water fast. There is no time for niceties such as suits.

IMMEDIATELY I GET THE ATTENTION of the female and a baby. I’m too clumsy bringing the camera into action, and after my initial attempt to gambol with them they depart to seek fun elsewhere.
However, the dolphin invasion continues as a pod of oceanic bottlenoses come to feed. Using their echo-location they are seeking fish hiding in the sand.
Once one is located, its chances of survival are poor.
The dolphin deftly digs it out with its nose and eats it.
I go on observing this behaviour until the cold forces me out of the water.
Diving with sharks at Little Bahama Bank is not hardcore “diving”, but it does mean staying under water for hours with big predators.
This is where we shark-lovers can get close enough to experience the roughness of their skin, feel the weight of their bodies and see their teeth penetrating flesh. It’s a wonderful  place to visit.