IF YOU HAVE NO INTEREST IN WRECK DIVING, stop reading now. If you are not interested in diving wrecks that are not war casualties or accidentally sunk, this is not for you either - because no wrecks anywhere in the world were more intentionally sunk than those at Bikini Atoll.
     When the Americans sink a wreck as an artificial reef, that sinking is usually accompanied by a spectacular display of pyrotechnics. The fireworks display for the intentional sinking at Bikini Atoll was pretty memorable, too.
     Gathering prime examples of contemporary warships, armed and ready for action, and then exploding the equivalent of several hundred thousand tonnes of TNT on top of them has to be the ultimate in artificial reef creation. Thats what the USA did at Bikini Atoll and the first explosions, in 1946, were so huge that a French fashion designer, Louis Reard, named an outrageous two-piece swimming costume after the place. The appearance of bikinis itself had an explosive effect on the beaches of the Cote DAzur.
     Bikini Atoll is the site in the Marshall Islands where atomic and hydrogen bombs were tested over 12 years from 1946. But it would have made no sense to explode them simply to see how big a splash they made.
     So the Americans gathered together an almighty fleet of 84 warships, redundant after the capitulation of Japan, just to see what effect the bomb would have on conventional war materiel. One of the greatest fleets ever assembled, it was certainly the only one gathered with total destruction in mind.
     The vessels included a cross-section of all the ship types then in use, including the premier carrier vessel USS Saratoga, the captured German battle-cruiser Prinz Eugen and Japanese Admiral Yamamotos flagship, the massive battleship Nagato. There were also submarines, destroyers, a WW1 Dreadnought battleship, attack-transports, patrol boats and landing craft.
     Why Bikini Atoll Because its about as far from anywhere as you can get.
     Before 1946, the Americans had exploded only three atomic bombs, comprising the original experiment at the Alamo test-range and the two dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, sites chosen not so much as tactical targets but because they had not been bombed previously.
     Now the USA wanted to assess the bomb as both a tactical and strategic weapon, and, by demonstrating the awesome power now in its hands, to warn the Russians against expansionism in Europe. The exercise was to be called Operation Crossroads.
     Time magazine in its July issue, however, stated: None of these tests is planned as a spectacle; none is intended to show the world what a powerful weapon the atom bomb is. None is intended for diplomatic or political effect. The visible destruction inflicted on a group of naval vessels, with a great deal of water between them, is not likely to be very spectacular.
     The world was watching. The Americans asked the inhabitants of Bikini to leave the islands temporarily for the good of all mankind, and they did. And there was another aspect to these initial test detonations - the fierce rivalry for budgets that still existed between the US Army Air Force and the US Navy.
     The bombs used were similar to the one that destroyed Nagasaki. The USAAF dropped the first, code-named Able, from a plane that took off from the captured Japanese base at Kwajalein Atoll. It made a big bang, missed the target ship by half a mile, and sank only those vessels within a hundred metres of it. Others simply rode the 20m wave that it produced and looked undamaged.
     A few days later it was the US Navys turn. It detonated its device, Baker, 25m below the surface of the lagoon. Two million tons of water were sent a mile high, and when this fell it severely damaged those vessels that had survived the second blast.
     Some sank where they were moored, others were towed away to be scuttled in deeper water. The Navy seemed vindicated. Its blast had been more effective, and the image of that mushroom cloud would dominate the thoughts of a generation.
     These were the explosions that created Bikinis wrecks, but atomic bombs were squibs compared to what was to come.
     The first hydrogen bomb exploded at Bikini in 1954 had a yield of 15 megatons, three times more than expected. The largest nuclear device ever detonated in the atmosphere, it vapourised an entire island. The fall-out descended like snow, killing and maiming observers, inhabitants of other islands in the region and the crew of a fishing vessel way out in the Pacific.
     The cloud of radiation covered the world and, ironically, upped the salvage value of the wrecks of Scapa Flow, as these would prove to be one of the few future sources of uncontaminated steel, essential for making many scientific instruments.
     More than 40 years later, Bikinis inhabitants are still waiting to repossess their island. Sadly, the toxins in the soil do not allow for the ingestion of any food that originates in the atoll, including coconuts and coconut crabs, the islanders staple food.
     However, you can visit Bikini and dive the wrecks that lie there, and as a wreck-diving destination it has no serious challenge because, unlike the wrecks of Chuuk (Truk), these were fully armed and operational fighting ships, not freighters.
     Neither have any been salvaged. Bikini is the worlds premier wreck-diving destination.


Saratoga: land of the giants
We drop through what seems to be an eternal void, not five astronauts floating in space but five aquanauts in an expanse of emptiness.
     Fabios twin tanks gleam in the sunshine below me but were in more of a never-ending grey than the deep blue one might have expected. A solitary grey reef shark, complete with remora, climbs slowly towards us from the deep, curious to identify these noisy creatures that have entered its domain. Then I see the bottom - but its not the seabed.
     Instead, its a bed of regularly planted rivets, neatly positioned in rows that stream off to infinity in each direction. With only 20m of visibility, you can easily lose your bearings on a deck that is nearly 300m long by more than 30m wide. The wooden decking long gone, its a steel desert big enough on which to land a plane, or several.
     The USS Saratoga CV3 was a very famous vessel. Together with the Lexington, she was the USAs first proper aircraft-carrier and accommodated up to 90 aircraft. She was longer than the Titanic at 888ft, had a 105ft beam and weighed in at 33,000 tons. At the time of her sinking, she was one of the biggest aircraft-carriers in the world.
     The Japanese claimed to have sunk Saratoga seven times. She saw action throughout WW2 in campaigns at Wake Island, Guadalcanal, the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, Sumatra and Java, and was hit by five kamikaze attacks at Iwo Jima.
     The Saratoga had more than 1000 watertight compartments and although she was moored only 300m from the Baker undersea detonation at Bikini she still took eight hours to sink.
     The vessel was armed with twelve 5in guns, eight 50-calibre machine guns, 30 Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns and four quad 40mm Bofors guns. She sits upright on the bottom, the star of the show.
     We reach a landmark, the precipice that drops from the ships rail to the sandy bottom another 25m below. We drop over and hover by a group of AA guns, mounted on a balcony with a sea view. We notice the unmistakable shape of an abandoned fork-lift truck, left out overnight and ruined in the atomic rain.
     Everything is of Brobdingnagian proportions. One of the 5in guns, mounted in a turret on the foredeck, is so large that it defies my efforts to photograph it. One anchor hangs from the bow, another lies way below us on the sand. One link of its chain is bigger than the torso of a man and it pours from an enormous maw in the hull, the hawse-pipe, strewn with whip coral.
     We peer down, trying to glimpse what lies below. Its hard to think that at least another 25m lies between us and the bottom.
     Its time to wend our way along the edge of the deck, past the open hatch to a bomb elevator and back to the superstructure. We have to swim more than 100m from the bow. Our maximum depth has been less than 33m but my computer already shows deco-stops, with 30 minutes of total ascent-time needed.
     At 25m we look in on the admirals day room. His bed is still there, together with the speaking tubes that kept him in touch with goings-on at the bridge.
     At 20m we enter the control centre. Its a fortress with slit windows for outward views. The binnacle is still present, as are all the other controls. Fabio indicates a series of giant dials.
     Next door, the captains day room waits. A sink, its wooden cabinets long gone, is held up by its plumbing.
     Outside is a small fly-bridge. Piled up are several brass portholes, perhaps collected by an earlier visitor and, after second thoughts, abandoned among a spaghetti of broken cables.
     A crowd of batfish obscures the site of our first short stop at 15m at the top mast. Then its a short swim to where the trapeze dangles, with its regulators at the end of long hoses that feed nitrox 80 to us while we pass silly messages on slates.
     The boredom of waiting here is justified by the extraordinary experience below. Finally, we head back to the dive-boat and the searing Pacific sunshine. Thats the check-out dive completed!
     An aircraft-carrier is as big as an airfield, and the Saratoga was a city on the sea. You cant see much of it during the time limitations of one dive, but next time we visit a hangar deck.
     The floor is knee-deep in rust particles. One ill-judged fin kick can turn the water to Brown Windsor. Our lamps reveal aero-engines and plane propellers. Rows of bombs are lined up ready to be loaded, and Helldivers still sit waiting to be catapulted into the sky.
     Its a dark and gloomy place. Im glad to find my way out into the eternal space of the daylight.
     You can get to see only a small part of this wreck with a typical 30 minute bottom time, and we make only four dives during the week of our stay. If the Saratoga was the only wreck in the lagoon, it would be worth the trip. But it isnt, and we have to choose with care which wrecks to visit on our 12 dives.

ARKANSAS: HEAVYWEIGHT LADY
Another long descent into the abyss, but there is no superstructure to reveal itself this time, just a shadow against the grey of infinity. The USS Arkansas was a Dreadnought and, like all such battleships, the weight of her topside armour turned her over as she lost the will to live. But the huge 15in barrels that gave her spectacular firepower stayed on the turrets where they were mounted and now only these keep what was her deck from touching sand.
     The Arkansas is a warship from the days of Victorian over-engineering. Everything is heavy beyond belief and it lies equally heavily in the sand, its superstructure well out of our reach.
     Side-mounted guns reveal a philosophy of war still entrenched in Napoleonic values, back from the days when the vessel was designed.
     Side-mounted guns proved uselessly inaccurate, good for nothing but giving another ship the benefit of a broadside, a technique that went out with Nelson.
     The Arkansas had a 562ft riveted steel hull and her thick armour-plating meant that she displaced 29,000 tons. The year after her launch in 1911, US President Taft used her when he inspected the unfinished Panama Canal.
     In 1914 the ship assisted in the occupation of Vera Cruz, Mexico, and in 1918 carried President Woodrow Wilson to France.
     She operated in Europe in 1918 as part of the British Grand Fleet and was present in Scapa Flow for the surrender of the German High Seas Fleet.
     During WW2 the Arkansas was on convoy duty, and on yeoman duty at Omaha Beach during the invasion of Normandy, shelling Cherbourg. Besides her massive top-mounted guns, she also had side-mounted guns.
     A target vessel for Crossroads, the Arkansas was moored less than half a mile from ground zero but survived the blast of Able. However, she became the first battleship to be sunk by a bomb that never touched her. At the epicentre of the explosion, Baker sank her within 19 seconds. The wreck lies upside-down.
     The barrels of the main guns are concreted and festooned with whip corals, yet the gun-sights of anti-aircraft guns alongside them are clearly recognisable when picked out in the light of our lamps. Its dark under the upturned hull and I for one am glad to reach the bow, where gargantuan anchor chains hang limply.
     We swim up on to the top of the upturned hull and follow one of two considerable keels back to our downline. These keels were needed to resist a tendency of the vessel to roll right over while at sea, such was the immensity of her top-weight.
     I marvel that she stayed afloat at all, and try to imagine the enormous thud when her 26,000 tons of steel lost its ability to stay buoyant, and accelerated into the seabed some 55m below.
     Contemporary photographs of the Baker blast show what looks like the Arkansas lifted in the upward flow of water. In fact it was the rain shadow caused by her resistance. It would have taken more than a mere atomic bomb to send this heavyweight lady flying.

CARLISLE: BRAZEN TEMPTATION
The seabed seems to shiver and shift below us. I follow Fabio down as usual, but its not the seabed that I see but a magnificent school of skipjacks, disturbed by the unwelcome arrival of a host of black-clad aliens gushing bubbles. Instead of hovering calmly, they surge and ripple as one enormous shape, looking for a new station on which to focus, as we replace them on their artificial reef, the wreck of USS Carlisle.
     This attack-transport, 426ft long and displacing 6800 tons, was commissioned in 1944. Armed with one 5in gun, four twin 40mm Bofors guns and 10 single 20mm Oerliken guns, she was sunk by the Able blast, and now sits upright.
     A large female reef shark reluctantly makes way for us. We head on down into the bowels of the ship, where massive aero engines wait to greet us, their propellers crumpled like the forlorn and broken petals of rust-coloured flowers. Other propellers of a different sort sit in serried ranks, obviously spares for the Carlisles landing craft.
     On its aft deck sits a solitary 5in gun, silenced forever. Its coral encrustation is so heavy that all the features of its breech-end are obscured, but around her sit the unmistakable shapes of unused shells, sitting in boxes like eggs. I am amazed that they were not detonated by the atomic blast. It gives a new, sinister meaning to the expression walking on eggshells!
     At the secondary steering position, a complete compass binnacle sits, oblivious to the desires of trophy-collectors sitting in their armchairs in far-off lands. A winters evening is all it would take to remove a little concretion and polish up its brass. It must be temptation beyond endurance for some visitors.

LAMSON: THE GHOST SHIP
Sitting on an even keel on the seabed, the destroyer USS Lamson is fully loaded ready for war and there are few signs of chaos, considering what happened to her. I line my camera up on three massive torpedoes. These point skywards now, but there is no doubt that a strike by one of these dark missiles would have reduced any target to a sunken hulk.
     The Lamson was of modern welded construction, 341ft long. She was armed with five 5in guns, three quad 21in torpedo tubes, depth-charge racks and K-type projectors, and four 50-calibre machine guns.
     Launched in 1936, she took part in the one-month search for the lost aviator Amelia Earhart. Her Pacific patrols included the battle for Guadalcanal, where she was severely damaged in a kamikaze attack. She was refitted in 1945.
     Capsized, sunk and reported lying on her side after Able, the force of the Baker blast knocked Lamson back upright.
     An eagle ray swims by lazily, escorted by two large remoras. A bank of depth-charges vies for attention with a large whitetip reef shark lying next to it. Machine-guns point blindly skyward, oblivious to the grey reef sharks that cruise by. A table coral adorns the muzzle of one 5in gun-barrel. Glassy sweepers buzz the breech of another.
     On the open bridge, one telegraph stands upright and untouched, as it has for 50 years. Alongside it stands the compass binnacle, decorated with ubiquitous bubble coral. A large spiny pufferfish pops out from behind it.
     Another telegraph lies where it landed after the blast. A watertight bulkhead door lies on the deck complete with its surrounding frame, probably ripped off when Bakers underwater shockwave righted the vessel.
     At slightly less than 50m deep, this feels like a relatively shallow dive. However, we collect more deco penalties on this site than any other. This is a photographers wreck, a dream, a ghost-ship steaming along the bottom, pennants held proudly high, the way all non-divers think that shipwrecks look.
     We three visiting underwater photographers petition our hosts for an unscheduled second dive. I get more good pictures from the two rolls of film exposed here than those on almost all the other dives I do at Bikini.

ANDERSON: UNLUCKY FOR SOME
The Sims-class destroyer Anderson had an unfortunate history. She acted as a screen to the carrier Lexington at the battle of the Coral Sea, to the carrier Yorktown at Midway and to the carrier Wasp, but all were lost.
     Damaged by striking an uncharted coral pinnacle and sent to Pearl Harbour for repairs, she later accompanied the carrier Saratoga to her grave at Bikini. The 348ft-long Anderson was armed with 12 triple torpedo tubes, two depth-charge racks, four 50-calibre machine guns and five 5in guns. One of the few vessels sunk by the Able blast, she still lies on her side.
     Jim forges ahead of me this time, anxious to get first turn at whatever his camera fancies. Suddenly he starts setting a trail, like a sky-diver with a smoke grenade. Bubbles stream away from him. An O-ring on one of his tank valves has blown.
     Fabio quickly turns off the offending valve on that tank. Jim swaps to his back-up regulator and puts air in his secondary BC. Theres no need to stop, even though we plan to go to 55m. Jim still has more than 4000 litres of free air and Fabio sports another 6000 litres of his own.
     Diving the Anderson is just like diving the Lamson, except that you need to put your head on one side to see it in the same way.
     At first it looks toy-like in comparison to the battleships and the aircraft-carrier, a discarded plaything lying on its side. The depth charges wait in their racks, the torpedoes in their tubes. Winch control wheels defy the degradation of time thanks to a good coating of red-lead paint, and the machine-guns point skyward to a long-since-dead enemy.
     The 5in guns are embedded in the sandy bottom, but with one hatch to a turret invitingly open.
     Twin anti-aircraft gun barrels are coated with red sponge, a compass binnacle lies broken and beheaded and another has rolled away among other debris. I think of how some confirmed wreckies I know could never get over the trauma of being unable to take something like that home with them!

NAGATO: PEARL HARBOUR NERVE CENTRE
Tora, Tora, Tora! This was the vessel that received the radio signal that signified and confirmed the successful Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbour. A day that will live in infamy. Suddenly, here I am looking in at Admiral Yamamotos bridge, the very place from which the plan was hatched and the orders given.
     How the mighty are fallen! This once proud superstructure had no slit windows but a massive open bay, such was the confidence of her masters.
     Launched in 1919 and 708ft long, the battleship Nagato was by 1945 the sole surviving Japanese capital ship. She had been badly damaged and was in Tokyo harbour awaiting repairs that never came.
     Rebuilt between 1934 and 1936, she was once the pride of the Japanese fleet, serving as Admiral Yamamotos flagship for the notorious attack on the American Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbour. Her huge 16in guns were fired at the battle for Midway, which she survived, and she was damaged at the battle for Leyte Gulf.
     Severely damaged by Baker, the Nagato still took four days to sink. Her hull lies inverted, with Yamamotos bridge and headquarters crushed on the seabed by her side.
     Its hard to describe just how big 16in guns are. I have to content myself with photographing Fabio alongside the barrel-ends, their spray caps still in place just as they were when this symbol of Japanese imperialism cruised the Pacific, striking fear into the people of the region.
     Top-heavy, like all battleships, the Nagato turned turtle before leaving daylight behind. Now we swim below her upturned deck, that massive armour-plated hull propped up on the turrets of those same imposing weapons.
     Some barrels are proud, others embedded in the sand below. I look at the gearing for one turret. It looks good enough to creak into life.
     Reliable lights are essential here. No tropical sunshine filters through to relieve the sombre shadows. Further along the hull, we come across a massive wheel. We dont know what it was for, but Fabio poses anyway.
     We make a separate dive to look at the Nagatos four propellers. As Tim has briefed us, the Japanese obviously suffered from serious propeller-envy and these were worth the effort of extra diving. Mounted well proud of the hull, they were gigantic enough to deliver more than 82,000 shaft horsepower to the water and push this 43,000 ton behemoth along at 25 knots.

APOGON: A BIGGER FISH
The USS Apogon was one of hundreds of Balao-class submarines to be commissioned. From 1943 she undertook numerous Pacific patrols, including sentry duty outside Chuuk Lagoon and later Saipan. She was armed with ten 21in torpedo tubes, one 5in deck gun and anti-aircraft guns. Originally moored at a shallow submerged depth, she was unaffected by Able but sunk by Baker.
     I hadnt been too excited about diving a submarine. I had thought it would be nothing more than a featureless hulk - but I was wrong. The Apogon first appears as a ghostly silhouette against the seabed, and then I get a clearer view. The wreck sits on an even keel and looks ready to blow her tanks, lift her skirts and go on her way - very like USS Bowfin, which I had visited safe at her mooring in Pearl Harbour on my way to Bikini.
     The Apogons hatches are closed but her aft torpedo-tubes are loaded and the doors are open to reveal bigger pneumatically powered fish than the oceanic triggerfish that loiters at the stern.
     Tim illuminates the torpedo ends with his lamp. They are primed and ready to launch. The Apogons pressure hull and propeller are draped with whip corals, like the unwanted nasal hair of some elderly sea-lord.
     Fabio invites me to enter the hull through a tiny aperture. I decline. The interiors of operational submarines are claustrophobic enough!
     The ladder to the conning tower, guarded by a pair of small grouper, is encapsulated in hydroids, bubble-coral and sponges. Although the single 5in deck gun is similarly bedecked, we can still easily make out the soft rubber eyepieces to the gun-sights.
     I will never forget the sight of the Apogons conning tower completely disguised by a cloud of glassy sweepers. And what is an apogon A glassy sweeper, of course!


width=100%
Huge dials on the bridge of the aircraft-carrier Saratoga, sunk in the Baker blast

width=100%
bombs for the carriers aircraft

width=100%
intact portholes on the bridge

width=100%
Aircraft engine on the USS Carlisle

width=100%
Anchor chain on the battleship USS Arkansas

width=100%
Barrel of an 8in gun on the same wreck

width=100%
Breech of one of the five 5in guns on the destroyer USS Lamson

width=100%
5in shells on the Carlisle

width=100%
the huge aft gun on the attack-transport USS Carlisle

width=100%
Ladder to the conning tower on the submarine USS Apogon

width=100%
rear ends of torpedoes on the Lamson

width=100%
distinctive twin barrels of Bofors guns

width=100%
Torpedos from the Lamson

width=100%
big wheel on the Japanese battleship Nagato - who knows what its for

width=100%
the stern of the Apogon

width=100%
Binocular sight for the deck gun on the Apogon

width=100%
One of the Nagatos four propellers


THE DIVING
There is little to do on Bikini unless you love counting coconut palms: Bikini means Land of Many Coconuts. The US authorities replanted Bikini island, regarded as the home island of the Bikinians, ready for their planned but premature return.
     Sadly, even now there is still too much caesium in the soil. You can visit observation bunkers in the undergrowth but the main non-diving activity is watching videos on the events surrounding the expulsion of the atolls peoples. Its a tragic tale.
     It is ironic that Bikini has probably the worlds most unspoiled coral-sand beaches and a sea so vividly turquoise that it hurts your eyes. Its a polluted paradise.
     The buildings constructed initially to rehouse returning Bikinians now accommodate visitors and include the well-equipped dive centre and a mess-hall. All food is imported.
     The absent Bikini authorities see diving tourism as one way of making some return on the disaster that befell their small nation. For six years the diving has been run by Brazilian Fabio Amaral, helped by local Edward Maddison, who has dived these wrecks for 11 years. Fabio is leaving to follow a career as a pilot and the new chief diver is Californian Tim Williams.
     There is a spacious 13m dive boat with plenty of shade and clued-up dive guides. As the diving is deep there are limitations, not least because the connecting flight from Majuro in the Marshall Islands can carry so little weight.

CHECK-OUT AT 33M
Double-redundancy comes with the penalty of extra weight. I bought a 200lb cargo-block to ensure that all my photo gear arrived safely but was able to do this only because I was one of only three visitors that week. The plane can carry 11.
     The wrecks are outside the range of ordinary leisure diving, with average depths in the 50-55m range - the check-out dive is at 33m! However, one of our party was only a PADI Open Water Diver. Divers are qualified by ability rather than badges here. If you are confident and prepared to learn new methods, you can make these dives.
     With the invisible barrier of the long deco-stop, however, this is no place for those who like returning to the surface to sort out problems.
     All diving uses air as a bottom gas and nitrox 80 as a deco gas from 9m and up. This is provided by a hookah (surface supply) and trapeze system from the dive-boat. There are no currents to make it difficult to find the boat, and we always carried enough air to do an air dive plan in an emergency.
     All the wrecks have permanent buoys. Dive plans are subject to strict discipline. There is no trimix, nor is it easy to bring in closed-circuit rebreathers because of weight limitations. Oxygen is generated on site.
     Air is supplied in steel twin-sets or 15 litre steel single cylinders with H-valves. Redundant regulators and BCs are essential, though this too can give rise to weight problems on the aircraft. Luckily you need little clothing during your stay.

ON THE TRAPEZE
After an ascent from a dive, you make a one-minute stop at 25m and another at 15m, using the wrecks buoy-line as a datum. Then its a swim to where the three-level deco trapeze dangles from the moored dive boat. Two minutes at 9m, five at 6m, and 10 minutes at 3m are the minimum requirements here after any dive, however brief.
     Because you switch to nitrox it is essential to bring a suitable computer, or you will be hanging on the deco bar for hours following an air table. I took a DiveRite Nitek3, which seemed the most popular choice among other visitors and dive staff.
     Changing from air to 78% nitrox (building in a slight degree of safety) saw the deco time quickly roll away. We always stayed in at 3m until the nitrogen loading was well-rolled back so that we would get a good bottom time on the following dive. Typically that took 25 minutes. We dived twice a day.
     I would take one of three Suunto single-mix computers as back-up but found after day two that the repeat-dive program kicked in and I had to intentionally bend the one I was wearing and swap to another for the next dive, rotating them as they came out of lock-out after 24 hours. My actual bottom-time was always 36 exposures following the Fuji table!

WHY FALL-OUT SUITS THE SHARKS
Bikini Atoll is a ring of islands that surrounds a lagoon so large it is more or less a small sea. Unlike more modest lagoons, pelagic species often find their way in and then live out their lives without ever missing the open ocean.

Marlin and sailfin are commonly spotted, and there is a large and vibrant dolphin population. Twenty-six miles from our island base, there is a channel into the Pacific where local man Edward discovered that grey reef sharks and silvertips congregate.

Bikini provides an atomic bastion against the shark-finning fleets that crowd the lagoon back at Majuro. This place has been shunned by long-line fishing boats since the crew of one of them was killed by nuclear fall-out in 1954.

There seem to be more sharks here than anywhere. Its a natural untouched population. Bikini might be known by divers for its wrecks, and rightly so, but it also represents potentially the worlds premier shark-diving destination.

grey
Alas, a weeks diving was too short and we felt we had hardly seen the wrecks. Our minds didnt wander towards the subject of diving with sharks until the last day, and the time to decompress before flying. So we had to content ourselves with a surface encounter.

We skipped across the lagoon for an hour in a fast game-fishing boat. As soon as we stopped outside the channel, the water heaved with grey bodies. Shark-infested waters!

Edward began to throw them scraps of tuna. The water frothed and boiled as the guys in the grey suits competed for a meal. Edward is built like a pebble. Not very big but hard as a rock. From time to time, he would reach over and pick up a shark by the dorsal fin and heave it out for us to photograph.

Each time the animal would swim off, no doubt to tell its friends that it was abducted by aliens and taken up for a moment into a space-craft!
ON ROUTE TO BIKINI
Bikini Atoll was chosen as a nuclear test-site for its remoteness, and getting there is something of an adventure in itself. After flying to Hawaii via the US west coast, its worth taking a day out to rest. Use this opportunity to visit Pearl Harbour and the battleship USS Missouri, which is mothballed there.
     Launched in 1944, the Missouri was the last of the great battleships to be in service. She provided the stage for the formal surrender of the Japanese in 1945, participated in several bombardments during the Korean War and took part in offensive action during the Gulf War, as a launch-pad for Tomahawk cruise missiles.
     Strolling round her decks and superstructure gives an idea of the immense scale of the capital ships that lie submerged in Bikinis lagoon.
     The submarine USS Bowfin, which is very similar to the USS Apogon at Bikini, also provides a good introduction to what youll be doing underwater.
     Its a further five hours flying time from Hawaii to Majuro, capital of the Marshall Islands. Crossing the international date line to get there plays havoc with your body clock. Never mind the time, what day is it
     Majuro is a long, narrow island with a 60 mile road that never has both sides more than a few buildings width from the sea. Majuro is a typical, inauspicious Pacific island that seems to have suffered from its western influences.
     The people no longer live on coconuts and fish from their canoes, but live in a clutter of dumped cars and other trash.
     The Air Marshall Islands inter-island flight leaves before it gets light, which means another nights stay in Majuro. It takes several hours flying time, stopping to refuel at Kwajalein, the worlds largest coral atoll and site of the test-range for Americas Star Wars missile defence system. Kwajalein has a fully staffed and functional recompression chamber.

FACTFILE

GETTING THERE John Bantin travelled with United Airlines to Hawaii via Los Angeles and Micronesia to Majuro (Marshall Islands). Crossing the international dateline from the west loses one day and it is necessary to overnight in both Hawaii and Majuro. Air Marshall Islands flies to Bikini once a week, with severe weight restrictions. You can return with consecutive flights and regain the day lost on the outward journey. Exit taxes cost US $5 and $20 from Majuro.
DIVING & ACCOMODATION: Bikini Atoll Divers provides rudimentary accommodation with en-suite facilities. The mess-hall menu is limited. Alcohol is available but not recommended for deep divers.
COST: Prices include return economy air fares via Honolulu and Majuro to Bikini; transfers (except in Hawaii); one night in Honolulu and one in Majuro, room-only; seven nights full board at Bikini Resort; and six days diving (12 dives, tanks and weights). One to seven people costs £3530 per person, with discounts for larger groups. Add £1430 for an extra week.
WHEN TO GO: March to November. Bikini has a tropical Pacific climate. Water temperature is 28-30ûc. Long hang-times and stinging plankton make 5mm suits with hoods ideal.
MONEY: US$. Credit cards are not accepted on Bikini Atoll.
FURTHER INFORMATION: www.bikiniatoll.com, sole uk agent Scuba Safaris 01342 851 196, www.scuba-safaris.com