Welcome to Bristol Channel Divers!

Bristol Channel Divers
Trip Reports

Do You Glow In The Dark Now?

Some people might feel that spending 4 days travelling to an obscure atoll bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is an absolute nightmare - to me it was the trip of a lifetime. Ever since I started diving I had heard of Sara and now I was finally getting the chance to dive her. Her more formal name is the USS Saratoga and she is to be found lying in stately repose upright in 54m of warm, clear water at Bikini Atoll. 880 feet (and 39,000 tons) of US Navy aircraft carrier was sunk by the "Baker" atomic bomb test in 1946 and today she represents (to me at least) the ultimate wreck dive. To descend towards her flight deck in 40+ metres vis and 30 degC and realise you are on the only diveable aircraft carrier in the world is indeed a "bit of a treat" - oh, and she's bigger than the Titanic too!

Slightly better than walkingMind you, having flown Heathrow to LA, LA to Honolulu, Honolulu to Majuro, Majuro to Kwajalein, Kwajalein to The view from our room Bikini and then had to take a 45min boat ride to the dive centre did make the whole trip rather epic! Arriving at the most idylic island paradise I'm ever likely to see brought home the fact that I was in the dead centre of absolutely nowhere. A collection of wooden huts represents the dive centre and also pretty much the only sign of life in this part of the world. The accommodation is sparse to say the least and the food - whilst plentiful can only be described as "American": burgers and fried fish were the order of the day. Still, we came here to dive not to lord it in some luxury resort. The view from our room tells everything there is to know about Bikini above water.

Each day involved a briefing at 8am before boarding the dive boat for a trip out to "Ground Zero" (where it all went BANG!) for the dive. After nearly two hours in the water, we would return for lunch and a rest before going out at 3pm to do it all again. Then, back for more food, watch a video about the atom bomb tests, chat with the other divers and then off for a well-earned sleep. No partying here!

Diving The Saratoga

Descending the shot line we were immediately confronted with the sheer size of this wreck. The superstructure conforms to the typical carrier layout (it's all on one side) and is reached after a mere 15m descent. Here you find the bridge and control sections all with intact instrumentation inside. Descending to 35m puts you on the flight deck which is like a metal football pitch stretching off in all directions. It's rather featureless really. Around the edges of the decking there are gun emplacements and aiming devices which would have defended the craft from incoming attacks. From here you can descend the outside of the hull past the anchor chains as thick as your torso to the sea bed at 55m. However, the real treats lie await under the flight deck. One level below is the hangar deck complete with a row of Helldiver and Avenger aircraft still sitting exactly where they were when she sank. Rows of torpedos and bombs sit in their cradles. Even the aviation fuel pumps are there with their nossles still hanging from the wall. There is an erie light in the hangar deck so torches are not really needed even down here. We spent a whole dive just exploring this one section. At one point I found myself hanging just above a 1000lb bomb I had not noticed! Amidst all this, I was intregued to notice that the lights hanging down from the hangar ceiling still contained intact bulbs!

USS Saratoga

On another dive, we descended a bomb elevator and entered the forward section under the flight deck. Here is the command and control centre and the captain's quarters. The captain's head still has a sink and there is a mirror hanging on the wall. It's rather strange to spend 20 mins following a piece of line down various corridoors to end up looking at yourself in the mirror and all in about 40m! We examined the pursar's office where the crew would be paid - bars over the windows but now we could get in to check out the safes and filing cabinets in the various rooms. On yet another dive, we found a china closet still stacked with cups, plates and even unbroken glasses.

There is a huge amount to see on this wreck and five dives is not nearly enough!

Here's what my computer thought of a typical Saratoga dive.

Some Other Dives

Five dives on the Saratoga is not nearly enough but there are plenty of other treasures to see at Bikini. We dived HIJMS Nagato; the 700 foot long flagship of the Japanese navy from which Admiral Yamoto gave the order to attack Pearl Harbour. I have been on that very bridge - although it is now on its side. The Nagato lies upside down (as do all battleships due to their being top-heavy) in 54m, meaning this is a deep dive to get under the hull to check out the deck fitments. Her 16" guns are simply magnificent.

The USS Arkansas is a flagship US battleship which also lies inverted. Plenty to see inside but again the guns are the most impressive feature - along with the buckled armour plated hull which is testament to the force of the atomic blast. Once again, being a battleship she's upside down.

The USS Lamson is a destroyer armed with guns, depth charges and torpedos. The four-torpedo launcher still contains two of the torpedos pointing up towards the surface now. The other two lie on the sea bed with one broken open to reveal its innards. You can clearly see the racks where depth charges would be rolled into the water heading for some poor submarine.

Here's a list of all the diveable Bikini wrecks.

Diving Info

Twinsets are the order of the dayThe sea bed in the atoll is pretty much a sandy 54m everywhere which means these are all deep dives. The centre provides manifolded twin 12L cylinders (there's no trimix here so it's all air as a bottom gas). All the wrecks have very good permanent shot lines which are easy to find on the way up given the vis. This is important as you need to get back to the deco trapeze where there is surface fed 75% nitrox for your deco. We dived an air profile which means that, with 75%, we had a good safety margin - important when the nearest chamber is hundreds of miles away! Typically we were getting 30-40 min bottom time and hanging for about 60min on deco - take a book! You don't need a tech qualification to dive Bikini but you do need to be happy with narcosis at the depths involved and have good buoyancy skills. See the Bikini Atoll divers web site for more details.

All those dives

Bikini Wrecks

Dive

Depth

Bottom Time

USS Saratoga

33.5m

45min

USS Lamson

48.2m

30min

USS Saratoga

39.6m

37min

USS Arkansas

53.9m

25min

HIJMS Nagato

50.6m

21min

HIJMS Nagato

51.8m

24min

USS Saratoga

33.8m

40min

USS Carlisle

50.9m

29min

USS Saratoga

49.1m

31min

USS Anderson

50.9m

24min

USS Apogon

49.1m

20min

USS Saratoga

37.5m

43min

Conclusion

Would I recommend this trip? Most definitely, if you are into wrecks. It's expensive and a long haul to get there but it's worth every minute (and penny). I'll certainly be going back - and probably for two weeks next time. The majesty of these ships and the idylic setting belie their rather shocking and sudden history. I learned a lot about the nuclear tests and their tragic impact on the local population. You can judge for yourself whether I glow in the dark now...or have more than the requisite number of limbs.

Many thanks to Fabio and Tim and all at Bikini Atoll Divers for making this an excellent trip - and to Jim at Scuba Safaris for organising. "I'll be back".

Respect Our Wrecks!