LIFE IN THE BAHAMASWe charter a flight to New Providence Island (locally called Nassau after its main city) about 15 minutes away to meet up with the filmmakers from the BBC Natural History Unit, including the renowned underwater cinematographer Mike Pitts and producer Neil Lucas. Like legions of people with underwater cameras before them, they've come to the Bahamas for its big blue back lot of predictably clear, calm and warm water. If it gets filmed underwater for TV or film, chances are it gets shot off Nassau, and if you spend any time at the movies or in front of your TV, you'll begin to recognize the local dive sites. So naturally, the BBC has come here to film the beginning of Life. And they've given Sport Diver exclusive access to spend time chronicling the making of this landmark television series from behind the scenes.
Nassau, which is the most heavily populated of the Bahamas islands, sits in stark contrast to Andros. Here we start the day with a Starbucks coffee and end late at night with a delivery from Domino's Pizza and a local sleep inducer called sky juice--a cocktail containing gin and coconut milk. That glamorous schedule revolves around the shooting of Life, and we'll spend most of our days and nights on or under the water, diving around an old island tug sunk just for this portion of the show.
Life is the follow-up to the wildly successful Blue Planet and Planet Earth series. The short and sweet is that the BBC bought and sunk an old tugboat in September 2007. They will visit the wreck periodically to monitor how marine life forms and populates Nassau's newest dive site. We were there for the sinking--which was an exciting event to witness from the seafloor--and we're here six months later to see how the ocean has begun its endless and whimsical transformation of this little tug.
Photo by Ty Sawyer
But naturally, the little tug needed a name besides "the little tug," so Stuart Cove, owner of PADI Gold Palm IDC Stuart Cove's Dive Bahamas (with whom we're diving), came up with the idea of running a contest to name the wreck, and the winners would visit the Bahamas to dive with the BBC and Sport Diver as the team documented the wreck. After thousands of entries, Rob and Denise Bentley, who hail from landlocked Arizona, won the contest and the little tug instantly became Blue Plunder.
Once again, we tag along and dive right alongside the filmmakers and Rob and Denise, as they tour for the first time the wreck they've named. They only just became divers before exploring, and they fin around the wreck with eyes wide with wonder. Sometime on the way home in the plane, it'll soak in for them: Hey, that's our site. When it appears on the Discovery Channel, they'll be able to watch knowing that forever in the annals of time that little tugboat will be called Blue Plunder. Not a bad welcome to the world of diving--on their first few dives ever.
During its first six months, the Blue Plunder has grown a coat of starter corals, and juvenile reef fish have moved in. We encounter a large stingray and barracuda in the sand surrounding the wreck. For several hours a day, Pitts and his assistant cameraman, John Chambers, don their Inspiration rebreathers and carry the heavy HD underwater camera and tripods down to document the wreck.
Pitts and Chambers move around the wreck like astronauts, meticulously recording every section. We dive all day and into the night. And the night dives are especially memorable. The team brought along a 1,200-watt HMI light to film Blue Plunder at night. And seeing the wreck peek out of the inky dark into a curtain of undulating, weightless and nimble balletic light is spectacular. The wreck is wreathed with movement and energy, almost as if it's coming alive; which, of course, it is.
But it isn't all wreck all the time while we're in Nassau. I sneak off with Rob and Denise to follow in the fin-steps of Tiger Woods, Jessica Alba and a long list of celebrities and models who have done Stuart Cove's signature shark-feeding dive, which is usually attended by up to 50 Caribbean reef sharks.
The afternoon dive comes in two parts, a casual dive on the reef and the surrounding wrecks (the crinkled up Bahama Mama and the nicely intact Ray of Hope), followed by the actual shark feeding. But the sharks don't wait until the food appears. They circle the boat before we get in the water and generally mill about during the dive.
I like to head along the edge of the drop-off, about 100 feet from the feeding site to the 200-foot wreck of the Ray of Hope, which was sunk in 2003. The wreck sits upright on the sand. Its cargo holds, engine room, corridors and pilothouse are completely open for exploration. This time, I am escorted by several of the larger sharks while I swim among the silverside-filled holds. The wreck also harbors several lionfish and large groupers.
But we've all come for the encore to this warm-up. And soon enough we're back in the water, kneeling on the sand in a fairy ring ready for the big show. As the chain-mail-clad shark feeder descends from the boat to the center of the circle, the sharks follow him like anxious puppies. For the next 20 minutes we're all immersed in a whirlwind of bedlam and madness as 50 sharks push and shove each other to get to the food, a fish head speared on a pole. Sharks swim over our heads, brush against us, around us, between us. The sea becomes electric with heir intensity, force and presence. When the food bin is empty, though, the kinetic energy almost instantly dissipates into the blue horizon as the sharks go back to their haughty lives at the apex of the food chain.
After the dive I ask Rob and Denise, who have twin girls, age 2 at home, "Which is more daunting, a 50-shark mob scene or 2-year-olds?"
Their reply comes instantly and in unison: "2-year-olds." From Blue Plunder to sifting through the sand looking for shark teeth all in one 24-hour period. Shark Week will never be the same for the Bentleys.