Sunday, June 2, 2013

Enjoying Bikini Atoll

We arrived at Bikini Atoll several hours behind our friends on Panacea, but still having had the best 24 hour run on Soggy Paws ever. Our noon-to-noon run was 160 nautical miles, or an average of 6.7 knots. The fast run was due to perfect winds--just ahead of the beam--at perfect speed--12-14 knots--and maybe a little current helping out. Also, we were trying to make sure we made it before sunset on the 2nd day, so kept our speed up more than normal.

We arrived in plenty of time to sail all the way up to Bikini Island, in the NE corner of the atoll, and anchor next to our friends on s/v Challenger (arrived a couple of days before) and Panacea (arrived a couple of hours before).

The next morning, we went in with the guys from Panacea and presented our permit for Bikini to the guy in charge. There are only about 6 people at Bikini Atoll... a couple of guys working for the U.S. Department of Energy, monitoring radiation and other projects, and a couple of guys representing the Bikini Council--making sure that visitors check in and obey the rules.

The guy in charge, Nario, a Filipino hired by the Bikini Council, took our Bikini permit, and after we talked with him for a few minutes, handed us the keys to the utility truck, so we could do a self-tour around the island. There are roads (check it out on Google Earth) all the way around the Bikini Island. Rick from Panacea drove (pics to follow, sometime), with Dave as "shotgun" and me and Blair and Geoff, crew on Panacea, hanging out on the benches in the back.

We also met the crew of s/v Trigger, a South African catamaran, who was ashore doing some repair work on a computer in the compound.

We had a great time touring around the island--stopping at viewpoints and trying to imagine what it was like when 40,000 U.S. personnel were on Bikini for Operation Crossroads.

For those who don't know... Bikini Atoll was the site for several Atomic Bomb tests, starting in 1946--less than a year after the 2 atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. The purpose of the testing was to assess what an atomic bomb could do to Navy ships, and also to flex our atomic muscles a little--for the rest of the world. For Operation Crossroads, the Navy moored about 20 ships in a tight group in Bikini Lagoon, and then (a) dropped an atomic bomb from an airplane and (b) detonated an atomic bomb under the water (in two different tests). For the tests, there were all kinds of instrumentation on the "target" ships, as well as on mooored barges nearby and also ashore on the land areas surrounding the lagoon. There were also test animals (pigs, goats, sheep) placed on the target ships to assess what might happen to personnel aboard ships.

In the end, about 10 large ships were actually sunk and remain on the bottom of Bikini Lagoon--the most famous being the Aircraft Carrier Saratoga, and the Japanese Battleship the Nagato.

In 1989, Dave, as part of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 1 in Hawaii, took part in a large operation headed by the U.S. National Park Service, to locate the wrecks and document their status. The idea was to give the displaced Bikinians a trade that would take them off the American dole--dive tourism. The Navy located the ships, the U.S. Park Service documented them, and (within a couple of years) a "dive hotel" was set up on Bikini Island. (picture millions of U.S. dollars expended here). If you're interested in reading about this (both the testing, and the effort to re-find the ships), find a copy of Ghost Fleet by Jim Delgado (Dave is mentioned in this book several times).

This Dive Bikini operation was moderately successful for a few years, but in 2007, "Air Marshall Islands" folded--their last plane being unflyable--leaving a group of dive tourists stranded on Bikini for over 2 weeks. Since then, the only way to dive Bikini Lagoon is via a live-aboard ($$$) dive boat. And the rules are such, that, even when we show up in a private boat in Bikini, it is prohibitively expensive to dive here. The current rules require us to bring with us 2 Marshalese "Bikini representatives", pay their salary and expenses, AND pay $100 per person per day to dive the wrecks, plus we must have a Recompression Chamber and Oxygen with us. Ridiculous requirements for a low-budget cruiser.

So we are here NOT diving the wrecks--this time. We've been working with a couple of other dive-mad cruising boats to hook up with the liveaboard dive boat, the M/V Windward, when they are here in Bikini in June and July. We are still working out the details, but it looks like it might be possible for us to make a few dives with them (we still haven't worked out the price, however). Diving these wrecks can be very challenging... they are very deep--most of them are way over the Open Water Diver limit of 60 feet, and even over the Advanced Open Water Diver limit of 120 feet. Many of the divers who spend in the neighborhood of $10,000 to come dive here on the Windward, are advanced "tech" divers, diving tri-mix gas and rebreathers. We're not doing that. (see this link:

So, what have we been doing all this time?? We have done a lot of looking around the Operation Crossroads bunkers and old structures. We've also spent some time looking around the newer structures built for the dive tourism operation (now mostly abandoned). We've been beachcombing--looking for Japanese glass balls on the beach (we found 2 baseball sized ones, and LOTS of plastic bouys). We've been lobstering (Dave and I got 11 lobster, threw back 3 females, and ended up with 8--the whole rest of the group got 4 between them)... walking in the shallow water a low tide on the windward reef with headlamps, nets and tickle sticks. We've done a lot of "bommie" diving--on the coral heads scattered around the lagoon. Jerry and Ulyana on Challenger spent quite a bit of time hanging out with the caretakers at Bikini Island, playing pool in the rec room.

Panacea only had a week's vacation, and they left yesterday to bash their way to windward back to Kwajalein. We think the weather is a bit too boisterous, and so we're going to wait here a few days for the wind to swing more NE and calm down a little.
Sherry & Dave
In the Marshall Islands for the summer.

At 06/02/2013 8:08 AM (utc) our position was 11°36.73'N 165°33.00'E

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