Kwajalein Atoll / Pacific Ocean

Lets start with something exotic. The wreck of the Kriegsmarine heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen lies inside the lagoon at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The keel breaks the surface and the bow is at 35m.
In 1997 I spent 11 days there, based on the island of Ebeye and diving the Prinz Eugen among other wrecks in the lagoon.
My original idea had been to go there for only seven days, but the onward flights to Bikini didn’t fit with that, so I took the tough decision to spend the spare four days on extra diving at Kwajalein.
In May 1941 the 14,800-ton Prinz Eugen came to fame as the accomplice of the 45,000-ton battleship Bismarck when the Royal Navy battle-cruiser HMS Hood was sunk.
The Bismarck was subsequently hunted down and sunk by the Royal Navy. The Prinz Eugen escaped almost unnoticed, and cruised the Atlantic until July 1941 before putting into Brest for supplies.
For the remainder of the war the Prinz Eugen saw little action other than a dash up the English Channel to Norway. Following the German surrender, she was turned over to the Royal Navy and then, in 1946, passed to the USA as a target at the atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll.
Among a fleet of famous warships the Prinz Eugen was moored approximately one mile from ground zero. She survived two atomic explosions that sank other warships, including the US aircraft-carrier Saratoga and the Japanese fleets flagship, the battleship Nagato.
The now-leaking Prinz Eugen was towed away for evaluation at Kwajalein, where previously controllable leaks worsened. An attempt was made to beach her on Enubuj, a small island on the Kwajalein atoll reef, but just short of the beach she capsized and sank.
My first sight of the wreck had been from the air, as we banked and turned to land. The upturned stern rests on the reef, with the rudder and one propeller breaking the surface. Through the tropical water I could see the outline of the hull descending the slope of the lagoon.
My first day of diving was good, but not incredible. Located pretty much on the International Date Line I was jet-lagged and needed to settle in with the dive centre as much as it needed to settle in with me.
We had a warm-up dive on the Prinz Eugen and then another small wreck on the way back. The next three days were spent diving other wrecks in the lagoon, partly just to see everything at least once, but also because the dive-boat was having engine problems and other wrecks were much closer to Ebeye.

BY DAY FIVE WE WERE well dived-in, the boat was working and we were ready to return to the Prinz Eugen. This time I knew my way round the wreck and had planned what I wanted to see.
From the stern I dipped under the upturned deck and headed forward past the two aft turrets, both fallen from their mounts with mechanisms exposed.
I didn’t bother going all the way to the forward turrets or bow, because I knew that the guns had been replaced with instrumentation for the bomb tests.
The deepest point of the dive was just 31m, where the bridge and forward mast are splayed out to port over the sand.
I then followed the superstructure up to the main deck, past anti-aircraft guns, torpedo-launchers and storage, and into some easily accessible cabins in the superstructure itself and one deck down.
Why did this dive on the Prinz Eugen stand out from the crowd It’s not as if there was a once-in-a-lifetime series of encounters or discoveries. I dived the wreck more than 10 times, picking specific points to explore on each dive, and got to know it quite well.
But it was that second dive on the wreck that brought it all together. It was still all new to me, yet not so new that I didn’t know where to begin.
Looking back through my photos, it was the film I took on that second dive from which most of the best images came.

Galapagos / Pacific Ocean

Im going to stun you all with this choice, a dive that does not involve any wreckage!
Some of the shorter liveaboard itineraries for the Galapagos dont get as far north as Darwin Island and the arch that guards its east-most corner, or just rush there and back for a couple of dives.
Fortunately I was on a longer cruise, with time in the schedule to loiter at Darwin for a few days, arriving on the evening of day 4 of the trip and heading south again on the afternoon of day 8.
Darwin Arch is a natural rock arch standing on top of a reef about half a mile offshore from the cliffs of Darwin Island. With the main boat anchored up in a sheltered bay, dives around the arch were conducted from the RIB tender, or panga as the locals call it.
Galapagos marine life is as varied as it is because no fewer than seven ocean currents meet and mix there. In November the South Equatorial Current pushes out past Darwin Island, sweeping round the reef beneath Darwin Arch and across the Pacific. Next stop Australia, as our dive-guide warned us before diving.
It was my fourth dive of the first day at Darwin Arch that really stood out for me. For the first three dives I had been in scalloped hammerhead soup, going camera-shutter berserk.

THE DIVE STARTED AS USUAL, as we rolled in off the panga by the arch and descend to 12m at the edge of the drop-off to watch the endless shoal of sharks cruise by.
Scalloped hammerheads are notable for their shoaling, a mating ritual that occurs particularly at many island and sea-mount locations in the East Pacific.
The females, which grow up to 4m long while the males reach about two-thirds that size, manoeuvre for position in the middle of the shoal. The biggest of them dominate in the centre – a bit like a hen party. At night, the shoals disperse while the individuals hunt for food.
Hammerheads are among the most highly evolved sharks. The wide eye separation gives superior vision and makes the sense organs between the eyes that detect changes in pressure and electrical field more acute than those of other sharks. The head also acts as a wing, improving manoeuvrability.
I selectively shot off frames, biding my time, slowly chilling down as I moved as little as possible to save air and film.
Why the hell was I saving film among all those hammerheads On dive 3 one pair of divers had seen a whale shark – we hadn’t believed them until they showed us the video – upping the objective for the fourth dive now that we were all getting a little blasé about hammerheads.
So while there were plenty of good hammerhead subjects, I was hoping for the outside chance that a whale shark would appear again.
The actual arrival of one caught me by surprise. I was looking slightly upwards, expecting it to be close to the surface.
It was actually below me at 20m, the splotched pattern working perfectly as camouflage until it was almost within touching distance and halfway past.
It wasn’t one of the juvenile or adolescent whale sharks I have subsequently encountered elsewhere in the world, but a full-grown male which, at about 10m long, was as big as a bus.

I WAS WEARING MY SPEED-FINS and shot off above it, deliberately over-breathing and slowly gaining until I was just in front of its head.
I bent forward and zapped off a couple of frames upside-down, straight down its throat, then dodged to the side as its tail glided effortlessly past.
I could easily have fitted into its open mouth sideways on, but didn’t think about that at the time. One theory about the Jonah story in the Bible is that it was a whale shark that swallowed and then spat him out again. Although the world’s biggest fish, they are filter-feeders, living on plankton and small fish.
I had noticed the whale shark, but despite being right in front of its nose it had shown no sign of noticing or caring about me. I think some of its many remora were bigger than I was.
I got what I thought was my last shot of its remora-covered tail when it turned and swam back along the wall. I didn’t have the energy to give chase again, but managed a few more shots before running out of film.
I was tempted to write about another dive at the same location next morning, where we hung by the edge of the reef to watch just one whale shark after another.
One big-momma female was obviously pregnant and at least half as big again, about as big as whale sharks ever get.
But that fourth dive at Darwin Arch had hammerheads, my first-ever whale shark and the element of surprise.

Sussex / English Channel

Through the years I had made several dives on the wreck of HMS Moldavia, but it wasn’t until August 2008 that I made the dive that defined the wreck for me.
The 9505-ton Moldavia started its working life as a passenger liner on the regular P&O routes to the Far East and Australia. This happy life changed in 1915 when she was requisitioned and fitted with eight 6in guns to become an armed merchant cruiser and troopship.
In May 1918 the Moldavia was carrying US troops to France from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Steaming up the English Channel just before 5am on the 23rd in convoy, she was torpedoed by UB57.
She continued for 15 minutes before settling and sinking. The escorting destroyers managed to rescue all but 56 of the crew and passengers.
The Moldavia had been on my to-do list for DIVER Wreck Tour for ages. With a rebreather I can dive most wrecks for long enough to get all I need in one dive, but for a wreck of the size and complexity of the Moldavia, I knew it would take a few dives to put it all together, and ideally the help of a team to recce and run video surveys.
The opportunity to do this came from Andy Baker who, before emigrating to Canada, used to run a dive-tour business putting together UK diving packages.
The Moldavia was a wreck he himself wanted to dive, so he organised a few days with Steve Johnson on Channel Diver and a team of divers who not only wanted to spend three days diving the wreck, but were keen to help put a Wreck Tour together. Some had dived the Moldavia before; for others it was a new wreck.

AFTER A ROUGH JOURNEY out from Brighton, dive 1 had gone to plan. Steve had dropped the shot perfectly across the usual gun position, one gun forward at the stern. I had sketched an overview while other divers had followed their plans and also covered the stern, the hull and a run forward towards the bow.
We had reviewed notes, photographs and videos, filled in details, assembled a list of questions that needed answering and made plans for dive 2 – the one Ive chosen as one of my best ever.
Despite the rough sea, we arrived early. A pod of dolphins had greeted us above the wreck, riding the twin bows of the catamaran while Steve circled the boat, biding time until the tide was right for dropping the shot. It was a good omen.
The shot had landed within a few metres of its previous location, making orientation easy. I had an initial mission to head aft and get photographs of the docking telegraph and bath-tub, then head forward for the bow again, filling in details on the way.
From a slight zig-zag about the centre-line of the deck the visibility was good enough to see both the port side against the seabed at 51m and the starboard side, rising to 40m or so.
Some 90 minutes later I surfaced knowing that I had it “in the bag”.
There was still room for improvement, I hadn’t placed all the portside guns, but I knew that even if the third dive was blown out I would have a sketch good enough for a Wreck Tour.
More notes, photographs and video from the other divers helped fill in more details to provide what I was already feeling would be one of the best Tours.
Its that sense of achievement and relief at having completed a difficult task, I suspect it’s the same kind of adrenaline and endorphin high a mountaineer gets from scaling a previously unconquered peak, though I wouldn’t call this exploration in the same league.
After that, dive 3 was just the icing on the cake. The result was published as Wreck Tour 120 to mark 10 years of the series. Five years on and just short of another 60 Wreck Tours later, I still think HMS Moldavia is one of the best we have published, and the second dive of that trip defined it for me.