Bimini & Andros Report (Jan.-Feb. 2009)
By Stan Prachniak
Exploration and adventure have long been interests of mine, but I never in a million years would have thought my first real experience in this field would take place searching for evidence of the lost city of Atlantis and attempting to find identification numbers of downed planes in the Bermuda Triangle. For several years now I have been fascinated by the information that Drs. Greg and Lora Little have shared with me about discoveries they have made and the adventures that have led them to such discoveries. Just a few short months ago, Greg and Lora expressed to me that they would like for me to join them on at least one of these trips. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this adventure.
The days leading up to the departure of this trip seemed longer than usual. I couldn’t stop thinking about what we were going to do and see. On top of the excitement of seeing first-hand what Greg and Lora had been doing for so many years was the added bonus that the History Channel was going to be traveling with us to film two documentaries for an upcoming series called “Mystery Quest.”
It was a Friday afternoon when Greg and Lora picked up Kim and me and our journey began. For the next day and a half we would be driving to Florida with boat in-tow. The drive South was filled with conversations and many questions, which made the time pass quickly. Sunday morning, we pulled into the marina at Key Biscayne where we joined Krista, our captain. Once the boat was off of the trailer, loaded and fully fueled, we followed the channel markers straight to the Atlantic Ocean.
We heard that the crossing of the Gulf Stream was going to be rough if the weather wasn’t perfect, so we checked the forecast regularly only to find that it was changing by the hour. When we set out, the seas were somewhat calm at 2-3 feet and the wind was coming out of the Northeast at about 6-8 mph. The ride out of the channel was very smooth, with the exception of the wakes from other boats passing by. Once we were out of the channel and a good distance away from land, the wind kicked it up a notch and the waters were pretty choppy, but still only about 4-5 feet. What this meant was that we would have to go a little slower and we would reach Bimini about an hour to an hour and a half later than expected, no big deal. About two hours into the trip, I saw what looked like an island on the horizon. Having only been out to sea a couple of times, I had to laugh to (or at) myself when I discovered that what I was seeing was a huge freighter. Krista slowed our speed dramatically and turned the boat about 45 degrees to the port side as we approached the area where the ship was. Kim immediately asked what was going on and Krista informed us that we were about to hit the wake of the freighter. Just as she finished speaking, the boat began to rock as we were tossed around by the 6 foot wakes of the ship. Those wakes would be the roughest seas we would encounter on our journey to Bimini. As soon as we docked at the Seacrest, where we would be staying for the first part of our trip, we were greeted by Captain Pat and he arranged for us to clear customs. Once we cleared customs we were able to meet Ryan, Brian and Jay, the production crew with the History Channel, and we immediately got to work. The sun was setting fast and there were a couple of shots that the guys wanted to get before dark, so we headed to a shipwreck that was less than a mile from the hotel. The combination of the rust on the ship and the orange in the sky made for what should be a great introductory shot. While we were at the wreck we met David Ulloa, the underwater videographer that would be with us for the first part of the trip. After we had finished filming, we headed to the room to get cleaned up and then to Captain Bob’s restaurant to grab a bite to eat. We quickly realized at the restaurant that we were on “island time”, which meant that it was going to take a while before we would be eating. The wait turned out to be good for us, because we had the opportunity to get acquainted with the crew that would be spending a lot of time with us over the next week. Since I have such a strong interest in videography and cinematography, I had a million questions for everyone on the crew. The conversations carried us through the end of the meal. Then it was time for bed, as we would have a long day ahead of us the next day.
The first full day of filming was an interesting experience to say the least. We had a two-hour ride to reach our first destination of the week and space on the boat was limited. Once we reached the spot and anchored, things became a bit hectic. Everyone was busy trying to do their job(s), but at the same time trying to stay out of the way of others doing their job(s). Once the divers were in the water, things calmed down. We handed Greg the “drop camera” after he was in the water. This is a camera that is hooked into an LCD screen on the boat so that Greg can let the people topside get a look at what he is seeing, as well as record footage to possibly be used later. As Greg dove, with camera in hand, we were able to see for the first time that we were anchored above a downed plane. Several minutes later, Krista surfaced with a piece of the propeller in her hands. This piece of evidence could help narrow the possibilities as to what type of plane this is. In addition to the prop, we were also able to retrieve a piece of landing gear that could also help in discovering the identity of the craft. Unfortunately, the indisputable evidence we were hoping to find, the N number that is assigned to planes like a license plate is to cars, was not found. On the way back we made a few quick stops at some spots we had marked on the way out in the morning. A quick spot-check revealed that these locations were natural coral formations with no evidence of any man-made objects contributing to their existence. As the sun was setting we pulled into the dock and tied up, as would be the case for most of the rest of the nights on this trip.
The next morning began much like the previous morning. We prepared the boat for a full day on the water. Today would be a bit different though; we would be going to the Bimini Road to get some footage for the Atlantis episode. The trip to this location was only about fifteen minutes and I was looking forward to getting there because I was going to snorkel for only the second time in my life. We arrived at the Bimini Road and the divers were quickly into the water and swimming over the stone formations. I have spoken to Greg about the Bimini Road on several different occasions and was eager to get into the water. Kim and I prepared to enter the water, but my dive mask broke as I was slipping it over my head, so it looked like we were going to have to take turns using her mask. I just couldn’t stand to wait much longer, so I entered “McGyver” mode and fixed my mask with a zip tie and I was on my way. Once I was in the water and knew that my mask was not leaking, I began swimming toward the area where Greg, Lora, Krista and David were diving because I figured that was where the formations were. However, as I focused on what was below me, I realized that I was already snorkeling over the formation and I began to pay closer attention to what was beneath me. I had seen images of this formation but they just don’t do this site justice. The stones found in this formation were massive and looked to be almost perfectly squared at the edges, most likely not formed by Mother Nature. The water was crystal clear, so as I neared the area where the others were it was easy for me to see what they were up to. The first thing that I saw was David completely upside-down filming Greg and Krista lifting what appeared to be a wedge stone, one of the pieces of evidence that we were looking for. The existence of wedge stones at this site supports the belief of our team that Bimini Road is man-made, not a natural formation. After leaving the Bimini Road, we headed to another interesting site that contains several marble structures in about 30 feet of water. Greg and Lora had spoken to Kim and me about this site before, so we knew the story behind it. Apparently, the marble formations were cargo on a ship that wrecked in this area many years ago. Even though I knew that this wasn’t Atlantis or even evidence to the existence of Atlantis, I was still very intrigued by it and was looking forward to getting in the water to check it out. Unfortunately the waters were a little too rough for a novice like me to snorkel without fear of being pulled away from the boat by the current. The others dove on this site and got some great video footage of the structures that I am sure will find their way into the documentary. We arrived back at the hotel earlier than we had the previous nights, which gave me the opportunity to run down to the shipwreck on the shore and get some pictures while the sun was setting.
The third day would be our final full day in Bimini and it was used to get footage for both the Bermuda Triangle episode and the Atlantis episode of the show. The first location that we headed to was the most dangerous and most intriguing on the list. This location contains what looks to be building structures at a depth of 90 feet, about 20 feet above what could have been the shoreline during the existence of Atlantis. The biggest danger at this location is that it sits just yards away from the Gulf Stream and the current below the surface is very strong. Once we had located the site using side-scan sonar, we marked it with a buoy and waited for the support boat to arrive. After some discussion between the captains of the two boats and the divers, it was decided that we would forgo any exploration of this site on this trip due to the danger involved with the high winds and inability to anchor over the site. With the decision set, we made our way over to option number two, a plane crash site roughly 20 minutes from our hotel. This plane is easily spotted, as its landing gear and wheel are sticking straight up, about 6 feet out of the water. Once again we would try to locate the N-number or some distinct parts that would help to identify this aircraft. The water at this site is only about 3-4 feet deep, but in order to see anything without clouding the water we had to snorkel. After speaking with Greg about the debris field, I had a good idea of where I might be able to locate some of the wreckage. I swam in a line going away from the landing gear, and what would have been the fuselage, toward another area of wreckage but didn’t find anything. I then moved toward the nose of the aircraft where I found many different pieces, one of which we brought aboard to inspect. I was pretty excited that I had found something worthy of a second look and quickly resumed searching. I stayed in the water for another ten to fifteen minutes with no luck finding anything substantial and then we headed back in. This night would be an early one because we were leaving for Andros in the morning.
The alarm clock rang at 6 o’clock in the morning and we gathered our things and opened the door. It was at that moment we realized that there was a chance we wouldn’t be leaving that day. There were ominous clouds hanging on the horizon and the winds were gusting at 15-20 mph. There was really no need in us taking our bags downstairs at this point, so we just headed down for breakfast and got the scoop from Greg and Lora. The report was changing almost by the minute and it really depended on where the information was coming from. The trusted report was that they skies would clear in the next hour and that there would be no storm. We gathered our things and packed the boat for the 4-hour trip to Morgan’s Bluff where we would meet up with the production crew, who would be flying to Andros with their equipment. Before we shoved off, Greg let Kim know that there was an extra seat on the plane with the crew if she wanted to take it. At first she opted not to, but changed her mind shortly after, which turned out to be a wise decision. The first hour of the trip was a bit uncomfortable with the winds and the rough seas pounding the boat, but once the skies cleared and the seas and winds calmed, I leaned back and took a nap. We stopped about half-way to eat lunch and then continued on our way. As we approached Morgan’s Bluff, the weather began to turn and we were greeted with some heavy showers, high winds and choppy seas. We tried to safely navigate through shallow water and occasional reefs. Once we had safely made it to Morgan’s Bluff and tied up, the rain stopped, but for Greg and me the adventure was just beginning. The others would accompany the film crew as they explored some plane crashes that were located on the island. We still had another 3-4 hours to go- we were only halfway to the final destination of Fresh Creek. Outside of the reef is where we quickly learned we needed to be because being inside the reef was like trying to navigate our way through a maze. Getting outside of the reef seemed easy enough, but we found that the reefs extended up to 8-10 miles from the shoreline. We did finally reach a safe distance and began taking a beating in the 6-8 foot seas in what is known as the “Tongue of the Ocean”. The sun was setting fast and we still had a ways to go, so we began preparing for what we would need to do in order to safely reach the inlet at Fresh Creek which is surrounded by reefs and is not marked well with channel markers, especially at night. We would navigate using both GPS and charts and would have to begin our turn toward Fresh Creek at the right time, keeping a close eye out for reefs because we would be far away from the channel markers when we turned. As we got closer to the turning point we noticed that we could not see any lights where we were supposed to turn, but that further ahead was a well-marked channel with red and green lights every mile or so all the way in. Needless to say, we continued to this channel because we knew that we had a better chance of avoiding reef and heading north to Fresh Creek once we got closer to shore. Once we made it in and began to head North, someone came over the radio checking on us and we let them know that we would be in shortly. Our trip began at 9 o’clock that morning and ended at almost 8 o’clock that night. We were exhausted.
The next morning we got fuel, which was very entertaining. The pumps at the marina weren’t working so the attendant had to drive across the bridge to fill two 60 gallon drums with gas that would then be siphoned into the boat. While we were fueling up, Greg asked some of the locals if they knew of any plane wrecks in the area and they quickly told him of one that was just a short ride away. After we were fueled up, we followed the directions to where we could find the crash site, but could not find anything. The water depth in spots was only 1 foot, so we carefully made our way back to the dock where we asked the dock master if he would mind taking us to the site. He agreed and we were on our way through the shallow waters that only a local would know how to navigate. It was a good thing that we asked him to come with us because we would have never found that plane on our own. We were looking for something visible, but the aircraft was completely submerged in about 10-12 feet of water. After circling the area for a few minutes, the sun shined through the water and we could see the tail of the plane, then the wings and the fuselage. This aircraft was completely intact. The plane is thought to have crashed about 8 years ago, but the stories from the locals are a bit conflicting. The one thing that they agree on though, is that it must have been a drug-running plane (a common belief of the locals about any downed plane in the islands). Lora took some great still photos of the wreck while snorkeling, but again we were unable to find an N-number to positively identify this craft. The tide had changed and we had to get out of that end of the creek before we were stranded in water that was too shallow to navigate. That would be all the excitement that we would be able to experience while in Andros, due to weather. The winds and seas were just too rough for us to reach the areas that we planned on going to and returning safely before dark.
As all good things must come to an end, our trip was now over and we were flying back home to join the real world and get back to work. The only thing that I could think about on the way home was how much I wanted to go back and explore some of the other areas that we were unable to make it to on this trip. Hopefully this was just the first of many exploratory adventures that I will embark on in my lifetime, and I can’t thank Greg and Lora enough for providing me with the opportunity to bring one of my childhood dreams to life.