Animals, Bahamas, Travel

Follow in the Footsteps of 007

So you’ve seen the film and fancy some of the old 007 magic?

Why not make it your mission to visit Nassau in the Bahamas, the backdrop for several Bond films.

By Julie Conway

Sitting in the swimming pool a rather dashing man sips a cocktail, a single eyebrow raised, as he tells a story to the bevy of beautiful bikini clad women around him who giggle simultaneously.

Palm trees surround the pool and just a few hundred yards away on the private beach yet more beauties frolic in the emerald coloured sea.

If this sounds like a scene from a James Bond film, it almost could be. For this is the British Colonial Hilton in Nassau, New Providence Island where scenes from Thunderball and Never Say Never Again were filmed.

Sadly the beauties are not Bond girls but British Airways air hostesses based in Gatwick, but the man doesn’t seem to care for they look the part.

In the lush tropical gardens men stroll about in smoking jackets puffing thoughtfully on Havana cigars. They must be terribly hot but one must look right.

For James Bond fans this is a paradise, it feels like Bond himself could appear at any moment sipping a vodka martini.

If the hotel seems slightly different from the films it is because millions of dollars have been spent over the years on refurbishment.

But none of the Old World charm and character has been lost; it has merely become even more luxurious.

The hotel’s distinctive pale yellow façade dominates the high street. If you can drag yourself away from the privileged splendour of the hotel the high street offers duty free shopping to purchase that essential Rolex.

But there’s no time for shopping.  My mission is to hook up with my contact, Michelle Cove the beautiful underwater stuntwoman who has doubled for Bond girls in daredevil scenes.

She greets me on the wooden dock of the dive centre she runs with her husband Stuart, who made his reputation doing underwater stunts for Bond films.

Michelle Cove

Michelle Cove

Just along the coast is the exclusive private community of Lyford Cay where Sean Connery himself has a home.

Looking every bit the Bond girl, Michelle with her shiny long dark hair, jumps onto a boat and invites me to dive at some of the underwater sets used in the Bond films Thunderball and Never Say Never Again.

As we bounce over a turquoise and emerald sea Michelle talks about her most dangerous stunt as a body double for Denise Richards in The World Is Not Enough.

‘I got blasted out of a submarine through a torpedo tube and came shooting up through the water,’ Michelle says.

‘It was really dangerous as we were working at 50ft. I had to ascend at great speed with no air with Gavin McKinney who doubled for Bond.

‘We were twirling as we went up, it was really disorientating. But we had to remember to breath out slowly all the way up to make sure we didn’t get any air bubbles in our lungs.

‘It took 60 takes to get the scene right. That’s definitely the most dangerous thing I’ve ever done,’ she says.

Her husband, Stuart, is equally daring. He made his name as a shark wrangler in For Your Eyes Only. A 13ft Tiger Shark (one of the few species of man-eating sharks) had to be caught for a scene and the idea was that the shark would charge out of the boat after Bond. To make the shark stay where they wanted it to Stuart had to hold it still. This stops the oxygen flowing through and makes it sleepy. However if you rock it back and forth the shark wakes up and charges out. The shark they caught struggled violently and after one take it escaped. Stuart swam after it, caught it and somehow managed to bring it back single-handedly. The crew were so impressed his reputation was set from then on.

In 1983 he helped on another Bond film Never Say Never Again starring Sean Connery and Kim Bassinger. Both actors were certified as divers by the Coves for the filming.

In one scene a Tiger Shark was needed to go inside the wreck. The Tiger they caught was so strong it bashed Stuart’s head constantly against the roof of the wreck so he used a motorbike helmet underwater to stop the bruising.

Michelle stops the boat and looks down into the sea.

‘Ahhh there it is. Are you ready?’ she says.

After all that talk of sharks I’m decidedly reticent as I stare down into the sea. But Michelle is raring to go.

We get our tanks on and jump in.  A barracuda swims straight towards us. Michelle beckons me forward and it passes right by swimming through the brain coral and waving sea anemone fronds. We kick down to the Vulcan bomber that crashed into the sea in Thunderball.

The script called for a jet fighter armed with nuclear missiles to be hijacked and hidden on the sea floor. The ‘fighter’ was made of steel pipes and fibreglass. Only the frame remains and it’s now encrusted with coral. We swim around it through shoals of brilliantly coloured fish.

SharkNassau

For our second dive Michelle takes me to the Tears of Allah wreck used in Never Say Never Again.

The sea is so clear we can see the wreck from the boat.  As we swim down a three foot grouper swims out of a hole.  I decide to stay outside the 100ft freighter in case anything larger has taken up residence.

As we start our ascent a shark glides smoothly by in the distance. Michelle points towards it excitedly. It’s beautiful, but I’m relieved that our air gauge show’s it’s time to go up.

‘You must come on our shark dive this afternoon,’ Michelle says enthusiastically as soon as we surface.

For those who are serious about getting a full James Bond experience this is a must. The divers first have a free swim with the 600-800lb Silky Sharks and occasional Hammerhead and then the real treat.

It’s feeding time and a feeder with one arm clad in iron chain mail holds a box of frozen white bait. He kicks it open with his fin and anything from 40 to 200 sharks glide in and attack the bait. The divers sit around in a circle just a few feet away to watch the spectacle.

As soon as the food is finished the sharks just leave to go about their business. But even though there have been no injuries to divers the thought of an eating machine the length of a minivan heading towards my face mask disturbs me somewhat so even though the photographer delights in the dive I decide to stay safety on shore with my limbs intact.

For me sipping a vodka martini on the dock looking out at the emerald sea completes my James Bond experience.

For details on diving contact Stuart Cove at www.stuartcove.com

British Colonial Hilton in Nassau 

 

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