Diving and Filming on the USS Arizona Memorial

Our first morning on site at the Memorial, we had some hiccups with the 3D camera, so while Brett was working out the kinks with the camera crew, Dan and I did our first dive on the site. Wearing full-face OTS Guardian masks with communication units, we descended into the murky water to the amazement of the Memorial’s visitors (diving at the site is strictly limited to park maintenance and research, and the occasional film crew). We headed towards the port side of the stern, and just as I was thinking we would never find it in the murk, it appeared out of the gloomy waters of the harbor like an apparition. I was told that the ship was covered in life, but I was still surprised to see the abundance of color that greeted me. Granted, much of it was peeking out from a thick blanket of silty sediment (we were in a harbor after all), but clearly life had reclaimed this relic of war and death. Sponges, corals, worms, sea cucumbers; all these filter and sediment feeding organisms seemed to be thriving here. I later learned from Scott Pawlowski (Chief of Cultural and Natural Resources) that a large number of the benthic organisms growing on the wreck are in fact not native to Hawaii, but vestiges from the days when Pearl Harbor was home to the Pacific Fleet during the war and ballast water was released in harbors without regulation, transporting life across the ocean. In essence, these non-native species paint a picture of the journey of the Pacific Fleet during wartime.

Being able to dive Arizona with Dan was a real privilege. He continuously narrated as we circumnavigated the site. Dan was examining how the condition of the wreck has changed over time, and I was exploring the eerie ship for the first time with Dan’s voice explaining the features coming in and out of view in front of me in the thick, dark water. As we swam along the hull, Dan showed me the portholes through which the SRC sent remotely operated vehicles to document the interior of the ship in the past. We swam along the deck and saw some exposed areas of the original teak decking, scattered bottles and jars, the catapult base, and open hatches. We swam under the Memorial, which is over the ship’s galley, and then along the starboard hull up to the bow area, which was shattered by an explosion to the forward munitions compartment, which was the cause of the ship’s sinking. We approached the No. 1 turret from the front, with its three guns pointing directly at us (Dan, along with Larry Murphy, discovered in 1983 that they had not been salvaged, as was originally thought). The visibility was at least good enough to see all three guns at once, but as soon as we descended down the hull along the port bow the water clouded up again.

Unfortunately, my ears were not as enthusiastic about diving the USS Arizona as I was, and I had to take two days off for some Eustachian tube TLC. Instead I supported the crew topside, tending to the fiber optic cable and hauling gear (my new favorite workout). The 3D camera, while enormous, is really just the optics, power, and lights. The actual video recording takes place topside, via live feed through fiber optic cable. The cameraman is tethered to the surface by a live link that needs to remain untangled. Thus, fiber wrangling is an important part of the process, both topside and underwater. Koza is a fiber-wrangler extraordinaire, and I tried to maintain the same level of order topside, with varied levels of success!

Shooting underwater was definitely more challenging then shooting topside, especially in Pearl Harbor. The visibility was, well…awful, which didn’t help. Nevertheless, we managed to get some good shots. Maryann and Lou watched the topside monitors closely to direct Brett while he handled the camera underwater. Often the visibility was so bad that Brett couldn’t even see clearly what was in front of the camera lenses (a good few feet from his face); he had to film based solely on what he saw through the small monitor mounted to the camera and direction from Maryann and Lou as they watched on their monitors. Talk about a challenge! It was quite the production.

When I arrived in Honolulu, Brett swapped me the D100 underwater system I had been using for a D700 kit. I didn’t have too much time to use it in Pearl Harbor, but I got in a few shots throughout the week. The kit is bigger and has a different trim in the water so it took some getting used to, but I am loving the process of learning how to use it!

When the week was done, we were faced with the absolutely epic task of packing everything up and arranging for transportation for every piece of equipment for the next stop: Kona, Woods Hole, or Denver. We shipped about 20 cases of gear back to the mainland, and then packed up what turned into 31 cases and bags of gear to take to Kona for our next stop!

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