The Bahamas have provided the backdrop for hundreds of movies, many of them on or under the water. Prepare to get wet in pursuit of Bond and beyond
‘I was once scalped by a shark,’ says Stuart Cove, Nassau’s dive instructor to the stars. He has been a ‘shark wrangler’ for films since Thunderball was shot here in 1965; the scalping was due to a piece of food that accidentally landed on his head.
I shiver when I think of the ‘Hollywood Bowl’ – a sandy patch surrounded by coral, and now full of famous fish – that I have just floated over. The Bahamas, which consists of 25,000 cays and 700 islands, means ‘clear waters’. Gazing through my mask, there was no mistaking the triangular-finned creatures being fed beneath me. Back on the boat, I have a sharp thirst for a martini, shaken not stirred. Surely 007 hadn’t dealt with sharks stone cold sober?
The first ever underwater film was shot in the Bahamas in 1914, followed by 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which made Nassau the darling of Hollywood. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, along came Jaws, which was also filmed here. Splash, Flipper and Cocoon followed.
Stuart takes divers to the James Bond Wreck and ‘Thunderball Grotto’, the underwater coral garden where Sean Connery met Claudine Auger and swam off to a perfect beach under palm trees for some hanky-panky. After seeing that, who wouldn’t want to escape to these tropical islands?
Pierce Brosnan flew in with Salma Hayek in the jewellery heist After the Sunset, and stayed at the buzzing, Disney-style Atlantis resort on Paradise (formerly Hog) Island, near Nassau. James Bond has had a long-standing love affair with the Bahamas, with Casino Royale the sixth Bond film shot here.
The week before I was there, a bikinied model had posed in an underwater cage circled by sharks, so it’s hard for me to refuse being dunked a few metres down on a seahorse-shaped semi-submersible – a bright yellow scooter of the deep. As I buzz along at two knots in the Hollywood Bowl, brightly-coloured celebrity fish swim up to my face in its oxygenated bubble.
Staying at Atlantis is like being on a giant film set – everything is larger than life. The world’s largest open air aquarium has an 11-foot wide manta ray. It has the biggest casino in the Bahamas, and its high rollers can be found staying in the stupendous US$25,000-a-night Bridge Suite, following in the footsteps of ‘FBI agent’ Woody Harrelson in After the Sunset. Luxury tourists can also now quaff champagne and caviar in the recently-renovated Café Martinique on Paradise Island, of Thunderball fame.
Jessica Alba was here in 2004, feeding nurse sharks in her job as shark handler in Into the Blue. Filmed mostly underwater, it’s about divers who find themselves in trouble with a drug baron after stumbling on illegal cargo in a sunken DC3.
The next day finds me back on the water, skidding along at 40mph in a cream, leather-seated powerboat past billionaire fashion designer Peter Nygard’s Swiss Family Robinson-style home. But, having stopped at a beach to feed grapes to giant iguanas, it is soon back to adventure, Bond music blaring as we play chicken with another boat, criss-crossing in the wake behind it as we speed towards the Exuma Cays. Used as one of the locations for Pirates of the Caribbean 2: Dead Man’s Chest, this was once a hangout of real life pirates such as Calico Jack. On Shipwreck Cay, manta rays swooshed over our feet as we fed them in the shallows, but as the shark-baiting started, I stepped out of the water.
Lenny Kravitz’s mum comes from the sleepy Eleuthera, and Elle Macpherson has a house here, yet its 80 pink sand beaches are undiscovered by the masses, unlike nearby celebrity-magnet, Harbour Island.
The empty Twin Cove beach is the setting for Three
, a sexy psychological thriller about three people washed onto a desert island from a sunken yacht. Filmed in 2004, it’s most famous for Kelly Brook and Billy Zane getting together during filming - allegedly, in the room I am staying in, the lime-coloured Pistachio suite at the beachside boutique hotel Cocodimama
. I wondered if they tried the local conch – said to be an aphrodisiac – flambéed?
One film guaranteed not to bomb at the box office was Pirates of the Caribbean, which was in production when I arrived on Grand Bahama. Grabbing a pizza at a cheap and cheerful restaurant in Port Lucaya, I found myself sitting next to one of the crew. As others came in, I turned to say hello and almost faint. It couldn’t be… It wasn’t. Still, having dinner with Johnny Depp’s double certainly beats hanging around with sharks.