Where was the Moray eel from THE DEEP filmed?

The world's Biggest Underwater Set at Ireland Island South, Bermuda, in 1976

Almost all of the scenes inside the wreck of Goliath, including the eel, were filmed at the world's Biggest Underwater Set (BUS), a purpose built underwater soundstage at Ireland Island South, Bermuda. The location has no specific postal address but lies on top a hill once called "Hospital Island" behind a private home at 17 Malabar Rd, Sandys MA 01, Bermuda

There is a secret buried at the summit of Lagoon Road and Heydon Road. Most who pass by never notice the crumbling narrow driveway that disappears into the forest. The entry seems to go nowhere and the old stone wall unfurls all the way down to the Great Sound.

But this mysterious place has one of the most layered histories in all of Bermuda. Remnants of the past continue to reveal themselves including traces of a long gone naval hospital and THE DEEP underwater soundstage.

1976 - The Deep BUS on the hill formerly known as Hospital Island with The Lagoon far right. The contemporary Hospital Island is in the foreground bottom of picture (Source Sony Pictures).

THE DEEP moved to Bermuda in August 1976 as filming finished at the British Virgin Islands on the wreck of RMS Rhone. Production Designer Tony Masters suggested building an underwater set on land because filming all of the interior scenes at RMS Rhone would take too long. Diving on RMS Rhone at up to 80-feet deep, meant filming was limited to 2-3 dives per day of 30-40 minutes each, with around the same amount of time spent at decompression stops before surfacing (Box Office, 2 May 1977). Filming in a set only 30-feet deep meant that decompression stops would not be necessary and filming time was effectively unlimited.

Cast and crew at work on the bow section of Rhone
Diving on RMS Rhone at up to 80 feet deep plus decompression stops limited filming to less than 2 hours per day (Source American Cinematographer)

Masters and Art Director Jack Maxsted designed a world-first one million gallon seawater soundstage which was a giant pool measuring 108 feet long*, 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. An early plan appears in the memoir of Underwater Art Director Terry Ackland-Snow.

Plan of the The Deep BUS from Terry Ackland-Snow
Tony Masters' and Jack Maxsted's plan for the BUS (Source Terry Ackland-Snow The Art of Illusion)

Building on the summit at Lagoon and Heydon Roads meant the soundstage would be above sea-level which stopped brackish water rising upwards into the set. The pool was shaped like an oval dish with sloping sides to provide two key benefits; the tons of water would naturally reinforce the walls, and, the interior would give the illusion of visual infinity like the real ocean.

Construction of the BUS at Ireland Island South, Bermuda, 1976
(Source American Cinematographer March 1977)

Life began to imitate art when the cavity was lined with polyurethane. Early in Peter Benchley's novel David Sanders contemplates how the ocean filters out colour the deeper one dives.

"In sea water more than a few feet deep, blood is green. Water filters the light from above, seeming to consume the colors of the spectrum shade by shade. Red is the first to succumb, to disappear. Green lasts longer. But then, below 100 feet, green, too, fades away, leaving blue. In the twilight depths -180, 200 feet, and beyond-blood looks black."

Therefore sea water in the BUS with a maximum depth of 30 feet would not be the same colour as the water in scenes already filmed at 60 feet by RMS Rhone. Terry Ackland-Snow's solution was to lower a colour board, painted different shades of blue, 60 feet into the sea. The shade of blue which disappeared at 60 feet was chosen as the correct colour to paint the walls of the BUS.

Terry Ackland-Snow's ocean colour board
Terry Ackland Snow's ocean colour board (Source Terry Ackland-Snow The Art of Illusion)

Prefabricated sections of Goliath and Grifon were carefully lowered into position and the BUS was filled with one million gallons of fresh Atlantic sea water. 

Tony Master's BUS containing the interior of Goliath and Grifon (Source Skin Diver Magazine)

The BUS was a live marine environment filled with (depending on different reports) 1000 or 4000 friendly tropical fish one of which became so tame that it followed Jacqueline Bisset around the pool.

Jackie Bisset falls in love with a fish
(Source Daily News)

All of the dramatic interior wreck scenes were filmed here; siphoning ampules with the dredge, the exploding grenade, finding the Queen's treasure, and being attacked by the eel.

Percy the eel

Peter Benchley at the BUS with Percy the eel
Peter Benchley at the BUS with Percy the moray eel (Source Sony Pictures)

Some of the Grifon BUS scenes included prop versions of the real Tucker Treasure and other artefacts discovered by Teddy Tucker. These included a solid gold bar of over 40 ounces, a solid gold quoit (a circular slab of gold) weighing almost 2 pounds, a version of the Tucker Cross from the wreck of the San Pedro (1598**), and pottery jars from the wreck of the San Antonio (1621). 

Tucker Treasure cameos filmed inside the BUS
(Source Sony Pictures)

The real Tucker Treasure from Mendel Peterson's The Funnel of Gold
The real Tucker Treasure from Mendel Peterson's The Funnel of Gold

Some of the gold bars pictured above found by Teddy Tucker are in the collection of the National Museum of Bermuda.

The real pottery jars from Mendel Peterson's The Funnel of Gold
The real pottery jars from Mendel Peterson's The Funnel of Gold

THE DEEP delivered many technical firsts in film making, including the Petermar camera system (Al Giddings), underwater script continuity (Geri Murphy), and the world's Biggest Underwater Soundstage. But before the BUS existed the same hilltop had once been the site of the Royal Naval Hospital.

Royal Naval Hospital

Bermuda's Royal Naval Hospital once stood, like Goliath upon Grifon, at the exact spot where the BUS was excavated in 1976. If the hospital and the BUS had existed at the same time, the east end of the building would have sunk into the pool like David Sanders (Nick Nolte) tumbling into Grifon

Bermuda's Royal Naval Hospital in 1818
Bermuda's Royal Naval Hospital on opening day 22 June 1818. The 30 ton rooftop dome was soon removed because it caused the entire structure to shake in the South wind.  (Source Christopher Harvey)

The hospital's enduring history was recently discovered in a rare manuscript at the British National Archives. In 1878 surgeon Christopher Harvey compiled known facts about the hospital's impact on the lives and land of Bermuda. The entire grounds were once called 'Hospital Island' whose boundaries were the bridges at the north and south ends of The Lagoon (formerly called the Mast Pond), and the pre-1949 Grey's Bridge (or Gray's) linking Ireland Island with Boaz Island, the remnants of which can still be seen

Bermuda's Hospital Island in 1884
Map of Hospital Island added to Harvey's manuscript in 1884. X marks the entry at Lagoon Road and Heydon Road. The building marked '184' on the summit is the main hospital built 1818 and where the BUS was built in 1976 (Source History of Bermuda Hospital 1794-1878 The National Archives UK)

The main building on the summit was eventually surrounded by a high fence:

"The necessity for this procedure arose from the fact that many irregularities occurred there; it was open to, and used by the public, spiritious liquors, were frequently smuggled into the Hospital in this way and in consequence of the ease with which it could be done many immoralities occurred."

In 1848, a woodcut of Ireland Island showed the hospital towering high above the prison hulk HMS Tenedos.

Royal Naval Hospital 1848
Royal Naval Hospital 1848 (Source Illustrated London News 29 July 1848)

Harvey's invaluable "nosological tables" detailing patient numbers and their ailments, including the yellow fever epidemics, resemble a proto-database (yes, a database in 1878!) that potentially provide a rich source of data for today's researchers. 

Many of the buildings and original walkways were visible in 1940, including the main path across the hillside from the corner of Lagoon Road and Heydon Road, which exits at the Crawl (or Crawle) by the south end of The Lagoon.

Bermuda's Hospital Island in 1940
 marks the entry at Lagoon Road and Heydon Road in 1940 (Source Bermuda Government via Douglas De Couto).

The hospital, which admitted patients 1818-1957, was demolished in 1972, and the debris became landfill for Little Watford Bridge. Four years later, during a break in filming, photographer Santi Visalli captured Jacqueline Bisset as she rode over the bridge heading toward Watford Island. 

Jacqueline Bisset passes Little Watford Bridge during filming in 1976
5 November 1976 - Riding by Little Watford Bridge Jacqueline Bisset passes what is now the New Woody's Sports Bar and Restaurant (Photo Santi Visalli).

By 1973, the hill resembled what producer Peter Guber described as "a parched, rocky, undistinguished hill of coral overlooking the ocean, reachable only up a torturously steep and narrow pebble-strewn road". 

Bermuda's Royal Naval Hospital 1973
1973 - The 154 year old hospital is gone and ready for THE DEEP BUS. (Top) X marks the entry at Lagoon Road and Heydon Road (Source Bermuda Government via Douglas De Couto).

Summit of former Royal Naval Hospital site Bermuda 1973

The Deep BUS site at Hospital Island 1976
 (Source Sony Pictures)

But when the BUS was filled for the first time the water mysteriously began to disappear at a rate of 200,000 gallons per day. An investigation revealed the stanchion pipes, that fixed the Goliath and Grifon sets to the pool bottom, had been driven past the polyurethane lining causing water to leak into the coral bedrock below. The problem was largely resolved by plugging most of the open pipes and this slowed the water loss to a manageable level.

When filming ended there were reports that the BUS could be sold to a marine park but as the years went by the pool was emptied, the excavation filled in, and the forest slowly returned. 

The Deep BUS site on Hospital Island 23 August 2003
Cedar, sage, oleander, cover the summit in 2003 (Source Google Earth)

But the ghost of the BUS lives on ... 

In the early 21st century, as satellite imagery became publicly available, it was possible to see the distinct oval shape of the BUS rising above the the forest.

The Deep BUS re-emerges in the forest 9 July 2006

The BUS site closeup 9 July 2006
The BUS's distinct oval shape re-emerges in the forest 9 July 2006 (Source Google Earth)

Sometime between 2007-2011 a building was constructed half over the former BUS excavation. Even though the trees visible in 2006 were cleared the new plant growth still followed the shape of the BUS.

Grass growth around the BUS site 12 September 2018

The BUS site closeup 12 September 2018
The distinctly oval former BUS site beneath a 21st century building at 'Hospital Island' (Source Google Earth).

For anyone visiting the site now, there is at least the feint outline of the BUS, to show where scenes were filmed that once thrilled audiences around the world.

* Different sources report different dimensions. The plan published by Terry Ackland-Snow, in his memoir The Art of Illusion, shows 108 feet long, 80 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. June 1977 American Cinematographer quoted Tony Masters 130 feet long, 85 feet wide, and 30 feet deep. Producer Peter Guber's running diary of the production, Inside the Deep, has 120 feet in diameter and 30 feet deep. 

** Different sources date the wreck of the San Pedro between 1595 -1598. In a 2010 interview Teddy Tucker, who discovered the wreck in 1951, said it sank in 1598.

Were you there when THE DEEP was being filmed? Share your story of the THE DEEP filming locations in the comments below.



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