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Diving Days: No Vast Political Importance
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The Atlantic waters off Snead’s Ferry in North Carolina are shallow, maybe 125 feet to the continental shelf. Several wrecks lie on the bottom, mostly in advanced stages of disintegration, sunk by U-boats in the early years of the war. I know them well as for years I was a member of Capital Divers, out of DC, of which there is now no trace on the web. We often rented boats and dived the remains.

Cap Divers was a cowboy outfit. The members were engineers, bureaucrats from State, employees of Beltway Bandit operations like CACI, maybe a third women, but all were experienced divers and possessed of what might be called strong personalities. They didn’t follow rules, such as never dive in waves over two feet high. Yo pays yo money and takes yo chances. But it was a hoot.

With five-foot waves many miles out out to sea we would find ourselves going back aboard in bright blue water with the dive ladder on the stern of the boat rising high and then slicing back down like a guillotine. The trick was to wait until it was at its low, grab the highest rung you could, put your fins quickly below, and hold on as the stern rose. When it halted at its highest point, you grabbed a higher run and moved up, to hold on for dear life as it came down.

Sometimes we rented a live-aboard for a week–see below–and there would be uproarious merriment in the bar after chow. The women were hardy types, delicate flowers not being much for night diving on deep canyons. There was not a single infuriated sociology major among them airing her grievances. The guys accepted them completely because they were completely good divers. You could kid around with them. After most of Washington, it was a whole different take on the fair sex.

The leader was Dale Fox, a big former Navy diver who liked practical jokes. Such as: About once a year we rented one of those nice specialized dive boats, as for example the Belize Aggressor, for a week. On one such trip Dale, a NAUI instructor, gave everybody a PADI Basic temporary card, the kind new divers get before the plastic card arrives. It means your total experience is diving in a swimming pool at a dive shop.

Belize Aggressor. A serviceable substitute for heaven. This may be a later version than the one I knew, which I heard sank. The crew filled tanks with the on-board fast compressor, you jumped in, came back ate, geared up….
Belize Aggressor. A serviceable substitute for heaven. This may be a later version than the one I knew, which I heard sank. The crew filled tanks with the on-board fast compressor, you jumped in, came back ate, geared up….

As the boat put out to sea the crew checked out everyone’s diving credentials, as required by law. Their faces turned pale green. You could hear their thoughts: “Oh God. These loons don’t remotely belong on an open-ocean dive boat. They’ll drown. Law suits. Poverty. Maybe jail time. Oh god, oh God.” Then they noticed that the piled dive gear had the marks of use since the Crimean War. They were so releaved that they didn’t kill us.

It is a curious fact, or was with Cap Divers, that you get bored near the surface. The fish are pretty but after a couple of days the deep walls and dark water below begin to pull. I forget where we were but it was one of those below-100 walls probably in the Caribbean, dark, the light purple-blue and below, black for maybe thousands of feet. We were buddied up and in a line, two by two, in the funny privacy of a dive. No sound but sssssssss-wubbawubbawubba of air flowing in and out of your reg, maybe that explosive high-pitched clicking of shrimp that you couldn’t localize because sound travels too fast under water.

The wall was a nightmare of grey twisted cords, branched growths, cups of barrel sponges, ugly. This because deep water filters out everything but blue light. But where our dive lights hit them they burst into wild reds and oranges and greens, lovely, garish, otherworldly.

And then, I will never forget, three big eagle rays, flying in formation, flapped past us and disappeared into the murk. What they thought we were, I do not know, but they belonged where they were, and we didn’t, and they had more important things in mind than bubbly intruders.

It was aboard the Aggressor that one year we went to the Blue Hole of Belize, famous among divers. The ocean there was land in geologically remote time, a cave system formed, then caved in leaving the hole, and the entire thing sank beneath the waves. When you dive it you go down and down and down along sheer rock walls until at about 130 the walls open out into the ancient cave system and you see stalactites that it would take five people to encircle

I went a bit further down in the murk to look but stopped at 140 because below that on air things get iffy and your dive computer squeaks in alarm and you can get bent. It was strange to see maybe twenty people from inside the DC Beltway ssss-wubbling around in what may have been the last place short of Alpha Centaurs where they–we–had any business being. I think we all felt it.

The U352, a German submarine, early Forties. These men, or parts of them, are probably still aboard.
The U352, a German submarine, early Forties. These men, or parts of them, are probably still aboard.

The U352 made the mistake in 1942 of being caught by the Coast Guard cutter Icarus, not a good plan if you are a U-boat. She went down with over thirty of her crew aboard. They could have made an easy ascent with scuba gear, but it hadn’t been invented, so they drowned in darkness and lay undisturbed for decades.

The U-352. She crumbles now.
The U-352. She crumbles now.

On my first dive on her it was a sunny day and your eyes adjust on the way down so it isn’t as dark as the photos make it seem. The water was clear and blue and the hull was visible from considerably above. The water is cool at depth and there was no sound but one’s breathing. It was eerie to float slowly down onto the conning tower and sit, three-foot amberjacks circling curiously.

I floated off and exhaled to drift down and lie on my back in the sand and watch my bubbles rising, wobbling, breaking into new bubbles as they expanded in decreasing pressure. If memory serves, my depth gauge said 115 feet. The last time I saw her she was considerably more decayed. Soon she will be gone. Sic transit….

(Republished from Fred on Everything by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Ideology 
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  1. Well done, sir.

    • Agree: Logan
  2. I enjoyed this, Fred. A little break from the struggle and angst.

    Anything deeper than 100′ gave me the spooks. Lying on your back @ 115 and staring up sounds pretty hypnotic. I imagine a guy could just sort of drift off doing that.

    One Saturday morning I was woken up by knocking on my front door. Groggily I got up to see what was up. Oh, danm! I had forgotten. A girlfriend had scheduled a drift dive for us on board a dive boat as a birthday present for me. And I’d been out drinking till closing time the night before. I was still reeling on just 3 hours sleep or so. I’d completely forgotten. But I threw my stuff together (life was simpler then) and we boogied and made the boat.

    We were doing a drift in a pretty strong current. Down at 70′ or so the current along this island was like a river. I began doing somersaults and pikes, slow motion dives off the high dive. It was euphoria inducing; so much fun I wanted her to share the experience so I got her attention and demonstrated, “like this, try it!”.

    A while later I felt a tug on my arm. I came out of my blissful reverie to see her alarmed face in her mask. She pointed down at her depth gauge, 110′. The current wasn’t just running parallel to shore, it was headed down to the abyss. Had it not been for her I could have easily somersaulted my way to oblivion. The combination of alcohol still in my system and the dreamlike-weightlessness had almost literally carried me off.

    To this day, I wonder if victims of nitrogen narcosis have a moment’s panicked agony when they look down at their tank gauges and read zero or do they simply drift off into outer space so high that they never realize what happened to them.

    As a general rule, it wasn’t my habit to dive hungover. I always played by the rules, but the one time I didn’t…. That I’m alive today, I owe to her.

    • Replies: @Jim Christian
  3. Great article, Fred. I don’t know a whole lot about diving (only from books and some friends). I don’t think I have the time, but you make me want to go sometime.

    Anyway, the diving folks sound a lot like skydivers, a fun crowd. I hope you’re not too far away from a good place to do some diving there in Ole Mexico.

  4. @ThreeCranes

    That I’m alive today, I owe to her.

    Way to go, Lathario! So did you marry her, or did she discover through your diving habits that you’re a bit dodgy for marriage? Hey, I ain’t judging, you have to hack it, right?

    • Replies: @ThreeCranes
  5. @Jim Christian

    When I was eleven or so I stepped into a hole in a Big River. Even though I was a good swimmer, I gulped in a mouthful of water as I sank and couldn’t catch my breath. The daughter of the man who’d taken us boating (my little sister’s good friend) reached down and brought me up to the surface and held me up long enough for me to clear my airway. She too literally saved my life. So there’s this thing in my life with women helping me in trouble in the water.

    Later in life I returned the favor when I swam a drowning woman a quarter mile back to shore when her lungs couldn’t function due to edema.

    Sometimes a person just needs a little bit of support at a timely moment, then the crisis is past. We’re never far from death.

  6. Jake says:

    This most certainly is not important, nor is it close to controversial. Interesting? if you are looking for diversion, perhaps. But this type of ‘interesting’ diversion can be found in many places.

    • Replies: @Jim Christian
  7. @ThreeCranes

    We’re never far from death.

    I suppose. But then, why do I feel so alive at speed on my motorcycle, when jumping out of a plane, or when I was back dancing on flight decks? We fellas are a curious lot, no?

    • Replies: @ThreeCranes
  8. @Jim Christian

    “why do I feel so alive at speed…?”

    Because then you are flirting with death. And even though you know that she is treacherous you like dancing with her because she admires your moves. She is the only one present when you pull off a really daring stunt. No one but you and she feels the “swoop” when you’re shaving close at high speed. She too gets a kick out of your daring when you take her for a ride. That’s why she loves you. You entertain her. Less adventurous men she finds boring.

    Until one day the parachute doesn’t open, or gets tangled or the regulator fails or you hit a patch of sand or ice or oily water on a curve or you step into a hole in strong current or your kayak gets wrapped around a snag or sweeper or some idiot pulls out in front of you unexpectedly or you mistime that flip on your snowboard and then her buoyant smile turns into a grinning deaths-head. And you will know that you’re not her paramour anymore.

    • Replies: @Jim Christian
    , @wayfarer
  9. @Jake

    But this type of ‘interesting’ diversion can be found in many places.

    Interesting diversions, yes. There are the interesting diversions that can kill you, and then there are broads. Broads aren’t nearly so interesting until after the sun goes back down. They’re necessary, but not so much in the daytime unless cleaning house or cooking dinner.

  10. @ThreeCranes

    So there’s this thing in my life with women helping me in trouble in the water.

    So, which one of them did you marry? Enquiring minds are just aquiver to know..

    • Replies: @ThreeCranes
  11. @ThreeCranes

    Snowboards? No thanks. You get hurt doin’ that shit. My brother got killed on a skateboard, hit his head, may be our genealogy isn’t built for boards, although skiing looks like a kick. Bikes and chutes are calculated risks, so too, flight decks, except if a plane drops on you, it just ruins your whole night. That aside, what happens to you is your fault. Sand on the road? Shouldn’t have hit it. Other drivers? My take is, guy turned left in front of you? Still your fault.

    With that mindset I gotta tell you, I don’t believe in the (to me only, that is) mythical “She”. My fate is not a she, nor is my bike or chute or car, or the guns I tinker with and shoot sometimes. They’re inanimate objects that I maintain well, then thrash them and test myself. I’m a trouble junkie. I don’t see death grins, but I did see another guy’s bike flash before my eyes when things went bad for him out horsing about one day. To me, that’s all it is. You’re good enough, or you’re no good at all. Now go do some of that pilot shit, it’ll do your soul some good..

  12. @Jim Christian


    I married the one I rescued, of course.

    Doesn’t every man have to be a hero in his own narrative?

  13. More, please, of this.

    No more political, same same every time around. So boring.

    Who cares about the Mexicans or the Joos, honestly.

    More interesting stories and life experiences, even though you will no doubt get fewer comments.

    Onward and upward.

    • Agree: Whoever
  14. wayfarer says:

    I’ve always enjoyed your work, Fred. This sea tale was real refreshing, hombre. Kind of hard to imagine the fear among those German U-boat crews, as they took their final dive into “Davy Jones Locker.”

    I spent 30 years surfing, hardcore. Also was a salty seaman with a bad attitude, on-board the USCGC Venturous (WMEC 625).

    This ain’t me in the picture, but it’s sure as hell some unique poetry in motion. BTW, no way did this dude make the wave. But at least he’s going down, in style.

  15. aandrews says:

    An interesting newspaper article to complement Fred’s essay: German sub sank near U.S., by Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer-Times.

    The 84-year-old German veteran also recalls the chilling message of the commander of the U.S. Coast Guard cutter that blasted his submarine and machine-gunned the crew members after they came to the surface.

    “He shouted down through the megaphone the friendly words: ‘I wish you good evening down with the sharks,’” Mr. Krueger said in an interview taped for a documentary broadcast.

    Their roles easily could have been reversed. The German U-352 fired a torpedo at the Coast Guard cutter Icarus. The torpedo exploded prematurely, giving away the U-boat’s position and sealing its doom.

    • Replies: @aandrews
  16. wayfarer says:

    ‘Thou shalt understand that it is a science most profitable, and passing all other sciences, for to learn to die. For a man to know that he shall die, that is common to all men ; as much as there is no man that may ever live or he hath hope or trust thereof; but thou shalt find full few that have this cunning to learn to die. . . . I shall give tliec the mystery of this doctrine; the which shall profit thec greatly to the beginning of ghostly health, and to a stable fundament of all virtues.’

    — Orologium Sapnenliae.

    ‘Against his will he dieth that hath not learned to die. Learn to die and thou shalt learn to live, for here shall none learn to live that hath not learned to die.’

    — Toure of all Toures: and Teacheth a Man for to Die.

    I can’t wait to die. Hopefully, it’s going to be an honorable death.

    These books will have you too, eagerly looking forward to death.

    No fear!

    Tibetan Book of the Dead ( translated by W.Y. Evans-Wentz ).
    Tibetan Book of the Dead ( translated by Robert A.F. Thurman ).

  17. aandrews says:

    Thinking about it, though…I wonder if the Germans would’ve hung around and machine gunned survivors in the water? Hmmm. Food for thought.

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