The phone rang the Wednesday before Christmas 2017. “I’ve got a mark I want to check out. If it is what I hope it is I have a bunch of other marks for us to investigate. Are you interested?” I answered “For sure. I’m in. Where is it?” The notion that it might be too long a drive or too far away never even crossed my mind.
Three days later on Saturday morning my alarm rings. It is 3:30 AM and I am headed for a boat ramp three and a half hours north of my Ft. Lauderdale home to meet up with some of the “usual suspects”. Explorers Mike Barnette, Ken Charlesworth and Mark Redmond, all passionate divers who understand that nothing worthwhile comes easy and without huge effort were at the dock and waiting. We then motored 2 hours out to sea and myself with team member and researcher Mike Barnette splashed into 90 feet of seawater in an attempt to identify a small clump of debris on the bottom. We were hoping it was an engine from an aircraft we have been searching for over a period of several years. It wasn’t.
“You won’t know unless you go” were the words accompanying the above image of Mike after we surfaced from our dive. Undaunted, we will continue to search.
This brings me to the reason for this post. People often say how they would love to participate in some of these expeditions and to give them a call the next time we have one. But do they really? Most usually have no idea what kind of energy, commitment and passion it takes to do this sort of stuff. I will try to explain here.
First you need to have all of the necessary equipment. This means reels, lift bags, decompression / bailout bottles, back gas doubles or rebreather bottles, scooters, appropriate exposure wear, epirbs and radios. Then it all needs to be in good working order and ready to go on short notice. It also means having multiples of the same equipment because “I can’t get a fill” or “my equipment needs servicing” doesn’t cut it. Rebreathers make this aspect of exploration diving a bit easier, especially if you invest in a booster and some bank bottles. So now we can add another large monetary commitment to the equation.
So What Else Does It Take?
A reasonable regimen of exercise is essential. You can get away with looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy for shallow reef dives but when you are talking offshore, remote exploration you owe it to yourself and your team to be in fairly decent shape. This does not mean that you must rival Arnold Schwarzenegger in his prime but you should at least have a program of regular cardiovascular and weight training.
Proficiency in the use of your equipment is assumed but what about maintenance? You need to be able to do basic repairs and diagnostics on your own. When necessary I service my own gear. I rebuild my own regulators and maintain my own compressor. Right now I have my Haskell booster pump in pieces on a table while I rebuild it. Not absolutely essential skills but they contribute to your overall self sufficiency and enhance your ability to make equipment related decisions when necessary.
You must also be willing to endure long, often uncomfortable rides to a site on whatever boat might be available to accomplish your intended mission. On one expedition we went 120 miles offshore in a very seaworthy but open boat, all on a “maybe”. Maybe the mark was “geology”, maybe it was a Bayliner, maybe it was a significant virgin shipwreck. On that expedition we slept on beanbag chairs under the stars with no amenities whatsoever. No head, no shower, no air conditioning in blistering summer heat. Sounds brutal, eh? I’d do it again tomorrow. The adrenaline rush you get when you are the first to see something no one has seen in 100 years or so is indescribable and worth whatever you might have to endure to get it. To fully understand that last statement you have to be wired a certain way, otherwise you just won’t / can’t get it. I understand that.
Sometimes you participate in an expedition and get on site only to find there is nothing there. You now spend hours running “lanes” studying the bottom finder with hopes of locating your intended target. Often times the coordinates you have are not accurate, or perhaps they were Loran conversions which, at best, put you in the vicinity as opposed to a specific location. This is why it is called exploration.
One expedition which I was part of took place off Southern California. We were searching for Gertrude “Tommy” Tomkins Silver, the Last Missing Wasp. and her P51 Mustang. She was last seen flying over Santa Monica Bay out of what is now LAX Airport. We found dishwashers, boats, washer and drier combinations but no aircraft. So I flew from Florida to California and spent a week looking at junk on the bottom of the ocean. One more time, I’d do it again tomorrow. You can’t let this sort of thing discourage you.
So what it’s really about is solving the mystery, of learning the unknown. All of these wrecks have a story to tell. If those stories intrigue you, if you are willing to put forth the effort to develop the necessary skills to execute these dives safely and successfully, if you are willing to purchase and maintain the necessary equipment. if you are willing to suffer the discomfort often associated with most off shore treks, then maybe this is for you.
Thanks for reading. Till the next time,