Time travel becomes reality, as I descend beneath the waterline in a 1944 Mark V Hard Helmet, the standard U.S. Navy dive equipment used for undersea salvage operations in World War II.
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“So, what’s under the water?” I asked Maurice, the aged Greek instructor from a local training facility for commercial divers. I was 19 years old, and my only experience with the underwater realm was a five minute dive in a college swimming pool.
He told of the brilliant sea life inhabiting the chilly waters of the Puget Sound in the northwestern corner of the U.S. He explained what the guys were doing underwater, welding and cutting, and how they would eventually use it to work in the offshore oil fields.
“I want to learn how to dive!”
I exclaimed. Maurice just shook his head and in a thick accent said, “Girls like you…you no dive. Girls like that, (pointing to a tall, stocky girl on the dock) they dive. Girls like you… you date the divers. Come, I’ll introduce you to my boys.” And with that, it was done.
I was 19, in college, and so the introduction to the boys on the dock sufficed. In the four months following, I helped the guys get in and out of their dive gear, learned about the dockside diving bell, rinsed and stored the commercial dive equipment. But I knew I could never dive, for I wasn’t big enough, or strong enough.
It took a full decade for my entry into the scuba world—recreationally, not commercially.
I sought out dive gear made for small women, found easier methods to don the heavy equipment and slowly developed the “dive specific” muscular structure by hauling countless tanks to and from dive sites. I honed my instructional skills to ease the entry of other women into the sport.
Now, I’m taking the plunge as a hard helmet diver. Using “modern equipment” from another century. Descending to the depths in an authentic Mark V helmet. This level of helmet was produced by the Diving Equipment and Salvage Company (now known as DESCO) for the U.S. Navy from 1927 until the Mark XII surface supplied system in the late 1970’s.
Donning the Gear...
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