Wednesday, December 23, 2015
Memory is famously unreliable, of course, and I have remembered what I might have forgotten yesterday. I mean, it surely wasn't the books I read that made me want to sail. My mind was full of images by the time I read them. "Adventures in Paradise" was an early influence (link). What kid wouldn't want to be like Adam Troy? The ocean represented freedom. All the old movies about pirates, too, though I don't think I ever wanted to be a pirate so much as an adventurer. There was a good wholesomeness to the t.v. show "Flipper" that I liked. A kid with a dolphin and a boat let alone to roam the keys. Yup.
But there were other influences, too, like "Sea Hunt" and later on "The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau."
I saw the latter while I was in high school, and as soon as I had enough money, I took scuba diving lessons and bought my own scuba gear. My buddy Tommy did as well, and soon we were diving with one of the most notorious divers in the country, Hal Watts. He had set some sort of world record for deep diving in the 1960s and had a dive shop that organized deep water cave dives, even for teenagers. Soon enough, the two of us were doing decompression dives in deep water caves on our own. We would drive to some wooded lake or springs down corduroy dirt roads and drop into long fingers that stretched into crazy limestone caves where other divers had died. It was easy to do, either getting nitrogen narcosis or getting lost or getting the bends which might leave you crippled as it had one of our scuba instructors, but we had spent nights watching diving shows on television and we knew the glory of surfacing, the wonderfulness of such a life.
After several close calls, the last of which our lives were spared only by truly dumb luck (we were lost in an underwater cave with many blind fingers that did not lead to the surface), we decided to turn to the sea. We were surely better off diving with giant barracudas and sharks and eels where the surface was always straight up. And so on weekends we would load up the car and drive south where the water was tropical and clear, and we would dive on reefs (on our first dive, we surfaced only to be surrounded by hundreds of Portuguese Man of Wars) in water only thirty or so feet deep. In the keys, we would come back to eat fish and conch fritters and drink our first legal beers. It was a clean life. It was good.
By my junior year in college, though, I had little time for scuba. It wouldn't be 'til graduation that I got back to the sea.
But I remember even now more than I had when I started this. When I was young, younger than young, four, maybe, my parents took me to Florida for vacation. We stayed in a little hotel on Singer Island just north of Palm Beach where the beaches are white and sugar fine sandy. There are pictures of me there holding my father and mother's hands. There are others, too, of me in the shallow water with a float around my waist. We returned again and again. I can remember my first yellow plastic mask with the snorkels and little cages that held ping pong balls to keep the water from coming in. I floated in the shallows looking at fish and Sargasso weed and the crabs and sea horses that lived there, all while holding the hand of my mother or father, the safe adventurer visiting another world.
Floating in the dark, 130 feet below the surface, only the beam of a little underwater light showing small portions of the limestone formations, stalactites and stalagmites and nothing, no fish, no plants, just the cold, weightless darkness. It was not like watching those old t.v. shows and dreaming. And nothing was ever as exciting or good as it was peering through that little yellow mask in the warm tropical water holding a parent's hand.