Noilly Prattle: Looking Back: 6 – Bermuda

Monday, November 5, 2012

Looking Back: 6 – Bermuda

on a scooter
the sand really is pink
       Bermuda in 1960 was a charming if sleepy colonial island attached to the British Commonwealth, noteworthy mostly, to us at least, for its clear water, pink sandy beaches and scooters. The big event for me was a chance to learn SCUBA diving with the ship's gear and expert divers. The first experience turned out to be terrifying. I didn't really understand that the air didn't flow freely, as does the normal air you breathe every day, into the mask. The instructors told us that you have to consciously suck in and exhale the air from the tank and to be careful not to hyperventilate. Oh, yeah, sure I thought, no problem. 

this a propane gas tank, of course
       Full of piss and vinegar and gung ho to jump in I donned my wet suit and hoisted the tank (felt like the picture on the right) onto my back, put on the fins and the mask. Ready, I thought to jump in, the instructor says just a minute, you forgot your lead weight belt. So, put on the belt and jump in to about 15 feet of water off a pier—and sink directly to the bottom like a ... well, like a lead weight. Shock. Can not resurface. The lead weights make it seem like I'm glued to the bottom. Hey, the air isn't flowing. Start to panic. Remember that you have to suck in...suck in...not enough air....suck in harder...still not enough air...begin to hyperventilate....start to freak out. Suddenly, an instructor appears, unhitches the belt and I bob to the surface gasping for air. Instructor laughs and says I told you not to hyperventilate. I'm furious: “Yeah, sure. You didn't tell me I wouldn't be able to get off the damned bottom though!” “Best way to learn. It's a lesson you won't soon forget, will you?” Mumbling to myself: “Bleeping a**hole.”

inside a decompression tank
       Being so intimately involved with the romantic idea of submarines while working on the SONAR submarine detection system, I got it into my head that I wanted to be a submariner. I must have been temporarily out of my mind. I suppose I wanted to upgrade my B-navy-sailor-in-the-service-fleet status to a “right stuff” warship sailor. I actually put in a written request to train for submarine duty. Since the Hoist had a decompression chamber (photo on left) on board that worked both ways—it could compress as well as decompress—the captain agreed to consider the transfer request if I would take a compression test. I agreed and entered the tank. As the depth simulation increased it got warmer and warmer and the weight of the pressure began to press on me and especially my eardrums. I was instructed to continually adjust the pressure in my ears my holding my nose and swallowing to pop the eardrum back into normal position. The pain in the ear canal and accompanying headache would become excruciating if I forgot the adjust and abated when I held my nose and swallowed. I succeeded in getting down to the required depth [several hundred feet below the surface] to pass the test and the tank was decompressed and I began to “surface” to normal sea level pressure. As it turned out, my request was denied because the Navy considered that I didn't have enough time left to serve to make the training required worth their while. So, I stayed in the dungaree navy as a service fleet sailor.

To be continued...

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

both of your 'illustrations' make me paranoid and claustrophobic. gulp