Old Diver Tales

As most of you who follow my little blog, well first thanks for that. My appreciation goes out to you who have deigned to put up with me even after you kinda got a handle on the type of guy I may be. Anyway, you know I have been a commercial diver for over thirty years. My job was harvesting freshwater mussels to be used in the cultured pearl industry. Thirty years of being a commercial diver leaves a lot of time for things to go wrong, and indeed it would take both hands and perhaps a couple of toes to count the close calls I have had. There were a few days I was damn lucky to survive, or too hard headed to give it up. Either way I figured I might share a few of my diving tales just to pass the time, and what the heck I need to get up off of my non blogging ass and write something.

There are a few kinds of diving I know of, SCUBA, Hookah, mixed air, and saturation. SCUBA you all should know about, it’s free swimming with air tanks, bouyancy compensators, and fins. You know the stuff you see in the movies. Then there is what I did which is called Hookah. Hookah diving uses wetsuits and air regulators just like SCUBA but you aren’t free swimming, and your air supply is in the boat or topside in some other fashion. The topside air is fed to you via a lifeline which attaches to your weightbelt. The mixed air deep diving, and saturation diving, are both way over my head (pun not intended, but I’ll take it) in complexity and risk. We will focus on the Hookah. It is what I know.

The Tennessee river is where most of my diving was done, although I have been to the Cumberland river also in Tn. And the Guadalupe river in Texas, as well as the upper Mississippi river in Iowa and Illinois. This tale happened on the Tennessee river.

The Tennessee river used to be a free flowing river meandering its way along through the valley it has made its home. Along came man who decided to dam this river up. When you dam up the river you hold water back and flood the entire valley. This makes for areas known as lake, and channel. The ancient riverbed channel is still there, it generally averages around 50′ deep, though you do see 60′ and 70′ holes. The channel is marked with river buoys and hosts a lot of barge traffic as well as big cruisers from time to time. All of the water that lies outside of the river channel is known as lake. The lake area is very wide in places and has shallow ridges here and there, with mud flats between them. The mud flats average 15 – 20 feet deep. You can find shell in almost any of these areas. Though their abundancy ranges all over the place, from a lot of shell to very few. It just depends where you are at.

This day I was working the river channel ridge. This ridge is right at the very edge of the actual channel, and was probably 7-8 feet deep where I was working. The current was very stale, hardly moving and very little wind. When you are pulling a boat along behind you on a day like this a light pull takes the boat a long way. You dig shells on all fours with a bag around your neck, and down between your legs. Where I was working the shell had thinned out, and I was trying to cover some ground and get further along the ridge, where I knew the shell would pick up again. So I was moving at a high rate of speed and all of a sudden out of the gloom of the murky water I saw a huge octopus of a stump in front of me. This thing was big and gnarly, and I was moving so fast I knew I didn’t have time to stop before I ran into it, which I figured would be fairly painful. So at that moment just before impact, I vaulted over the stump.

Well I vaulted right over the stump and the river bank into around 42 feet of water below me. My weight belt was pretty much my center of gravity at this point, it was doing its best to obey gravity, and I was merciless to stop it. I wound up going down backside first, almost horizontal, arms flailing to no avail, all I could do was ride it down. I don’t know if you have ever seen a movie or a cartoon depicting a long fall where the guy screams till out of beath, then screams some more. This was kind of like that only I wasn’t screaming, I was just tring to keep the pressure in my ears equalized as I fell and sucking in air like it was going out of style, I knew I’d hit the bottom eventually. After what seemed a very long time I did land on my backside. Still in one piece and with my wits in hand, I clambered up my line to the boat to take a little break.

After my blood presure subsided I moved to another location to finish out the day. Some lessons you have to learn the hard way. This one was fairly early in my diving career, fortunately I lived to tell about it.

There will be more Old Diver Tales as time goes by. This one ranks kind of low on the damn near died scale, but stay tuned, it gets better. or worse depending on your perspective. 🙂

Feels good to be writing something…my break wasn’t intended, life is busy, and the bug to write has just been cold. Maybe this will get me up and running again.