How hard, how
very hard, it is to tell anybody who has never been there about the underwater
world. The Iron Curtain is, after all, a mere political figure of speech. But
the Salt Curtain of the ocean's surface is a physical fact that separates two
physically quite different worlds. Underwater techniques, sensations and sights
all present real semantic and terminological difficulties for those who try to
describe them to the uninitiate. It is not easy to communicate the physical
experience of moving and breathing in a medium which is 800 times denser than
air and which radically modifies, if not nullifies, the pull of gravity. Man,
an erect animal, moves most naturally forward, in a vertical position on a
horizontal plane. Underwater he moves most easily in a prone position, though
he can also with facility walk or stand on feet or hands, and move up or down,
forward or backward, in any position. He can imitate, however slowly or
awkwardly, the motions of pipefish or crab, flounder, eel or octopus.
Underwater he is relatively omnimobile.
visual experience is equally "unnatural." He moves in a world of
constantly shifting perspectives. There are no horizons where the eye level
shifts with every movement of your body. Even under optimum light conditions,
you can seldom see clearly more than a hundred feet in any direction. The eye
can measure distance only from point to point within that circle of visibility.
Even the shallow-water scuba diver has the sensation at all times of circling
at the heart of an enormous opaque fish bowl, whose globular, mysterious sides
advance and recede with his own motions. He proceeds like a small chrysalis,
silent in his sea-green cocoon and essentially alone, for his fellow divers
seem to have an eerie habit of gliding away like gray ghosts through the green
walls of his bowl into unseen bowls of their own. Looking up, he sees nothing
but the opaque silver lid of the Salt Curtain. Then suddenly another diver
makes an apparition, to swim beside him. But he may rise a minute later and
disappear beyond the curtain in a seemingly miraculous assumption to another
experiences of the underwater world are perhaps hardest of all to describe. In
those "chambers deep, where waters sleep, and unknown treasures pave the
floor," what fishes like flowers, what stones like trees! What crenelated
walls, parapets, spires and grottoes the skeletons of coral make! What
labyrinthine groves and gardens wave where the live coral are still building!
The coral reefs are a golden girdle of dead and living cities, which dwarf in
their age and beauty all the cities of man. For how many eons have they
waited—must they still wait—for their Dante and Shakespeare?
"We've all landed. I'll pick you up at 6 for dinner. Then we'll get Art.
He's checking the boat now—it's called the Big Seven. Rotten weather. But this
storm should clear things for tomorrow."
We are waiting by
the car as Art Pinder comes out of his hotel holding a big wadded-up orange
woolen ball in his hand.
Pinder stands 6
feet tall and weighs in at 195 swimmer-smooth pounds. He has the classic
musculature of a discobolus, and the kind of bullet-round, crew-cut blond head
and good, honest, short-nosed, square-jawed face that the USMC depicts on all
its recruitment posters.
"This is Mrs. Luce."
Art pumps my hand
coolly, and then gently shakes out the orange ball. It is two bathing suits.
"Jantzen, sizes 10 and 12. Don't thank me," he says simply. "I do
TV commercials for Jantzen." His clear eyes pass over me. He is mentally
weighing me as though I were a fish. "Ten should fit," he says. His
voice sounds dispirited. I have an uneasy feeling he thinks I may not prove to
be a very game fish....
Dinner at St.
George's on the harbor is pleasant in that strained sort of way which happens
when new teammates take the measure of one another for the first time. David
says little, eats less. Coles informs us that something that Dave had for lunch
has not agreed with him. Art begins by asking the waiter for a steak—"So-o
thick." My forearm is thinner. The waiter says, "No steaks
gone to Black Beard's. Great steaks there. Don Seiler, artist fellow who helped
decorate it, is a friend of mine and my brother's. Great diver. He's coming
aboard tomorrow." He turns that dubious glance on me. "It's my job to
watch you. I figured Don could give a hand with Mrs. Jenkins." We both look