At about 4 a.m.
on the day of the test, as my wife Ginny and I were towing the cage to Quarry
Lake on a trailer, suddenly I saw a ghostly shape rear up behind the car.
Somehow the cage had broken loose. In the next instant the highway behind us
exploded in a sheet of sparks as the cage skidded along it, torn and burned
apart by the impact and the friction. A motorist a quarter of a mile behind saw
the cage barely in time to swerve and miss it. I hauled it off the pavement,
and the next driver stopped and helped me load it back on the trailer. I drove
15 miles back to R & Z Precision Industries in Mount Vernon, N. Y., where
the cage had been fabricated. By noon Arnie Ziegler of R & Z and I had
patched it up with wire, rope, tape—anything. It looked a mess, but it was
The shoreline of
Quarry Lake drops off at a 75� angle from a rim about a foot above water level.
At 4 p.m. the cage was launched, after having been christened Blowfish by my
wife, a ceremony that took half a dozen blows, the bottle being rather better
than the champagne. As soon as the ceremonies were over, Carleton Ray and I got
inside the cage for the first descent. The cage hesitated for a moment at the
surface, then majestically began to sink. It kept right on sinking, although
Carleton Ray and I frantically wound the operating controls of both tanks to
"Full Rise." The electrical system was working beautifully. I could
hear the crisp little clicks as the solenoids opened and closed, blowing air
into the tanks. Still we sank. Although there was a line tied to the cage, the
crew up top, confident as I of the efficacy of the Blowfish, never considered
dishonoring the maiden descent by hauling in. As the cage picked up velocity it
tended to tip more and more each time the lower frame scraped the sloping
quarry wall. Finally it tipped into a head-down attitude. In this position the
two buoyancy tanks, with openings on their undersurfaces, dumped the little air
left in them, and we began to descend in earnest, with the tanks now acting as
sinkers. Carleton had the good sense to exit, but I remained inside, working at
The cage landed
on the bottom at 85 feet. It lay on its side on the only door that worked, the
top gate having been wired shut in the binding operation that now held the
half-smashed vehicle together. The line connected to the cage, as it turned
out, was a little too short and did not even reach the surface. Phil Clarkson,
chief of the topside crew, could barely retain the end of it by reaching
underwater, let alone get two or three others on it to haul me up. Finally,
while Carleton lifted from the outside, I blasted the last of our air into the
tanks by a manual control and we began to rise. The cage was hauled up against
the shore and secured just as it began to go under again. I heaved myself out
of the water. A nonplussed group was standing quite still on the rim of the
quarry, eying me and obviously waiting to be told that what seemed to have
happened really hadn't.
Bogdanowicz and I sat around drinking and talking. I was disconsolate;
Bogdanowicz was unfazed. He pointed out two things: the heart of the system,
the electrical circuit, worked, and the entire buoyancy system had to work, or
else that very afternoon we had disproved Archimedes' Principle (an object
displaces a volume of water equal to its weight).
In the next three
weeks we modified the cage to make it fail-safe by adding four sealed tanks
with enough lift to float the cage even with the controllable chamber totally
flooded. Only by taking on board 50 pounds of disposable lead ballast could the
cage be made to sink at all. We replaced the original two buoyancy tanks with a
single one and further reduced the number of controls to one. A terror-stricken
idiot wearing snow mittens could operate the cage now, we hoped.
Three weeks after
the Quarry Lake disaster Mike de Camp, a schoolteacher who pokes around in
deepwater wrecks for love and occasional profit, helped me try the modified
cage in open ocean. We first test-dove it to 50 feet while tethered to Captain
Frank Mundus' Cricket. Then, over Mundus' protests, we descended again and,
altogether free of the surface, we drifted through the middle ground with the
current. (The middle ground has no formal limits according to depth; it is that
area where neither the surface nor the bottom is visible, only a diffused light
source above, darkness below and all around a dismal gray.) The cage was
stable, it responded quickly to the controls and it was easy to operate. We had
our film studio in the sea.
either by Mike de Camp or Carleton Ray, I made eight trips among the sharks in
the next month. Long shots and medium shots of the sharks feeding in the chum
slick were easy to get from the cage, but the extreme closeups that I felt were
also necessary for a good film were difficult. The sharks came close enough.
Indeed, the great blues sometimes tried to push between the bars to get at our
supply of chum and fish. The smaller blues—the six-footers—could enter as far
as their pectoral fins and had to be shoved out. Those antics were easy to
photograph, but they were just that—antics. What I wanted was unobstructed
closeups showing the fascinating details of these animals swimming free: the
occasional excited trembling of the lower jaw, with the mouth slightly open, or
the eye oscillating around its vertical axis so as to remain fixed on an object
as the head swings with the sinuous swimming motion. I wanted to film the
sharks passing so close to the lens that their eyes would seem as big as
pumpkins on the screen and the ampullae of Lorenzini (porelike openings that
cover the snout and are possibly integrated in the shark's sensory system)
would look like holes in a Chinese checker board.
Just as important
to the movie were shots of men and sharks together, so that the viewer would
get a sense of the size of the animals. This might have been achieved from a
second cage, but the extreme closeups could not. Only a cameraman swimming free
among the sharks could provide these. Until well along in June I never
seriously considered this bolder approach.
Having gained a
sense of familiarity with the ways of the great blue sharks, I decided that on
the next trip to Montauk, on three successive days in late July, I would swim
free among them and concentrate on shooting closeups. Meanwhile I had ample
time to change a few details on the cage, study the film that had been shot
earlier and develop a recurrent nightmare.
which also popped up occasionally as an inner vision by day, always followed
the same pattern. I was swimming among the great blues in the middle ground.
Abruptly, they disappeared beyond my perimeter of vision leaving only the
gray-blue blankness of the open ocean. I spun round and round, trying to look
in all directions at once, sensing that something enormous was just out of
sight. A form appeared, huge beyond imagining. It came rapidly toward me and
materialized as the great white shark, the man-eater. It bore straight in with
overwhelming speed, and as the jaws opened to swallow me I would awaken and
begin thinking of what desperate measures to take if the nightmare—or
daymare—came true. I could never come up with more than two: feed the monster
the camera, or spin at the last second to present the big double tank block on
my back. In either case the rationale was that the shark would find the first
course of his meal so hard on the gums that he would go off after more tender
prey, spitting out a cascade of two-inch teeth as he departed.