Robert Kurson’s Shadow Divers, about two divers’ search for the story behind a mysterious U-boat wreck found off the New Jersey coast in the 1990s, does a stellar job of giving armchair adventurers a taste of the deep, dark cold of extreme shipwreck diving.
Today, however, my adventure did not involve an armchair; it involved the actual deep (115’—nothing like the extreme depths in Shadow Divers!), dark (in truth, visibility was pretty darn good!) cold (46 degrees F).
On my walk to the campground bathhouse after the whole thing, I was a mind-blown mess on the phone with The Bosun.
“It was phenomenal. We have to come back here next year. You have to dive these wrecks.” I must have sounded like a little kid who’s just discovered the greatest thing ever.
“No thanks. You can keep that kind of cold.” The Bosun wasn’t buying it.
“It’s not so bad. In a nine-millimeter wetsuit, it’s not so bad. But your face does get pretty chilly.”
But the day itself involved a lot more.
I’d shimmied into nine millimeters of rubber on a small Chris Craft dive-charter boat in the Straits of Mackinac at 9:00 a.m. to visit two wrecks: the Minneapolis (a late nineteenth-century wooden freighter sunk by ice) and the Cedarville (a mid-twentieth-century steel ship lost to a collision in 1965 with a load of limestone aboard).
In that blue, blue water of the Straits (between Michigan’s Upper and Lower Peninsulas), along with these beautiful, tragic ladies lying on their sides in the sand, I discovered something else: I’m scared of the deep, dark cold. It’s easy to read books about these adventures. It’s easy to fall in love with diving beside sharks and turtles off Nassau. But down below 100’ ... down below 50 degrees Fahrenheit ... down where one uses up air so quickly ... abreast of a hulking mass of heartbreak and sad ends ... well, for me, down there beneath the surface, I had in my throat a lump made up of all sorts of strong feelings. Or perhaps just composed of mortality.
Afterward, of course, it’s all good stories, a trip across the Mackinac Bridge for pasties, and a stroll through St. Ignace. But deep inside me, it’s just a wee bit more. Deep, dark cold mixed with something beyond awe, maybe?