Tales From A “Hard Hat” Diver

While diving in an undisclosed location in the Fall of 1990, I experienced my first visceral encounter with exponential decay and exponential increase in wave energy as a function of depth.

The gear I was wearing on my back was:

US Divers/Conshelf XIV First and Second stage SCUBA regulators connected to

a US Divers twin manifold with two “80 cf” aluminum cylinders. The actual volume of each cylinder is 0.39 cubic feet, but when you “jam” air into the cylinders until the internal pressure is 3000 pounds per square inch, then each cylinder will contain the equivalent of 80 cubic feet of air in Earth’s atmosphere which is approximately 15 pounds per square inch at sea level.

I digress, In my SCUBA gear, I was operating a 60 pound hydraulic drill

with my dive buddy Jim looking for places where the drill would be useful. We started the work in depths of approximately 100 feet of seawater. Drilling is easy at that depth with 3 foot-high waves overhead, you don’t even know they are there, but as we made our way towards shore looking for “anchor points”. operating a 60 pound hydraulic drill with hydraulic lines going to a hydraulic pump on a barge on the surface, … got “interesting”

As we continued to drill anchor points closer and closer to shore, the waves

would push us forward then backwards as we tried to drill. I was having a particularly difficult time with one drilling site as I was surrounded by bull kelp and the kelp kept wrapping around me and my gear. I decided to attempt to find a slightly deeper site to drill, put the non-trigger side of the drill on my right shoulder and headed towards deeper water.

I will never forget what happened next… A strand of bull kelp wrapped around my second stage and as I went to go deep it ripped the body of the regulator from the mouthpiece which is secured with a ziptie. The rubber mouthpiece was still in my mouth, so I thought I was going to get air when I inhaled, but got a mouth full of seawater instead. I had been busting my ass with that drill for about an hour and was sweating like crazy in my wet suit and huffing and puffing, so it was a big saltwater surprise…

Then the memory goes into slow motion, I drop the drill and watch it fall to the seafloor and hit the sand, one problem solved, I look up, nothing but bull kelp, ut oh, next thought, “where the F*&$ is Jim?” , instinct kicks in, next thought “that way”, I swim “at least as fast as a marlin” towards his last known location, see him “dicking around”. swim up to him, put my right hand on his second stage regulator and look in his eyes, they get real wide open, he nods his head, I take his regulator out of his mouth, put it in my mouth and spit about a quart of seawater out into his regulator, take two breaths of air, and give it back to him. We both hold up 4 fingers with our right hands and buddy breath our way to the surface.

We surface, hand our fins to Dave, climb the ladder onto the barge, we take seats, I get a new mouthpiece ziptied to my first stage, and we go back to work. No debrief, no questions how it happened just “Go to work”.

Lesson learned. If you are using a hydraulic drill to do anything underwater, it rates a “hard hat” diving helmut with a air supply coming from compressors on the surface/barge. Don’t try that at home.