“I didn't think you were gonna make it,” Dennis Dillingham growled as I jumped aboard. Dennis captains and owns the
making a living chartering out to dive shops in Waikiki. It's his business and I think it's his home. Dillingham's a small blond man with an enormous walrus mustache and skin that's similar in color and texture to an old baseball mitt. He's always barefoot, and I think he only owns one pair of faded green shorts. I've never seen him wear a shirt.
“Just got the call twenty minutes ago,” I said, dropping my day pack on a berth cushion and changing into my wet suit. Tom Cotton, a shop owner and fellow divemaster in Waikiki, called and begged me to take his group, citing last-minute emergencies with his teenage daughter. It had happened often enough I didn't ask, just jumped in my Jeep and raced to the Waianae boat harbor. I don't charge him for my time when I cover him. It's more of a hobby.
“Tom brought your gear. Your group is over there.” Dennis pointed to four Japanese men dressed in neon-yellow wet suits standing in a huddle at the stern, inspecting their equipment. “It ought to be easy keeping track of 'em in those outfits.” Dennis shares my preference for dark-colored gear, the avoidance of bright and flashy colors, anything that might attract the attention of creatures in the water possessed of curiosity, hunger, and sharp teeth, a dangerous combination. My suit is dark blue and black. All the rest of my gear is black. I exchange my shiny stainless-steel Rolex for a black-plastic Casio when I go into the water. I carry two knives, a Phrobis and my Buckmaster, and a .44 Magnum bangstick.
No matter where I am, I like to be in contention for a spot at the top of the food chain.
“Thanks, Dennis.” I studied my charges. Only four divers. They would be easily managed. I hoped they spoke English, and then realized they would have to. Tom's dive shop doesn't aggressively advertise for Japanese tourists. Some shops in Waikiki are nisei-owned and their instructors and divemasters all speak fluent Japanese. It's to everyone's advantage that they work that part of the market. We all want our guests to come back, and if tourist divers have a bad time due to anyone's ignorance, no one benefits. But Tom's a businessman. When the occasional foreign tourist finds him, he's always ready to make a sale or charter a dive.
I introduced myself to the four men and we sized each other up. There was some bowing and some shaking of hands, the usual mixing of the cultures. I bowed and they shook my hand. Everybody grinned.
I sensed the short, thickly built man with a gray brush cut was in charge, the head hotshot, surrounded by three junior hotshots, on a business-reward outing. I immediately liked the man. He was powerful, used to giving orders and having them obeyed, but he looked intently at me and listened to what I had to say. I was
, the teacher, and he was the pupil. I could tell why he had risen to the top.
I like the average Japanese tourist. Apart from the fact that the money they pumped into the economy spared Hawaii most of the effects of the latest worldwide recession, they are polite, well-mannered guests. They don't get drunk and throw furniture out of hotel windows. They don't drive down the streets of Honolulu at ninety miles an hour. If they are involved in a crime, they are usually the victims. They typically travel in groups, bring their families, spend copious amounts of money, take their hundreds of photographs, and return to Japan to be replaced by another group. They are quiet, generous, and interchangeable. They come, they spend, and they go home.
I came. I saw. I took a lot of pictures.
Everything this group wore was new. Brand-new. I would not have been surprised to find price tags attached. Tom must have been delighted to have these guys walk into his store. They sported about five thousand dollars' worth of gear.
Their certification cards all were current. Their equipment, right off the rack from Tom's shop, was correctly assembled. They listened to my briefing about the dive. They answered my questions intelligently. I was impressed with their depth of knowledge about diving in general, and about diving in Hawaii in particular.
I knew this would be an easy afternoon.
There were four divemasters aboard, each with three to five divers. The boat wasn't full. We would have room to spread out. I emphasized to my group the necessity of staying with me once we were on the wreck of the
For a trained diver, the eight-hundred-ton minesweeper is an extraordinarily exciting experience. There are few chances to get into trouble. The water is clear, the current nearly nonexistent, and the fauna is, for the most part, friendly. But because fools are so ingenious that nothing is really foolproof, those few chances can be lethal. At nearly ninety feet, the
is at the lower range of safe sport diving. My computer would tell me when it was time to rise. Failure to follow its calculations could result in a case of the bends, a painful, potentially crippling affliction. Worse, the interior of the hull is enclosed.
Unlike other ships that were sunk as artificial reefs, no large holes have been cut into the hull to allow access to the interior. The
is intact. She has been down a long time and inside she is cold, dark, and full of accumulated silt. All her hatches are open. The unlimited visibility outside the ship lures some of the foolish to try the interior. With lights, the undisturbed water is at first crystal clear; it's similar to cave diving. What the uninitiated diver doesn't know is that while he
's swimming through the still water inside the hull, his fins are kicking up a curtain of silt behind him, decreasing the visibility to zero. Any ship is a labyrinth of holds and passageways, each with several vertical ladders and horizontal
ducts. Without an intimate knowledge of the ship, or without a guideline, a diver could run out of air before finding a way out. If he doesn't run out of air, he faces the danger of exceeding maximum bottom time, risking the bends. Invading old ships is a dangerous business.