By Bob Halstead
Stan Waterman wore his favourite T-shirt. “Old Age and Treachery will Always Overcome Youth and Skill” was emblazoned on the front. At 86 years old, and still diving and filming treacherously well, it suits him. His wife Suzy had never done much diving but joined us all on an expedition to dive Komodo in May 2009 aboard the magnificent “Seven Seas”. She decided she was going to learn diving, and why not? She is only 80 years young.
This adventure was a reprise of our “Old Crocs” dive cruises of 2002 in PNG with Dinah, Stan, Ron and Valerie Taylor, Douglas Seifert and Chip and Susan Scarlett. Douglas is actually a Young Croc, but understands how to acquire wisdom, and hangs out with us.
Before the cruise I sat in front of my TV and watched Valerie, Ron and Stan star in the iconic movie “Blue Water, White Death” produced 40 years ago. Many of you might never have heard of this film, as it has been unavailable for years. Good News! It is now for sale as a remastered DVD – try Amazon.com. The film was subtitled “The Search for the Great White Shark” and features some truly amazing footage of our heroes diving in the open ocean with huge numbers of feeding Oceanic Whitetip sharks, and close encounters with Great White Sharks.
In 1969 this was a staggering achievement. No one had dared to do this before. It led to the later production of the movie “Jaws” from the book by the late Peter Benchley. His widow, the exuberant Wendy Benchley, was diving with us in Komodo as was intrepid explorer Annie Doubilet. Ron and Valerie, and Stan, went on to shoot many more underwater scenes for blockbuster movies and to produce their own television specials.
But as I pointed out last time I wrote about old crocs, no one is interested in what you were. It is only what you are that counts. So this is actually bad news for all you young divers. We can still dive better than you can. Deeper! Longer! Harder! Faster!
Personally, I have been reconditioned. I have not dyed my silver hair nor planted my balding palette, but I have had a hip replaced – and lost 15kg of blubber, mainly through will power and a high dark-chocolate diet. I have reduced somewhat my consumption of liquor and Australian wine, though this does not seem to be the case with my colleagues. Our group’s excess baggage charges were not because of film stock, but booze. This is the real digital revolution.
Being older and a bit decrepit may actually be a benefit. We perhaps cannot rely on strength and fitness to get us out of trouble – but over the years the ocean has taught us that, even if we are super strong and fit, it can always overwhelm humans. What we have learned is sea sense – an ability to read the real, rather than imagined, risks that a particular dive entails, and self-knowledge so that we can determine whether our skills are sufficient to overcome the risks.
I was recently reminded of the need to practice skills. For the past few years I have switched to an underarm regulator that does not tangle with my duel camera strobe arms. Working from an unsuitable dive boat that necessitated putting my tank on in the water, I tried to figure out on the spot how I would put my arms differently before tossing the tank over my head, and I got into a right mess. I feigned senility, but have practiced it since.
Komodo is famous for its currents – and the spectacular colourful reefs that result from a bounty of food brought by them. So I was not particularly perturbed when, going the opposite way to that recommended, I found myself being uncontrollably swept down a gutter to 38m. Actually it was great. The current eventually spat me out and I ended up where I needed to be for pick-up, having drifted and swum the less-finned path. Ah! Adventure!
Beware if you find yourself diving with Old Crocs. We are legends at remembering, on the way to the dive site, outrageous stories of diving misadventures that surely excite the pulse, and vacuum the breath, of lesser mortals, while we remain relaxed and in control. We know we are lying.
In recent years Stan selects from a highly fashionable line of eye patches to cover his missing orb, adding a piratical twist to his elegant stories. And if the rest of us cannot see too well, either it is a simple matter to buy a custom mask, or take advantage of the youthful professional critter spotter most boats employ these days. Being older we get shooting priority, and can hog the scene.
I used to sit around at dinner parties thinking of witty replies to the conversation, whereas now I sit around wondering if people actually said the things that I think they did. Ron Taylor shares my problem. We have both been too deep for too long. We have to position ourselves to avoid overlapping conversations and background noise – which is what a lot of young people call music, and which is the bane of otherwise perfectly habitable dive boats. Turn it off!!
One positive is that, during tedious Queensland dive briefings, we can just tune in our tinnitus to the whine of the generator, nod our heads as though we are dopey, then go off and do exactly what we intended to do in the first place.
“Sorry Dive Master, I thought you said 60 metres, not 16 metres.” Coming back to the boat with a quarter of your air supply unused has always seemed a sacrilege to me, but I’ve solved that problem in Australia by using an old pressure gauge which reads 50 bar just as it is sucked dry. Perfect!
Nitrox has been a boon and I dive with 32% O2 whenever it is available unless, of course, I am going deep. My advice to Old Crocs is to pretend you are breathing air instead of pushing dive computer buttons to insert your actual mix. It is safer and less boring for everyone else if you do not complain when you fail to master the intricacies involved that, truthfully, can only be understood by young people.
I spent my youth lugging tanks and dive gear all over the place. Treachery now rules. I just affect a limp and young people leap forth to carry gear for me. Then, when they try to show me my 5 millionth lionfish underwater, I just disappear. This is fun. Look forward to it!