Today it often seems that the push for range extension for manned diving excursions comes from the recreational community. The motivation is often a personal one, though benefits naturally extend to other areas or disciplines.
Peter Maas’ ‘The Terrible Hours’ is an account of the rescue and salvage of the Squalus, a US submarine designed and built in the 1930’s. The Squalus was the premiere Naval submarine of the time, built at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in New Hampshire. During test trials off the Isle of Shoals in the Gulf of Maine, the submarine tragically sunk in over 200 feet of cold, dark North-Atlantic water. This event marked what I believe to be the true birthplace of ‘advanced’ diving.
The scope of the rescue and salvage operation is impressive by even today’s standards. But to think that the event took place more than 70 years ago is just mind-blowing. The mastermind behind the operation was Charles ‘Swede’ Momsen, a pioneer in Naval diving operations, who can be creditted with so, so much. To his credit, Swede’s innovation was out of demonstrated ‘need’ – to secure Naval intelligence, to protect US military assets, and to save lives.
The short list of Momsen’s contributions to diving include a submarine escape ‘Momsen Lung’, heated drysuits, submarine escape diving bells, the use of helium to offset nitrogen narcosis, deep stops while doing helium based dives, novel uses for CO2 scrubbers in surface supplied diving helmets/suits, and gas reclaim systems. And this list goes on…
What is important to recognize, is that this technology was all developed out of some ‘need’ – either projected or actual. Thanks to Momsen and the USN, many of us make routine use of this knowledge today.
As it tends to go, the potential for continued exploration is best understood by those who have been there. In 1937, Momsen was quoted as saying,
“We have actually projected the depth at which man may work efficiently and safely to 500 feet and theoretically to a thousand feet. Bringing within human grasp more than a million square miles of the earth’s surface with an incredible storehouse of natural treasures as yet untouched. It is just the beginning. Surely the day must come when man will lay claim to the vast expanses of what we call the high sea.”
NINETEEN THIRTY SEVEN!!!
In some ways we’ve come so far, in others, we are right back there in 1937, just sharing a vision and dream with the Swede. Perhaps progress is slow becuase that ‘need’ has yet to expose itself at a scale that warrants the investment. I believe its only a matter of time. The need, today, is one that must be grasped at a global scale, and there are several possibilities – overpopulation, natural resource depletion, exploitation of some newly discovered ocean resource…who knows.
But, there will be a day, and many thanks to those brave souls who took the leap of faith in a new technology and were lost because of it over 70 years ago, we have st least the foundations for ‘a new life in the sea’.