Oceans of Opportunity

Lurking in the Shadows of September 11

Today will forever be one of those days where every American will reminisce a bit and contemplate where and how we are moving forward. In my case, today the dive supervisor reminded me that this was the 4th anniversary of Lyle passing away. Lyle Smith was the owner of Coastal Diving in Middletown, RI – the guy that gave me a chance to cut my teeth in commercial diving, and who I then worked with for a solid 15 years; or rather learned many life lessons with for 15 years while out there taking the sea head on day after day and learning how to make a living out on the water. Lyle left us the same way he lived – hitting it hard out there on the edge.

And with many of those warm thoughts fresh on my mind, I slipped under the corner of the barge and slid down some old pilings that needed to be cut down at the mudline. Depth – about 30 feet. Near the surface, visibility was pretty good despite our location being near the City of Providence. As I descended, it became lights out – only shadows. Once I hit bottom and silted the place out, it’s nothing but blackness. Then I settle in, organize my breathing hose, the hydraulic line going to my chainsaw, and square away my body position so that as I cut the pile it will swing away from me relative to how I rigged it topside with the crane hook. Maneuver, cut, breathe; maneuver, cut, breathe…it’s an elegant dance that requires patience and a steadiness that only comes with time in the water. Lyle would be proud that I’m still at it…his patience in letting me figure out how to find that calm and steadiness over thousands and thousands of hours was a gift, and not one that many are afforded.

It’s the dark that gets people, and it used to get me. Some ask “why not use a light”? Well, when lurking in the shadows of these inshore construction sites, more often than not there is so much particulate $#!T in the water that any light would create tremendous backscatter and be useless – only serving to disable your night vision and cripple your ability to use the shadows to your advantage…with enough time in the water, you can tell the relative time of day based on the direction of the shadows, you can tell whether you are under structure (such as the work barge), took a wrong turn, or have ended up too far off location. Once in awhile, your movement excites some bio-luminescence – to see this display so vividly in the middle of the day in only 30 feet of water speaks to just how dark it truly is within the shadows.

Every now and then you have to stick your face near the mud to locate a tool, and there is where the surprises lie. Big crabs, shrimps, occasionally eels…some of these critters can spook you, particularly big crabs. Another reason I prefer to work in the dark – what you can’t see won’t get you [it’s nice to think that anyway]. The creepy crawlies are better left out of site and out of mind so you can focus on the task at hand. Today I tripped up on a very big dead spider crab. One of Lyle’s many lessons was that if the crabs were dead then you knew the area was polluted…sounds about right.

When I got the news about Lyle back in 2013 I was on a research vessel in the Solomon Islands, surely enough, diving. Today as I reflect, diving. And back to the 9/11 that we all remember, yep…I was diving. On that day in 2001, I vividly recall the US Coast Guard herding us up from the shallow water eel-grass work we were doing in New Hampshire and directing us to muster back at the Coast Guard Station until further notice…another dark day.

Just like the ebbs and flows of the tide, life itself has its ebbs and flows…into and out of the shadows, with each cycle bringing new lessons, and new perspectives, for a new life in the sea.

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