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Trapped Under the Sea | a review

'A New Life in the Sea' by Michael Lombardi

With my recent travel schedules I’ve managed to do some much needed catch up  on my reading list, and just turned the last page of Neil Swidey’s ‘Trapped Under the Sea’. The book recounts the tragic event involving the loss of two divers during the Deer Island outfall tunnel project in Boston several years ago.

The book’s subject matter was captivating given my own line of work, and particularly my recent work with these types of tunneling projects. The descriptions of the personnel, the equipment, the decision making, and the aquatic lifestyle by those entrenched in the trade is all dead on. For those looking for an insider’s perspective of the industry and the very real risks involved, this is a good read.

From a critical perspective, I was not personally gripped by the story,though likely because I am too close to the subject matter so there was little left for surprise. That said however, a number of key lessons were highlighted which reinforced my own opinions on the industry, particularly diving within industry and not ‘sport’ diving.

The book closes with the description of those lost as ‘ordinary heroes’. in fact those very words are etched in a memorial on Deer Island to pay tribute. That sums up divers better than any other description. Despite the layers upon layers of bureaucracy and management that often imposes itself on these types of projects – for better or worse –  it inevitably comes down to people getting their hands dirty and feet wet to get the job done…and a willingness to do that. In many cases, the technical aptitude and skill sets required are no less demanding than a trip to space. For comparison, recall that at a depth of just 33 feet, or one atmosphere of depth, humans are physiologically just as removed from terra firma as being on the moon.

Interestingly, professional divers (at least those with any longevity) fall into two distinct camps. First are those such as the crew described in the book – they often live a hard life, travel in tough circles, and often end up overcome by the hard lifestyle. The second extreme are the few who have the intellectual capacity of rocket surgeons. I have worked closely with both camps. The common ground found between the two is an aptitude to survive. This has little to do with being an extremist or stunt man, but has everything to do with a heightened sense of self, and an innate ability to separate physical and psychological challenges when confronted with those challenges. Divers are unquestionably a unique breed, and perhaps some of the most capable people on this planet. Who else could stomach travelling 10 miles underground for a day of work?

In close, I’d say it’s worth a read for those curious about the working side of the life aquatic. As you turn the pages, just consider that this type of work is underway each and every day – beneath city streets, at depths and within environments that would send shivers up your spine, and will forever continue into the unknown. Some of the most pressing challenges of our time have yet to surface, but are right here in our backyard, and will unquestionably require the human hand at work.

The art of problem solving at frontier limits is what exploration is all about, and continues in perpetuity.

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