Saturday, October 22, 2011

Shadow Divers

Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson

This book sat on my bookshelf for seven years. When I bought it I intended to read it soon but it never seemed to rise to the top of my to-be-read pile. It was a NY Times bestseller for several weeks and when it was published it was likened to Krakauer's Into Thin Air and Junger's A Perfect Storm which gives you an idea of what type of true adventure story it is and how good the book is.

Shadow Divers is about two American deep-sea wreck divers: John Chatterton and Rich Kohler, who discover a German U-boat sunk about 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey. No records of a U-boat  having been sunk in that area during WWII existed so this was the find of a lifetime for both of them. It also represented the beginning of a quest to identify the submarine and discover what it was doing so close to American soil.

The story of how these divers went about trying to identify this submarine was interesting. They made dozens of dives down to it to try to retrieve something from it that would help them make that determination. They also scoured every available record from World War II, but it took years before they were finally able to solve the mystery behind it.

But that part of the book wasn't what I found the most captivating. Instead it was the information about what men like these are like, and what drives them to engage is such a life-threatening avocation. With every dive they make, they take risks with their lives that most people would never dream of taking. They dive hundreds of feet to depths which cause hallucinations with even the most experience divers. And the decompression required during and after every dive are amazing. For divers who go below 200 feet or so, they  have to plan on a dive of a couple of hours. But only a quarter or so of the total dive time is used up at their targeted dive depth. The other three fourths of the time is spent waiting at various depths on the way back up as their body rids itself of the excess nitrogen that built up in their system.

The risk of the bends if they ascend too quickly or or don't decompress sufficiently is only one of the many risks they take. In addition to that, they also risk being lost at sea each time. I wouldn't have thought that was that big of a risk, but divers have to make sure to stay with the anchor line. A diver who looses contact with the anchor line, is more than likely to be pulled away by currents and come to the surface miles away from the ship.

I thought the book as a whole was fascinating. The men the book is written about are incredible and the mystery behind the submarine's identity is captivating. Robert Kurson did an excellent job of providing an insight into the life and mentality of the men who possess the inexplicable trait that makes them obsessed with the dangers and thrills that come with exploring wrecks on the ocean floor.

★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

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