As the weather gets cooler, we all find ourselves inside. Many like to catch up on their reading during the winter months. For anyone that would like to learn more about our sport, its history, and the history of scuba’s pioneers, I put a list together of some of the books written about diving and its many aspects.
Scuba is unique in that we have as many different types of diving as we do divers. There truly is something for everyone, whether you like to take pictures of the colorful reefs, explore sunken wrecks and learn of history long forgotten, search for treasure or find what was lost, fish for your supper, or see natural history first-hand in the springs, caverns, and caves under our feet.
Many of the stories in these books describe the riskier side of our sport. I do not advocate technical diving or full-cave diving without extensive training, proper supervision, and the psychological mindset needed to perform these extreme activities. Diving is like driving on a Sunday afternoon, you can cruise on the back country roads in a sedan or you can tear down the Autobahn in a convertible… both are driving, but one is far riskier and comes with grave consequences for any accidents. Other books are on the humorous side of diving, the lighter stories, the tales of treasures lost and and found and exotic places to visit.
You may have heard me talking about our history and refer to “dive gods”. This is a term that has been discussed about among divers and dive shops for years. I certainly mean no disrespect and please do not misconstrue the meaning of the term. Dive gods refer to those of us that have come before; the fathers of our sport that have pushed our learning to new heights, expanded our horizons, gone where no one has gone before, and lived to tell about it. They may have been controversial, and some eventually paid the ultimate price for their curiosity, but no one can dispute the commitment and love of the sport by people such as Cousteau, Exley, Skiles, Chatterton, and Kohler. Many of these stories focus around them and their exploits to further our own diving knowledge.
I have all of the books on the list below. If you would like to borrow one, I’m more than happy to lend them out, since reading helps us understand our own history while enjoying stories about something we love. Please email or call me if you’d like to pick one of these up.
Beyond the Deep: The Deadly Descent into the World’s Most Treacherous Cave – William Stone & Barbara Am Ende.
As of April, 2013, the Sistema Huautla system has once again been declared as the deepest explored cave system in the Western Hemisphere. Current explored passages total over 39 miles, with depths reaching 5,000 feet underground and as of today 9 underground sumps with depths that reach over 240 feet. Before 2013, the last push on this cave system was the groundbreaking expedition by Bill Stone and Barbara Am Ende in 1994. Beyond the Deep is their story. This expedition was the first time rebreathers were used in anything other than space, and the culmination of several earlier attempts by Stone to “break” the cave and prove his belief that Huautla was the longest, deepest cave in the world.
The Cave Divers – Robert Burgess
The Cave Divers is a documentary of cave diving in the Florida springs and caves. From the early days of caving pioneers to the archeological expeditions that found fossils and prehistoric human remains, it chronicles the evolution of the sport and highlights the many discoveries made through the mid-1970’s. This serves in many ways as a prelude to Caverns Measureless to Man, as these were the predecessors to divers like Sheck Exley, Wes Skiles, and Bill Stone.
Caverns Measureless to Man – Sheck Exley
You cannot talk about modern diving without talking about Sheck Exley. Exley is the father of cave diving who quite literally wrote the book on the sport. In cave diving’s early days, there was no training, no structure. If you wanted to learn to cave dive, you strapped a tank on your back, put a couple flashlights in plastic bags, and went in a cave. Mortality rates were through the roof within a very small population of divers, and landowners were dynamiting cave entrances to keep divers out of them over fear of lawsuits. Enter Exley, a high school math teacher who loved caves and cave diving. He wrote Basic Cave Diving: A Blueprint for Survival. Each chapter began with a scenario of a diver he knew who died in a cave. The chapter went on to explain what happened, why, and how to prevent it. He was the first to champion the use of the Octopus rig on regulators. His work furthered our sport immeasurably before his death in 1994 at the Zacaton cenote in Mexico while trying to be the first to reach a depth of a “nice round number”: 1000 feet. This is his autobiography, his stories, his dives, and his thoughts on our sport.
Deep Descent: Adventure and Death Diving the Andrea Doria – Kevin F. McMurray
The Andrea Doria is considered by most divers as the Mt. Everest of wreck diving. There are deeper wrecks out there. There are wrecks in worse shape, bigger, or with stronger current, but the Doria has all of these combined. 700 feet long, 90 feet wide, literally a maze of passages and tunnels, she sits on her side at 240 feet deep in the mid-Atlantic, where water temperature at depth rarely rises above the mid-40’s. She sunk in 1956 after striking the Stockholm, and her death was caught on film as she sunk during the course of the following day. Wreck divers dive her for the prestige and the allure of Doria china, a prized artifact on anyone’s mantle. This is a well-written book on the psychology of the deep wreck diver, and offers insight into the rivalries of the Northeast dive clubs over what many non-divers consider to be worthless plates and glasses.
Diving Guide to Underwater Florida, 11th edition – Ned DeLoach
DeLoach’s Guide to Underwater Florida is a must have for any scuba diver’s bookshelf or suitcase. It is a geographical listing of over 600 dives sites throughout the state, along with directions, maps of 50 locations and information about each site. In it’s 11th edition, it grows more complete with every printing and has proven to be an essential companion for divers visiting Florida, from the Keys to the Springs to Gulf and everything in between.
The Fireside Diver – edited by Bonnie Cardone
“Tell me about your best dive”. If someone asked you that question, what would you say? Fireside Diver is a list of stories and anecdotes by some of the world’s most renowned scuba divers. Funny, awe-inspiring, or just plain terrifying, they represent the most memorable dives to a group of people that have truly “been there, done that, and have the T-shirt,” and gives us all a few more destinations to add to our bucket list and experiences that we can daydream about.
The Helldiver’s Rodeo – Humberto Fontova
Fishermen are an eccentric group, let’s just get that out there first. Spear fishermen take that cliche to the next level. Technical spear fishermen who dive to 200 feet and hunt for fish bigger than they are, then harvest them with a spear connected to a rope which they then have connected to both themselves and a very unhappy said fish that’s bigger than they are… eccentric may not be the right word to describe them… now let’s add New Orleans Cajun technical spear fishermen to the description and you can see where this is going. If you have never been to the Gulf in the fall for fishing rodeos, it’s a whole other world. For the uninitiated, a fishing rodeo is a fishing contest, a derby of sorts. Teams are generally giving a time-frame to catch either the most fish, most weight in fish, or a certain list of fish whose weight is then added up, and then it’s game-on. Helldiver’s Rodeo contains the stories of the New Orleans dive clubs who participate in these fishing rodeos with their own style and personality.
The Last Dive – Bernie Chowdhury
Technical wreck diving in the early 1990’s was still in its infancy. Techniques, mixed gases, equipment; these were all things still being refined and experimented with. Last Dive is the story of the Rouses, a father/son team who died while trying to identify a previously unknown U-boat found off the coast of New Jersey, nicknamed the U-Who. Most often read in conjunction with Shadow Divers, the biography is a cautionary tale into what can, and does, go wrong 230 feet below the surface, in the mangled wreck of a submarine, in 38 degree water. A personal favorite read, the author, a close friend of the Rouse family, tells the entire story of the dive team, from their early days and introduction to cave diving, to the extreme world of wreck diving, and provides lessons learned from the tragedy, which any reader can take to heart.
Lost on the Ocean Floor: Diving the World’s Ghost Ships – John Christopher Fine
Lost on the Ocean Floor is a history buff’s book. John Fine is a historian, world renowned photographer, and underwater archaeologist who has dove all over the world and has written about sites ranging from ancient roman shipwrecks to the German fleet at Scapa Flow, Truk Lagoon (the Japanese Pearl Harbor) to the Spanish fleet. Each site is presented with the historical background surrounding the wrecks, how they were lost (and found), and their preservation.
The Rapture of the Deep and other dive stories you probably shouldn’t know – Michael G. Zinsley
Zinsley is an instructor that has had the chance to travel the world teaching and diving. These are the lighthearted stories and anecdotes of his travels, escapades both under and out of the water. He reminds us that life’s too short and not to take ourselves too seriously, From his early days getting certified in Australia to teaching across the South Pacific, the U.S., and the Caribbean, his tales of students, dive shops and instructors are sure to bring a smile to your face.
Ocean Gladiator – Mark Ellyatt
Ocean Gladiator is a lighter look at the world of technical diving. Tech diving means different things to different people since there’s so many aspects to tech. Generally speaking, tech means deep, deeper than 130 feet. It may mean learning and using mixed gasses beyond nitrox; Tri-mix, Heliox, Argon, these are all in the realm of the tech diver to learn and use. Wreck diving and penetration is a tech diver’s bread and butter. While these sound risky and exotic, and are quite beyond most normal recreational diver’s skill levels, Ellyatt presents his experiences in a way that all divers can understand and appreciate, and brings a chuckle to even the most serious diver.
Shadow Divers – Robert Kurson
In 1991, New Jersey charter captain Bill Nagel was given coordinates to a prime fishing location by a fellow boat captain who believed the spot was actually a wreck. Nagel spread the word of an exploratory dive and brought in several prominent Northeast wreck divers. What they found floored them: a sunken U-boat where no record of a sunken German sub existed. Over the next 6 years and the loss of several divers, John Chatterton and Richie Kohler, two of the most well-known modern wreck divers, made it their mission to identify the unknown sub, christened the U-Who, and rewrite modern naval history. Many read this novel after reading The Last Dive since the Rouse’s were two of the divers who died trying to find the name of this vessel and the two books together give a more complete picture of the perils in the quest to find out the name of the U-Who.