SCUBA

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Addendum regarding SCUBA                                      

In 1953, in Stamford, Hilda, knowing of my interest in skin and scuba diving, called my attention to a small announcement in the local newspaper. It read, “The skin diving club of the Greenwich YMCA invites all men interested in this new sport to our monthly meetings in the pool.”

I had thought about this crazy idea before, and after a few tries in cold, murky water with a rudimentary mask and one of those ping-pong ball “breathing tubes” (first tested in my bathtub) and Churchill fins (since donated to the Underwater Explorers Club Museum), I dreamed of bigger things, like actually breathing underwater. My fist try was a 2 foot square tin box. I pulled it over my head and ducked under. No dice! I wondered whether this group at the Y had something better. I called the Y. “Tell me about your skin diving or scuba group”, proud of myself for knowing how to pronounce this new word. The man didn’t understand. “Skin or scuba”, I repeated. “Is that someone’s name” he asked. Finally, connected to the Aquatic office, I learned that this group was not simply playing with plastic tubes but actually had tanks. I signed up.

There they were – eight “divers”, half of them underwater. Two had shiny, futuristic looking tanks with things called “regulators” attached to two corrugated hoses. The other six had homemade “rigs.”

“OK Ernie, It’s your turn.”With pounding heart, I was strapped onto a tank at the shallow end and was pushed under water. I arrived in Mecca, heaven and paradise all at once. The bug bit!

Nothing was going to stop me from joining this group of nuts. I could not afford those shiny tanks, but how could I build such a complicated thing as an underwater breathing apparatus – an actual SCUBA outfit? I questioned these divers at a coffee bar after the pool session in order to get a general idea of how to go about making my own, First, a surplus red fire extinguisher tank (maximum pressure 400 pounds) A war surplus store supplied an old air force regulator designed to provide air to pilots bailing out at high altitudes. Rubber hoses were easy to come by. A mouth piece from a snorkel, some clamps, one rubber flutter valve and one rubber band which I recall as being essential but for what I could not remember.

 The nastiest problem was the waterproofing of the regulator. Simple. Just pour liquid rubber all over and into it. Add one strap and one buckle and I finally had my own “rig”, which I simply called “It”.

One of the Y divers had a compressor with a barrel of water alongside. In went “It”, on went the compressor, and out we went around the corner of the building until the gauge showed 390. We gingerly retrieved the tank.

The big initiation came the next week. Flippers, mask, then “It”. Mouth piece in, a breath, the face down. I could see. I could move. I could breathe, although it took all the strength I could muster to do so. But no way could I get more than 2” underwater. “It” had felt heavy enough out of water, but in the water, was more like a lifejacket. Only then did I notice that the other guys wore weighted belts. I borrowed one of the heavier belts and finally became a real diver. What a thrill. What a sense of freedom!  But all those weight belts looked expensive and cumbersome, so I simply added a 9” length of an “I” beam and stayed in that fabulous world for the entire eight minutes that the 390 pounds of pressure allowed.

During the next few months, there were several more pool sessions and discussions of Boyles Law, Costeau’s Aqualung and the like, all this increasing my wish to invest in decent equipment to allow me to go below ten feet. In any case, the bail-out regulator started to fall apart.

I was transferred to Chicago. “It” was left behind for the garbage man to pick up. As I drove westward, I thought of my red tank with its remaining pounds of pressure. What if the neighbor’s five kids played with it? I called him telling him to let the air out. I had visions of a headline. “Boy blown apart by neighbor’s home made bomb.”

I purchased my first scuba outfit – with double hoses  - and started my ten years with Atlantis Divers.