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|CLASSIC DIVE BOOKS - Author Philippe Diole.|
Left: British edition. Right: USA edition. Philippe Diole wearing "the Cousteau-Gagnan equipment"
THE UNDERSEA ADVENTURE
Reviewed edition published in Great Britain by Sidgwick and Jackson Ltd, London.
I read Diole's words for the first time in a quotation in Edward Du Cross' Skindiving in Australia, and was impressed with his description of the experience of diving. Diole wrote, "A vivid sense of delight takes hold off one, when for the first time one penetrates the surface. After thousands of years of fear and effort Man has at last succeeded in getting beneath the top layer of the sea, winning a long battle against asphyxia and terror. A palace untouched by human hand, with its gardens of rock and water where living creatures play the part of flowers, is the goal of all our striving." One paragraph of attempted eloquence is fine to bear, but a whole book takes some getting used to. Perhaps something has been lost in the translation, but after a few pages, ‘one' cannot be criticised for encouraging the author to ‘get on with it', and give us the facts, not just verbal flowering opinion. Diole seems to be trying too hard to be an author of grand prose, rather than telling it like it is - or was. Is Philippe Diole pretentious? I think not, but I could be forgiven for thinking that he appears to be such at times. He does tend to waffle on but he can be forgiven as his opinions are sound, his observations immense, and his facts indisputable.
I can't say that The Undersea Adventure was, at least initially, one of my most favourite books, but it appears to have been very accepted in its day, and probably did as much to open the closed minds of the layman to a fascination for the ‘silent world' more so than perhaps J.Y.C.'s own literary monument. And as the fly indicates: The Undersea Adventure is a work of literature that treats the underwater world with some of the philosophic intensity that Saint-Exupery devoted to the air. That's it then - it is a work of literature. But I want a work of fact and documentation. M. Diole has attempted to combine both. Perhaps he has succeeded.
The Undersea Adventure is not singular, but plural - there are many stories to tell, many adventures in the early days of diving to relate. Amongst the prose - "Not a weed moves. A carpet of sand gleams faintly in the cleft of a rock...." - is a first-hand essay on the development of diving; from the Phoenicians and Greeks, to Alexander the Great, and the great Roman urinatores, an unfortunate sounding name, legitimately used to describe the underwater warriors of ancient Rome. Perhaps they were the for-runners of the Italian nautatori, and the British ‘frogmen'. The French physiologist Paul Bert (1833-1886) is given due credit for his scientific work on the dreaded ‘bends', Augustus Siebe is honoured with the first true diving suit (in 1819), and Rouquayrol and Denayrouze for unshackling the tethered diver. Haldane, Davis, Commandant Le Prieur, Tailliez and the Undersea Research Group (of which Cousteau and Dumas were members - was Diole?), the brilliant tragic Swede Arne Zetterstrom, William Beebe and Professor Piccard - amongst many others - are mentioned and so honoured.
From a fascinating history of diving, Diole concentrates on what appears to be his favourite topic - the life beneath the sea. He describes the strange and bizarre (the Nautilus with its detached ‘penis' seeking love without attachment, so to speak), and in so doing demonstrates a true affinity with the sea. This, I think, is Diole's strength (as an author). He leaves you with no doubt as to his respect for the sea and its life. His understanding and compassion for the fishes, for example, is typical. He tries to understand the consciousness of the animal, and respects that they respond to four senses - ‘taste', ‘hearing', sight and vibration. He abhors the killing of fish for the sake of the hunt, and denounces the ‘science of carcasses' as the early ichthyology presented, insisting that more can be learnt by being with the fishes, in their environment, and observing. "Patient and continuous observations alone can help us to break down our basic, often elementary, ignorance of the sea."
Diole has compassion for the fishes. "On land we participate in a hierarchy of emotions which exclude the sea creatures; the man who can't bear to see a rabbit killed will look on with a cold eye while the back of a live fish's throat is torn out with the hook which is caught in it. The death-agony of all terrestrial things ... wakes in us some feelings of sympathy and egotism, some echoes of tenderness for the common fate of beast and man. This sense of pity which is so easily aroused remains indifferent to sea creatures; our clemency is unable to go further than the shore or to be extended to the living world beyond". I could not agree more. Diole has hit a tender spot in my heart - I am with him now, more engrossed in his words than before because he believes in the same causes that I do. He speaks of the agonies of a fish dying in the sea, with a spear through its body. He agonises of what w could have achieved if we had been more compassionate, more understanding. "Let us confess; we have gone down into the sea, into this unlooted palace, with the mentality of the line-fisherman. In this world under water we might have become, not a feared and hated spoil-sport, but an understanding witness and a tolerated guest." We may have learnt a great deal in the last half century. Indeed, our attitude may have matured into a greater understanding of the marine world since so many more divers have taken to the sea, many with the passion and compassion of Diole, willing to observe, communicate, learn, and above all, respect. Would Diole be pleased with the way we have progressed?
Chapters on aquaculture,
courtship and ‘virgin seaweed' add further interest - with special interest
in my favourite, the octopus. In Chapter VIII, 'The Poetry of the Sea',
Diole is in his element, seeking the expressions and emotions of Rimbaud,
Saint-Exupery, Saint-Pierre, Apollinaire and Prevert. He speaks of (underwater)
photography as a language, as a form of expression, which it surely is,
and of ‘an activity of the mind that finds unexpected openings in the sea'
- philosophy - but mercifully does not dwell on the vague concept. "Would
it be a return to lost paradise? This submarine awareness that we are developing,
this unfamiliar balance should not be without their significance. The diver,
enchanted by his discovery of a continent, fulfils the dreams of an ancestor
remembering in him his marine happiness."
It is here that he discusses in more detail the work of the Undersea Research Group of Tailliez and Cousteau, who obviously did quite a bit of moonlighting, presumably with the blessing of the French Navy of which they were a unit. But Diole bears no grudges. "Marine archaeology has now been revolutionised. There is no need, all the same, to blame a past that yielded the Marathon Boy, the Zeus from Artemision and the youth from Anticythera, showpieces of our museums. But wreckage that the sea left untouched for 2000 years has, at one stroke of salvage, been irreparably destroyed. We paid a high price for those statues, and to go on in that way would be to make sacrifices out of all proportion for other works of art.
Diole acknowledges that we have come a long way since those days; many marine archaeologists would suggest we have not come far enough. Diole recognises the true art and science of maritime archaeology, and although suggesting that maritime archaeology can and should be carried out "with the same delicacy" as the land archaeologist, it is never the less a completely separate science, and will only become so "... by practice, patience and experience. Marine archaeology is not just a branch of ordinary archaeology. It is a special science with its own rules and methods of research." He stresses one of the greatest tributes of a potential maritime archaeologist is to be a marine observer, and notes the importance of recording every detail of a wreck site, with the aim of dating the wrecks and learning their history: "... archae- ology does not need masterpieces of art so much as lots of simple contributory detail". In the development of maritime archaeology over the past half-century, Diole would have been most impressed.
Like so many early authors, Diole is determined to close with a prediction of the future. "Diving is not only a holiday sport. From now on it will be an integral instrument of scientific research. Biologists, hydrographers, physiologists, physicists, engineers and archaeologists ... in the future most sciences will have an underwater section." Rather than dwell on technological developments, Diole writes of problems of international law, and delves deeply into the past where the Roman law of jus gentium (free use for everyone), conflicts with the more modern res nullius (lacking in ownership but capable of being owned). He recognises the importance of territorial boundaries at sea, and notes the conflict that this causes. He also recognises the possible destruction of areas of the marine world due to the recreational diver. "How much will gorgonias and coral suffer from the attentions of too numerous admirers? Perhaps we shall be able to classify as ‘underwater parks' places chosen for the beauty of their position or the richness of their fauna." How sensible, how prophetic. Diole strongly criticises his own country for abysmal fisheries management and coastal development, and encourages the rest of the world to take a greater futuristic look, to plan natural resource use, and to above all, learn from the sea. He does not condemn exploitation, but insists that what we gain from the sea is for benefit not only now but in the greater future.
In conclusion, Diole speaks of himself, his aspirations and his book. "I have no illusions about my work being anything but the first chapter in a humanisation of the sea, which is itself still only a dream. That is why the text of my book means less than the intention that underlies it." His final words: "Just as there is no part of the diver's body which remains unexercised or unsoothed in the sea, so there is no part of his mind not brought into play. What possibilities lie ahead!".
Readability: I started off
slowly, and then became engrossed. It may take some effort at first to
become used to his style, but once any thoughts of pretentiousness are
abandoned, which they should be, the book grips you with enthusiasm. If
you have any compassion and understanding of the sea, you will no doubt
feel that you are reading of your own thoughts, expressions of your own
feelings. Quite a brilliant book.
From the Romans to the Arabs, from improbable pig skin diving suits with "hood or cowl and its tube-like extension", to the practical if restricted diving bell of the sixteen century. Of course Leonardo da Vinci knew how to built a practical diving suit, as he would, but; "There is too much wickedness in the hearts of men to justify my entrusting them with the secret of under-water navigation; they would not hesitate to use it to sow murder in the depths of the seas". Quite so. It was left to David Bushnell in the USA three centuries later to develop a prototype submarine that actually worked; the famous wooden Turtle was used in the American War of Independence, but not too successfully.
The German Klingert gets the nod for being the first to invent a moderately practical diving suit, in 1797. The Englishman Augustus Siebe (yes English, not German - he was of Saxon origin), developed the concepts of Klingert (and Forder, Fullarton and James) into what we now know as ‘standard dress' or ‘hard-hat' diving, and until the demise of this method of diving only recently by the ‘self-contained' diver or the tethered diver using modern Kirby-Morgan style helmets, little changed in its basic design over nearly two centuries. By the 1830s, divers kitted in Siebe's suits descended and worked to depths of 130 feet.
Diole covers the development of all aspects of ‘underwater navigation' - the completely enclosed diver working at sea level atmospheric pressure (the submarines, submersibles and the enclosed observation ‘bells'), the surface-supplied tethered diver, and the free swimming ‘self-contained' diver.
"By the end of the nineteenth century, man was in a position to claim that he had acquired sufficient knowledge to allow him to live, to work, and in a sense to exert his authority in the world beneath the water - to a depth, that is, of at least 300 ft. Whereas equipment may not have developed dramatically until the manufacture of the diving regulator, much had to be done to understand the physics and physiology of working, and playing, under pressure. Hyperbaric science commences no doubt with the work of the French physiologist Paul Bert (1833-1886) and his recognition of the causes of the agonising and mysterious condition we now know as ‘the bends', and the subsequent work of the British scientist J.B.S. Haldane who "drew up a table of ascent by stages..." which we now know as the dive tables (subsequently refined of course, and continually so).
By way of example, Diole indicates where a particular type of equipment was used, mainly, as it turns out, on salvage for treasure. But dear oh dear, are we to blame Diole or translator Burton for identifying our famous J.E. ‘Johnno' Johnstone and his incredible work on recovering gold from the Niagara, as - an American. Such an error is unforgivable!! A substantial portion of the book covers the development of the submarine, and the diasters and attempted rescues, of stricken submarines, the first being the ill-fated Farfadet at Bizerta in 1905.
The development of self-contained diving equipment during and soon after the 1939-1945 war is of particular interest as it is here we see the emergence of the ‘frog-man' closed-circuit equipment, and the modern day ‘aqualung' or completely mobile ‘scuba'. Sir Robert Davis emerges as an inventor of some genius with his submarine-escape equipment which led to the ‘frog-man' equipment used by the British and the Italians. (Whatever did happen to Commander Crabb?) . Commander Le Prieur is again mentioned somewhat in passing (as did Tailliez in To Hidden Depths) - I would like to know more of this incredible man for it was he, apparently, in 1925, who "first thought of a self-contained diving suit, complete with compressed -air container, face mask, and pressure-valve". But what of the work of Rouquayrol and Denayrouze in 1865 you may well ask? Did they not develop a completely self-contained unit with a compressed air tank worn on the back? Indeed they did, complete with a ‘regulator' to supply air at the same pressure as the surrounding water (as was necessary), although by a valve, and not ‘on demand'. What limited the Rouquayrol-Denayrouze equipment was simply a matter of technology - the air tank could hold no more than 420 psi, and thus the diver was restricted to some twenty-two minutes at thirty feet - not a bad effort for the time, but rather impractical in a work environment, so the tanks were generally filled from a surface pump. Being so tethered meant the main advantage of mobility was eliminated, and the brilliant Rouquayrol-Denayrouze equipment was no better in many respects than standard dress.
Commander Le Prieur, who is obviously held in high esteem by Diole, and Tailliez, developed a ‘self-contained' system with tanks able to take a pressure of several thousand psi. His air supply was constant, not requiring the operation of a valve - safe but wasteful of air. Cousteau obviously know Le Prieur (or knew of him as Cousteau was of a much lower rank in the French Navy), and with the assistance of the engineer Emile Gagnan, developed the modern regulator which supplies air "on demand" at surrounding water pressure. It could be said that Cousteau took a concept to Gagnan who invented the modern-day regulator. "The Cousteau-Gagnan outfit combined the Le Prieur principle of cylinders of highly-compressed air, with the regulated supply of air "on demand" and the pressure of the surrounding water which was part of the Rouquayrol-Denarouze system". Diole later describes the ‘Cousteau-Gagnan' equipment as being ‘adapted by certain naval officers and a civil engineer'.
At the conclusion of the Second World War, in 1945, the French Navy set up the Under-water Research Group on advice from Tailliez and Cousteau, with former as its leader. The author does not dwell on the activities of the group (covered in his previous book The Undersea Adventure and in Tailliez's To Hidden Depths). The use of an oxygen-helium mix, first by the Americans in 1925, is mentioned, as is the unfortunate Swedish engineer Zetterstrom who died when diving with an hydrogen-oxygen mix. One chapter is devoted to the experience of being underwater - a mini scuba lesson so to speak, giving some indication of the perils, but concentrating more on the pleasures.
An Appendix - ‘On The Dangers of Diving' - informs the reader that ‘this is not a textbook' and covers, again, the problems of bends and barotrauma. Two basic decompression tables are provided.
Readability: There is none
of the ‘apparent pretentiousness' of his earlier book (The Undersea Adventure),
and thus is very easy to read.
THE GATES OF THE SEA.
THE SEAS OF SICILY
EXCURSIONS IN UNDERSEA ARCHAEOLOGY.