Whether it was working under water in the construction of docks, or later as a deck officer on ocean-going ships, the early days of Veljko Pesakovic’s career meshed nicely with his passion for scuba diving.
A young student in the naval academy in the former Yugoslavia at the time, Veljko’s diving training led to jobs, as well as recreational diving opportunities that only a privileged few enjoyed.
In building concrete marina docks, his job was to assemble under water the planks that would serve as forms to contain the cement. He also found work in ports, cleaning the hulls, bottoms and propellers of 150-foot vessels that ferried 80 to 100 passengers between the islands and the mainland. For a young recreational diver looking for every opportunity to pursue his sport, getting paid to do it was a bonus. The pay breakdown was split evenly in three ways – to the diver, the diving club and for operating expenses.
But his favourite memories were of the recreational dives his group of eight to 10 friends from the diving club would make from their base in Split (in the former Yugoslavia) to the islands in the Adriatic Sea. In his homeland, divers underwent rigorous training to be certified, spending two months in classes before they even went into the water. As such, they were valuable to the navy, which sponsored the diving club and provided them with a boat, free fuel and access to places few others could go.
The diving club had two focuses for these trips. One was the “archaeological group,” which sought out sunken ships from the Roman era. The interesting artefacts on those ships included “amphoras,” which were vases two- to four-feet tall that were used to transport goods such as wine or spices. The other was the “gastronomic group,” which dove for rare shells known as “prstaci,” found underwater in the rocks of the Adriatic islands. They were considered a delicacy and Veljko says they took hundreds of years to mature. In August, they would dive for lobsters, but in Yugoslavian waters they were not allowed to catch them with the aid of air tanks. Being young, fit and experienced divers, they had no trouble going down 60 feet without an air tank to catch the lobsters.
When he graduated from the naval academy and began to cruise world on commercial ships, the big bonus for Veljko was the opportunity to dive during his down time in ports. Among his favourites were Durban in South Africa, Newcastle, Australia, the island of Mauritius and the Canary Islands. He rented equipment from local diving clubs and went on their organized dives, usually 20 to 40 miles from the ports. These locations were prime diving locales. There, warmer water temperatures would mean that the spectacular aquatic life that divers enjoy exploring would be at much shallower depths. This involves several advantages, Veljko says. One is that the colours of the plants and fish in shallow water are much better because water absorbs the light. By 130 to 140 feet, “everything is grey.” Shallow depths also make aquatic life more accessible to divers and allow for more time to enjoy them before air tanks run too low to safely continue the dive.
For Veljko, who now lives in Montreal, Canada, the Adriatic dives and those at his favourite warm-water locales around the world reinforced his passion for the sport. “I was spoiled,” he says. “I was privileged. I was a paid tourist.”