Sunday, July 12, 2009

A ‘privileged’ life beneath the seas

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.”

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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Hollywoods Love with the Water!!!

Besides the well known scuba diver, explorer and ecologist Jacques-Yves Cousteau, co-inventor of the aqua lung, many other Hollywood types are scuba divers. Tom Cruise and his wife Katie, Sandra Bullock, (who took up the sport to conquer her fear of being underwater), William Shatner, Patrick Stewart, Nikki Taylor, Lauren Hutton, Gene Hackman, Lloyd Bridges (Sea Hunt), Kathleen Turner, Bill Gates, Penelope Cruz, James Cameron (Titantic), Joe Perry (Aerosmith) and Tiger Woods with his famous quote about scuba diving "The fish don't know who I am".

Flipper was a show that ran on NBC television from 1964 to 1967. I remember seeing the show for the first time in colour and was amazed by the underwater photography. Good family morals, and a happy ending made for great entertainment and my love of dolphins to this day. Who wouldn't as a kid want to live in the Florida Keys with water outside their door and a pet dolphin!!!

Other diving/water related movies:

Monday, July 6, 2009

Sea Hunt!!!!

I was a great fan of Sea Hunt, the television show which aired from 1958 to 1961 and stared Lloyd Bridges. This was called "skin diving". It peaked an interest in diving lessons for people who watched the show. There were no BCDS or gauges used --- just tank, mask, regulator, fins and dive watch. Your diving watch was your "life-line"on a dive. On the left hand side of the tank, poking out was a lever called a "j valve", long since obsolete. Once you ran out of air ( better keep an eye on your watch!!!) you would reach back and open the valve. There was 300 psi left in the tank, which would be enough to get you to the surface. Imagine the surprise, and panic of a diver if the switch had already been pulled!!!!

With todays equipment, training from a professional scuba instructor and following the diving rules, scuba is a a safe and enjoyable sport, and opens up a whole new world of fun!!!! Enjoy the video!!!!

Mighty St Clair River

Water, Water everywhere. Water was always a part of my life from swimming in the St Clair River and Lake Huron, to swimming laps for many years in a pool. Always thought of taking up diving---one excuse or the other, then my Father drowned in Vero Beach, Florida in 1990. He was a good swimmer, but the rip-tides got the better of him. After that diving went out of my mind. One day while getting my hair cut from a Padi Master Teacher Diver, she suggested I take up diving. I thought about it, since at the time kinda between jobs and was looking for something to do besides cleaning the house!!!I thought this should be easy!!! Ha Ha. I watched the video, studied my book and in I got. Had some troubles with buoyancy, the mask leaked etc etc, but kept going.However my open water dive was a bomb!!!! Panic set in, mask leaked, BCD not a proper fit, all sorts of problems.Went home from trip in Ohio (Gilboa) and thought not for me. My instructor called me and persuaded me to try again. So this time, off to the St Clair River I go with fellow divers, right below the bridge, where the current is swift.Just before I jumped in I saw am image of my Father, like a guardian angel over me, and this time I knew it would all work out---it did, and I passed my Open Water Dive.I turned my passion into a business. I created a website, named after my Father. He was my guardian angel that day, and for that I am thankful, and my website is dedicated to him.

Kathy Dowsett