We've all heard by now that only 3% of the earth's oceans have been explored. What treasures lay undiscovered in the remaining 97%? For recreational divers, this trove of wrecks and artifacts will remain outside the boundaries of our skills and training, but for many, the lure of the deep is too much to resist. Deep Descent is the story of those who succumb to this temptation---whether for the promise of unmolested china or the glory of being in an elite group of divers. In particular, the focus is on one such prize: the Andrea Doria.
The SS Andrea Doria is an Italian ocean liner that sank in the North Atlantic in 1956 after colliding with the MS Stockholm. Her topmost point rests at 160 ft, with the bottom at well over 240 ft, making diving an impossibility for the limits of scuba at the time. However, it didn't take long before a brave few were diving the wreck, often referred to as "The Mount Everest of scuba diving."
Deep Descent recounts their tales, beginning with the first divers shortly after her sinking all the way up to the early 2000's. These dives were not without their setbacks, however. The book's pages are mostly filled with the stories of divers who met their fate diving the Doria. To date, 15 divers have died on the Doria, with the most recent occurring in 2008. Dives continue to the present day, although the increasingly delapidated condition of the wreck makes uncovering artifacts a thing of the past.
The history of the Doria is an interesting one. In retrospect, the stories are frustrating as we watch otherwise capable divers behaving stupidly in the face of 3rd class dinner sets. For many of the stories, divers are still using air, which requires penetrating a dangerous wreck under the heavy influence of nitrogen narcosis. Even with the development of trimix, fatalities have continued at a steady pace, implying there are hidden dangers beyond the depth of the wreck.
I'd recommend this book for anyone interested in technical diving. If for no other reason, it serves as a reminder to respect the ocean and the unknown. The most successful divers encountered in Deep Descent are those with the sense enough to know when not to dive. It is easy to become a bit foolhardy after a lot of training and some successful dives, but this book is a useful reminder to always exercise caution, even for a recreational diver like myself.
Unfortunately, Deep Descent has its faults. For one, it tends to overreach in places. The book's title and cover tell us what the book is about, yet the author often wanders. For example, one boat, The Seeker, is a common charter out to the famed wreck. After the original owner passes away, the book takes us through a sidetrack about the status of the boat and its new owners. Interesting to some? Maybe, but some judicious editing would've made for a snappier read.
Another shortcoming is the lack of a central narrative through the book. We go from story to story, which are often told in a matter-of-fact, history book style that is sometimes cumbersome. The author tries hard to avoid making anyone out to be a villain. While I respect this stance, it makes it harder to get sucked in to any story.
The author, Kevin McMurray, is a tec diver who has dove the Andrea Doria several times. He is at his best when he switches to a first-person description of his dives. My favorite chapter is probably his description of diving the Doria for the first time.
For those interested in wreck diving, technical diving, or the Andrea Doria, Deep Descent is a recommended read. The casual recreational diver may not find the contents as interesting.