National Geographic : 1965 Apr
THE DEE] DAY! By ROBERT 534 I AM SITTING on a bunk, eating steak. My wife stands three feet away, watching me. I wave. She smiles. A sun I cannot feel brightens her hair. A sea breeze I cannot savor ruffles it. I wish I could join her, for I have returned from a strange journey into an alien world. Unhappily, I cannot. If I step out on deck to greet Annie properly, I will die, quickly and painfully. That undersea realm I have visited is exacting its price of admission. Living in the depths, I have become in certain ways a creature of those depths, adapted to their pressures. Now the human environment is temporarily intolerable to me. I need pressure. Without it, the gas my tissues have absorbed would turn to bubbles. And so I must wait inside this lifesaving prison of a decompression tank until I have been slowly weaned from pressure and made once more fit to live on earth. The process takes more than three days. There are still hours to go. A long wait. But fortunately I have not been alone. I glance at my part ner, Jon Lindbergh, relaxing on his bunk. He winks; he understands. It comes to me that Jon's adventure under the sea is like that of his famous father in the air; both ventured beyond the boundaries of their day. Time creeps. Well, nothing to be done about it. I eat my steak. I wait. I think back.... S The affair has finished well. Two divers re covered safely, all equipment back on board our success is complete. But two and a half days ago on the bottom, 432 feet below the surface, things were going rather badly. We were panting from exertion, Jon and I, and the gas we breathed was turning toxic. Our hearts beat heavily STENUIT against our ribs. As for me, I was asking myself how I had gotten into such a situation. I had done so naturally. My 24-hour, 200-foot dive off Villefranche in 1962 for Edwin Link had been the start, the first step.* Later, at a world convention on undersea activities held in Lon don, Ed spoke of sending a man to 400 feet. All heads turned to me. Four hundred feet! The very idea made my insides itch. Did I really want to descend to that awful depth, to shiver night and day, and perhaps to furnish headlines for the journals that specialize in catastrophe? I really did. Always I have found joy in danger lucidly accepted and prudently overcome. And when a reporter put the question to me, I heard myself answer: "Of course, yes!" I was committed. I needed now only to get used to the idea of being very cold and very uncomfortable and not very reassured for a period of days. Then I could go under the water like a man going to his office. Project Man-in-Sea has been part of my life ever since the Link diving *See "The Long, Deep Dive," by Lord Kilbracken, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, May, 1963. In final hours before the plunge, a diver checks the undersea elevator known as SDC (submersible decompression chamber), center, that will take author Stenuit and Jon Lindbergh down and up. SPID, right, will shelter them during the two-day trial underwater. Sea Diver's crew stands by to safeguard and support the pair while they are below. EKTACHROMEBY NATIONALGEOGRAPHIC PHOTOGRAPHER BATES LITTLEHALES © N.G.S.