Connect with us

Education

How Deep Is Your Library?

Tech diving requires a deep body of knowledge that must be kept current. So it seemed appropriate to ask, what books should tekkies have on their shelves? To answer that question we turned to DAN’s nerdy risk mitigation coordinator cum cave diver, Christine Tamburri to suss out suitable tekkie tomes. Here is what she uncovered. Feed your head!

Published

on

by Christine Tamburri. Header image: Jon Kieren catching up on his reading at Sistema Huautla by SJ Alice Bennett. Ed. note-Special thanks to Jason Brown for suggesting the topic.

The hallmark of a “super nerd” is typically the extent of their library. For row after row, their bookshelves overflow with everything from fiction to mystery to fantasy. Variety is the secret weapon. Deep down, tekkies are also super nerds with a diving addiction so, naturally, their bookshelves should also be overflowing with nerdy scuba works. Some books are a given, like the U.S. Navy Manual (First Edition – 1905), the NOAA Diving Manual (First Edition – 1975), The Silent World by Frédéric Dumas and Jacques Cousteau (1953), and Men Beneath the Sea by Hans Hass (1975). Others are not so obvious.

After countless conversations extending into the far reaches of the night with some of the industry greats, it became obvious that only a few books were well-known by divers around the world. Several were long forgotten or never discovered in the first place, and thanks to the input of Michael Menduno, Frauke Tillmans, Roger Williams, and Ken Sallot, this comprehensive list stands ready to help every tekkie become a super nerd. Even Rick Stanton himself crashed a virtual book club meeting to give his input on which books are most captivating.  

You are invited to take a deep dive (pun intended) into an extensive list of works that all tekkies should have on their bookshelves. Of course, hours upon hours could be spent discussing book after excellent book pertaining to the Andrea Doria, Wookey Hole, the Britannic, Great Lakes shipwrecks, such as Richie Kohler’s Mystery of the Last Olympian: Titanic’s Tragic Sister Britannic etc, but there is simply not enough time in the day or room on the page. As such, this list is not all-encompassing, but it is a solid foundation. A starter set of books if you will.

Classics from Early Tech

Some books age like fine wine. The longer they sit on the bookshelf, the more iconic they become. Some of these works are highly sought after and rarely available, but all are a time capsule of an iconic period in dive history. Taking things back to the early pre-scuba skin diving days,
Last of the Blue Water Hunters by Carlos Eyles (First Edition – 1985) is an epic recount of early breath-hold divers who ventured out into blue water in search of game, and in doing so, defied ancient myths and fears, and tested themselves in the process. It speaks to books like Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson (2004) and The Last Dive by Bernie Chowdhury (2000) document important times in the progression of wreck diving. They are often referred to as a “gateway drug” for those considering the leap into technical diving. Ultimate Wreck Diving Guide by Gary Gentile (1992) takes things a step further by detailing all aspects of wreck diving and how technology has thrust it into the mainstream.

A tekkie library would not be complete without a collection dedicated to the origins of the quest to go deeper for longer. Before founding TDI in 1994, Bret Gilliam wrote two books. Deep Diving by Bret Gilliam and Robert Von Maier with John Crea and Darren Webb (1992) discusses the transition from the recreational realm into the technical world, while Mixed Gas Diving by Tom Mount and Bret Gilliam (1992) discusses almost everything that divers need to know before venturing into the world of obscure breathing gas mixes.

Some years later, Doing it Right: The Fundamentals of Better Diving  by Jarrod Jablonski (2000) was published as a guideline for the gear configuration and training philosophies of Global Underwater Explorers (GUE). This work was updated in 2021 and the title was shortened to The Fundamentals of Better Diving.

Another classic published by a seriously busy pioneer in the industry is Technical Diving from the Bottom Up by Kevin Gurr (2004). Somewhere between building some of the first mixed gas computers and three different rebreather models (Ourobouros, Sentinel, and Explorer), Gurr found time to dive deep into technical diving while covering gear configurations, physiology, gas mixes, and a variety of other topics. Of course, this category wouldn’t be complete without mentioning a work that is defined by the word “classic”…aquaCORPS Journal by Michael Menduno (First Edition – 1990)! First introduced at DEMA in 1990, aquaCORPS revolutionized the technical diving world, uniting tekkies far and wide as they discussed topics that were seen by those not in the know as being incomprehensible. It was quickly followed by Joel Silverstein’s SUB AQUA Journal (1991), Curt Bowen’s Deep Tech (1995), and Bernie Chowdhury’s Immersed (1995), which was later purchased by Diver magazine.  

Got Your Meds?

Diving is one of the few sports that changes the physiological characteristics of the body. The changes that occur upon immersion are not simple to understand, so a true tekkie will add a few diving medicine books to their shelves. Physiology and Medicine of Diving by Peter Bennett and David Elliot (First Edition – 1969) and Diving Medicine by Alfred Bove and Jefferson Davis (First Edition – 1976) are seen as “bibles” to some physicians. These works would be carried around conferences with pride, as notes were feverishly taken and sections were enthusiastically highlighted. Even Jim Bowden would read Physiology and Medicine of Diving every day as he was preparing for his attempt to dive to the bottom of Zacatón. Very few will read these cover-to-cover, but their value as reference materials is unmatched, and they are a must-have to complete any tekkie library.

As an aside, a legend was recently lost as Professor David Elliot passed away on January 18, 2022. His legacy in dive medicine will continue to live on through his published materials. 

Gasses Galore

Nitrogen, oxygen, helium, argon, hydrogen…without them, the periodic table would be incomplete, and tekkies wouldn’t be able to satisfy their ever-present urge to submerge. In fact, these gasses are so important that they deserve a category of their own! Vance Harlow is responsible for one of the most sought-after gas mixing books ever written. Oxygen Hacker’s Companion by Vance Harlow (Fourth Edition – 2002) not only details how to mix nitrox and trimix, but it also dives deep into the dangers of handling oxygen and how to mitigate the risks. Many gas blenders agree that a shrine should be built to preserve the wonders of this book forever. The book is currently out of print, however, PDF copies do exist. Seek and ye shall find!

Once gas is mixed, accurate sensors must be used and thanks to Oxygen Measurement for Divers by John Lamb (First Edition – 2016), tekkies can learn more than they ever thought possible about the history, construction, and application of oxygen sensors. This is a must-read, especially for the rebreather divers out there. For those interested in the devastating effects of oxygen toxicity, the classic
Oxygen and the Diver by Kenneth Donald (1992) should be acquired and added to their bookshelf. This historically unique work is solely dedicated to the effects of oxygen on the diver, and it details studies that would definitely be shot down by Internal Review Boards if they were presented today.

The D-Word

Decompression and the corresponding theory are the foundation of technical diving. Decompression: Decompression Sickness by Albert Bühlmann (1983) was published during the midst of extensive research to understand how and why decompression sickness manifests. Basic Decompression: Theory and Application by Bruce Wienke (First Edition – 1991) is another comprehensive work that dives into the theory of decompression and covers topics such as modeling and diving at altitude. Wienke’s work forms the basis of NAUITEC’s decompression protocols and algorithm. Both of these books are integral to tekkie bookshelves as they are classic examples of the early days of decompression research, and they provide insight into how far the industry has progressed. Warning: There is heady math in both of these texts. Get ready to channel your inner Isaac Newton.

  • Rebreather Forum 4

Deeper into Diving by John Lippmann (First Edition – 1990) is another early work that focuses on the various decompression tables. Included are the U.S. Navy, Bassett, NH-L, DCIEM, and RNPL/BS tables, just to name a few. A more recent work is Deco for Divers by Mark Powell (2008). This extensive book has it all, from medicine and physiology to modern day decompression procedures, and it is a must-have for anyone even half considering the leap into technical diving. Tekkies new and experienced will learn more than their brain can hold. 

Of course, tekkies cannot talk about decompression without mentioning decompression sickness…or “The Bends”, the “Rapture of the Deep”, “Satan’s Disease” or whatever nickname sounds best. Between the Devil and the Deep by Mark Cowan and Martin Robson (2021) is available in Europe now and set to hit US bookshelves shortly and promises to deliver an inside look into what it is like to battle and fight through a DCS hit at depth. 

Deeper and Longer

Whether it be climbing Mount Everest or descending into the depths of the Mariana Trench, humans have always been on a quest to push the extremes. For tekkies, the quest has revolved around the ability to go deeper for longer. At the forefront of undersea apparatus development was Sir Robert Davis, a well-respected inventor and businessman who wrote several works, including multiple volumes of Deep Diving and Submarine Operations (Fourth Edition – 1935). This book details the secrets of working at depth, such as compressed air operations, dive tables, and emergency procedures. A complete tekkie library needs to include the most classic of classics, and this certainly falls into that category. 

A more obscure and difficult book to find is Arne Zetterström and the First Hydrox Dives by Anders Lindén (1985). As the not-so-subtle name suggests, this work is about two things…. Arne Zetterström and his adventures using hydrox (hydrogen and oxygen) to push the limits! This interesting gas mix is not a thing of the past, but an innovation for the future. With the helium shortage, hydrogen may be the solution for über-deep dives, and this is a must-read for the futuristic tekkie who wants to learn more about where technical diving may progress in the coming years.

In lieu of hydrogen, an alternative solution to the helium conundrum may be atmospheric diving suits (ADS), aka exosuits that are currently being developed by Nuytco Research, Vancouver, Canada. The history of these unique devices can be read about in Ironsuit by Gary Harris (1994). [Ed.note—Watch this space. InDepth is planning a feature story on the state of the ADS nation in a coming issue. Is there an Exosuit in your future? Find out.] Of course, old fashioned helium tends to do the trick most of the time, and tekkies can read all about one woman’s quest to become the deepest in Fatally Flawed by Verna van Schaik (2010). 

A final ode to the depths that should rest on all tekkie library shelves is Living and Working in the Sea by James Miller and Ian Koblick (1995). This book encompasses all things saturation diving, from the complete system to the operations to the science. Tekkies may understand the basics of how saturation systems function, but this work will kickstart learning and highlight how physiology, science, and industry combine to make seafloor operations possible. 

Notes from the Underground

Cave diving is not a sport of the modern day. In fact, the first known “cave dives” took place in the 1800s and early explorers used freediving techniques or surface-supplied air to wander into the underwater, underground world. Since then, pioneers of the sport have come and gone, and techniques have developed and been modified through time. A true tekkie will revere cave diving to the level that it so rightfully deserves, and a section of their library will be solely dedicated to this quirky subsect of technical diving. 

Starting things off with a history lesson, The Darkness Beckons by Martyn Farr (1980) details the history of cave diving around the world. Included are details about exploration projects at Wookey Hole (UK) and Pozo Azul (Spain), as well as recounts about record-setting dives by pioneers of the sport. A complimentary book is A Glimmering in Darkness by Graham Balcombe (2007) which discusses the origin of the Cave Diving Group (CDG) and how cave diving was a natural transition for British dry cavers on their quest to explore sump systems around Europe. 

Exploration and caves go together like helium and an empty bank account. Drawn to the Deep: The Remarkable Underwater Explorations of Wes Skiles by Julie Hauserman (2018) and
The Wakulla Springs Project by William Stone (1989) discuss exploration efforts that significantly impacted the cave diving world and shed a positive light on the sport. On the flip side, Beyond the Deep by Barbara Anne Am Ende, Monte Paulsen, and William Stone (2002) is a recount of a dark time in the sport when a deep cave exploration project at Sistema Huautla in Oaxaca, Mexico turned deadly. Super nerds will find interest in all of these works regardless of whether the ending was joyous or tragic. 

His Sheckness

Sheck Exley is often referred to as the greatest cave diver to ever live, and not without strong merits to back the claim. He was the first person to log 1000 cave dives, he was responsible for developing the fundamental rules of cave diving, and he was an explorer who mapped countless caves in North Florida. A legend was lost on April 6, 1994, when Sheck died while trying to find the bottom of Zacatón in Northeast Mexico. Luckily for us, he left behind several works that are still considered gospel by cave divers around the world. 

One of the most iconic cave diving books ever written is Basic Cave Diving: A Blueprint for Survival by Sheck Exley (First Edition – 1979). Almost every cave diver was instructed to read this book early in their training, as it gave them an in-depth look at the five basic rules of cave diving: Training, Guideline, Air, Depth, Lights. This work did go further and cover everything from anti-silting techniques to procedures for handling a “berserk diver,” but the five rules are the main takeaway for most readers. This is a staple for any tekkie library, and it is quite literally the foundation on which modern day cave diving is built. 

Sheck also wrote a few memoirs where he talked about his life, his initial training, the early days of cave exploration, and the birth of cave diving techniques and philosophies.
Caverns Measureless to Man by Sheck Exley (1994) is iconic, but difficult to find, even in the used book market. It details cave diving through the eyes of Sheck, and it tells the story of those that lost their lives on a quest to explore the underground world. Taming of the Slough by Sheck Exley (published posthumously in 2004) is slightly more specific in that it recounts the exploration at Peacock Springs. This immense cave system is an unofficial rite of passage for Florida cave divers, as its history is as vast as its passages. A tekkie library wouldn’t be complete without a section solely dedicated to the life and accomplishments of one of the greats, and only a true super nerd would dare to track down every book ever written by the legendary Sheck Exley. 

In The Loop

As more and more people dive into the world of rebreathers , it would be unfair to exclude two books written about this futuristic, bubble-less world. Amongst the countless accomplishments of Jeff Bozanic, he wrote one of the most comprehensive rebreather books available. Mastering Rebreathers by Jeff Bozanic (2002) dives deep into topics like the types of rebreathers that are available, the long-term maintenance requirements, emergency procedures, and travel considerations. Similarly, The Basics of Rebreather Diving by Jill Heinerth (2013) discusses the history of rebreather diving, while providing real-life stories of its applications in her own diving career. {Ed.note: And there is always InDepth’s “Holiday Rebreather Shopping Guide,” to view rebreathers on the market and compare their speeds and feeds, err, specs.

Safety First

All divers, especially tekkies, should be constantly learning. Whether in the water or in the library, there is always something new to discuss, practice, and understand. On that same note, every diver is also susceptible to human error, and the lessons learned from near-miss and fatal events are valuable learning tools. Under Pressure by Gareth Lock (2019) is a collection of thoughts and discussions on how human factors play a role in incidents and accidents. It also summarizes the importance of creating a “just culture’” in the dive community so that adverse events can be analyzed without judgment.

Part of this culture is creating a safe space for divers to admit their mistakes. Close Calls by Stratis Kas (2020) is a collection of harrowing stories by some of the biggest names in the dive industry as they recount an incident or series of events that nearly resulted in their injury or death. If you are a super nerd with a hectic life that doesn’t have time to read an entire book cover-to-cover in one sitting, fear not! Each story in this book will only take 5-10 minutes to read, so there is no excuse to not add this work to your tekkie library.

Another book of great value to the safety-conscious super nerd is The Six Skills and Other Discussions by Steve Lewis (2011). This book will discuss all the topics that are left out of textbooks. There is never anything wrong with bookshelves that are overflowing with materials that are focused on safety, because a super nerd is always learning. 

Get Off My Back

Sidemount, seen by some as our savior from above and seen by others as the unnecessary red-headed stepchild. Regardless of how it is viewed, sidemount is an important component of the modern dive industry, so not surprisingly, there are several books dedicated to the craft. One of the earlier books written solely about this configuration is Sidemount Profiles by Brian Kakuk and Jill Heinerth (2010). For something a little more recent, a tekkie may prefer to dive into Sidemount Diving: The Almost Comprehensive Guide by Rob Neto (Second Edition – 2020). It is no secret that sidemount is finicky and requires patience to perfect. Having access to solid reference materials can make this process slightly more enjoyable, but let’s be honest—you aren’t really a sidemount diver until you’ve spent hours upon hours making minor tweak after minor tweak into the early hours of the morning. 

Young Guns

There are several books that are new to the game, but not late to the party. These books aren’t written for the youth in the industry, nor were they written by newcomers. Simply put, they were recently published and quickly sailed to the top of the charts, as they are masterpieces printed in black and white. Starting out strong with an author who is highly influential to women in diving and those seeking to get involved in exploration projects, Jill Heinerth’s autobiography is a compelling tale about her life as a cave diver. Into the Planet by Jill Heinerth (2019) should be in every tekkie library regardless of gender, because the lessons learned and the stories portrayed are captivating and inspiring to all. 

In terms of recent events, few will compare to that of the 2018 Thailand cave rescue. If for some reason you haven’t heard about this, it will be assumed that you are living under a rock. To summarize, 12 young boys and their soccer coach were trapped in a flooded cave for 18 days and were miraculously rescued by a team of cave divers.  Several books were written about the event from the perspective of some of the divers. The Aquanaut by Rick Stanton and Karen Dealy (2021), Against All Odds by Richard “Harry” Harris and Craig Challen (2019), and Thirteen Lessons that Saved Thirteen Lives by John Volanthen (2021). All of these books retell the harrowing tale of how a group of weekend warriors happened to have the right skill set for the job because of their obscure hobby. They detail the rollercoaster of emotions that were endured and the tough decisions that were made. Every tekkie, regardless of their level of interest in cave diving, will find enjoyment, exhilaration, and inspiration in the pages of these books.

  • Rebreather Forum 4

Something Fun

As mentioned early on, variety is the secret weapon to creating a solid tekkie library. Almost every work that has been discussed thus far is semi-serious in nature, so it is time to add a little fun into the mix! Dining with Divers: Tales from the Kitchen Table by David Strike and Simon Pridmore (2017) is a compilation of short stories from legends in the dive industry that conclude with their favorite home-cooked recipe. This is certainly a quirky book, but nonetheless unique. Moving on to fiction, the Mer Cavallo Mystery Series by Micki Browning is written by a diver for divers. Adrift (2017) and Beached (2018) will take readers on a rollercoaster ride that is filled with ghostly tales of the Spiegel Grove and Spanish galleon treasure. For the tekkie with diversified interests, The Jason Parker Trilogy by Dr. John Clarke has it all: undersea habitats, deep sea hydreliox diving, aliens, and even romance! All tekkies should grab a copy of Middle Waters (2014), Triangle (2017), and Atmosphere (2019), and experience the writing of a Navy diving and aviation scientist. 

A more extensive collection of novels is the Mike Scott Thriller Series by Eric Douglas. Readers will be taken from Cayman to Hollywood to Mexico as they follow Mike Scott on his diving adventures around the world. Of course, nothing ever goes to plan, so buckle up for yet another rollercoaster ride of events. The super nerds out there will be sure to stock their bookshelves with all 11 books: Cayman Cowboys (2005), Flooding Hollywood (2006), Guardians’ Keep (2008), Wreck of the Huron (2012), Heart of the Maya (2014), Return to Cayman (2015), Oil and Water (2016), The 3rd Key (2017), Turks and Chaos (2017), Water Crisis (2018), and Held Hostage (2021).

The author geeking out in the DAN library.

For SUPER Super Nerds Only

This final section deserves a disclaimer…super nerdiness lies ahead. There are a number of forums and discussions that have been held over the years that covered topics from deep sea diving to rebreathers and everything in between. All of these were presented in-person, but luckily, über passionate people exist and they took the initiative to publish everything that was discussed. A tekkie should have a proceeding or two on their bookshelf, and although there are a lot to choose from, a few stand out from the rest. A true super nerd will acquire them all.

For those wanting to learn more about deep diving and the techniques required to do it safely, Hydrogen as a Diving Gas Proceedings of the 33rd UHMS Workshop, Wilmington, NC (February 1987), Proceedings of Advanced Scientific Diving Workshop, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC (February 2006), Technical Diving Conference Proceedings, DAN, Durham, NC (January 2008), and Techniques for Diving Deeper than 1,500 Feet, UHMS, Bethesda, MD (March 1980) may be of interest.

If bubbleless diving is more your speed, Proceedings of Rebreather Forum 2.0, Diving Science and Technology, Redondo Beach, CA (September 1996) and Rebreather Forum 3.0 Proceedings, AAUS/DAN/PADI, Orlando, FL (May 2012) should definitely be added to the library. And lastly, for super super nerds with an interest in flying after diving or the nerdy science behind dive computers, the Flying After Recreational Diving Workshop Proceedings, DAN, Durham, NC (May 2002) and the Proceedings of Dive Computer Workshop, AAUS, Santa Catalina Island, CA (September 1988) are perfect reading materials before bed. A tekkie library wouldn’t be complete without at least one of these proceedings, but the more the merrier! 

Subscribe for the InDepth Newsletter

Your Tekkie Library

Against All OddsMixed Gas Diving
A Glimmering in DarknessNOAA Diving Manual
aquaCORPSOxygen and the Diver
Arne Zetterstrom and the First Hydrox DivesOxygen Hacker’s Companion
Basic Cave Diving: A Blueprint for SurvivalOxygen Measurement for Divers
Basic Decompression: Theory and ApplicationPhysiology and Medicine of Diving
Between the Devil and the DeepProceedings of Advanced Scientific Diving Workshop
Beyond the DeepProceedings of Dive Computer Workshop
Caverns Measureless to ManProceedings of Rebreather Forum 2.0
Close CallsRebreather Forum 3.0 Proceedings
Deco for DiversShadow Divers
Decompression: Decompression SicknessSidemount Diving: The Almost Comprehensive Guide
Deep DivingSidemount Profiles
Deep Diving and Submarine OperationsTaming of the Slough
Deeper into DivingTechnical Diving Conference Proceedings
Dining with Divers: Tales from the Kitchen TableTechnical Diving from the Bottom Up
Diving MedicineTechniques for Diving Deeper than 1,500 Feet
Drawn to the Deep:The Remarkable Underwater
Explorations of Wes Skiles
The Aquanaut
Fatally FlawedThe Basics of Rebreather Diving
Flying After Recreational Diving Workshop ProceedingsThe Darkness Beckons
Hydrogen as a Diving Gas Proceedings of the 33rd UHMS WorkshopThe Fundamentals of Better Diving
Into the PlanetThe Jason Parker Trilogy
Ironsuit The Last Dive
Last of the Blue Water HuntersThe Silent World
Mastering RebreathersThe Six Skills and Other Discussions
Living and Working in the SeaThe Wakulla Springs Project
Men Beneath the SeaThirteen Lessons that Saved Thirteen Lives
Mer Cavallo Mystery Series: AdriftUltimate Wreck Diving Guide
Mer Cavallo Mystery Series: : BeachedUnder Pressure
Mike Scott Thriller SeriesUS Navy Manual

Christine Tamburri is the Risk Mitigation Coordinator at DAN. She began diving in 2016 and never looked back, spending weekend after weekend diving as much as possible while meeting industry leaders along the way. After graduating from Penn State University in 2020, she decided that a full-time job in the industry was her calling and she became a summer intern at DAN. Later that year, she was hired into her current role where she develops e-learning courses, assists first aid instructors worldwide, and designs risk assessment tools for dive operators and professionals. Christine is an avid cave and technical diver who spends every spare moment of her free time either cave diving or planning to go cave diving.

Community

I Trained “Doc Deep”

Numerous divers have died trying to break scuba depth records over the years, and the losses continue. Their deaths not only impact their families, friends and their support teams, but the diving community as a whole, as technical diving instructor Jon Kieren knows first hand. He was Guy Garman’s aka “Doc Deep,” first tech instructor and friend, who ultimately tried to dissuade Doc from attempting his 2015 dive to 365m/1198 ft, which proved fatal. Here is his story.

Published

on

By

by Jon Kieren

Jon and Guy on their first day of training together.

As I look back at my career so far, there are plenty of things I wish had done differently, students I know I should not have passed, and divers I continue to worry about. It’s all a part of building experience as an instructor, but there’s one that will haunt me forever.

Almost eight years ago, I got a text message that I knew was inevitable. I had been having nightmares about it for years, including just the night before. I had prepared myself the best I could, but it’s still one of the worst things a dive instructor can experience.

“Guy didn’t come back”

For several years prior, I fought to stop the monster I believed I helped create. A constant knot of regret, fear, and guilt lived in the pit of my stomach. When that text finally came, sad as it was, I knew I would no longer have to wait anxiously for the foreseeable bad news.

Throughout my career as a technical instructor, the topic of depth records and Guy Garman’s name has come up frequently. It’s always been a tough discussion for me to navigate. Wanting so badly to defend the man who was like family to me, but too embarrassed and guilt-ridden to discuss it. I bit my tongue as armchair quarterbacks and keyboard divers ranted about how stupid he and his whole team were with little to no knowledge about him as a person. 

Thankfully, after a few years, those discussions slowed down a bit, and I thought the days of depth records were finally gone. But, with recent record attempts reigniting the same discussions, I thought it might be time to finally share what I know about Doc Deep and how he came to perish at the end of that line 365 m/1200 ft below the surface. 

Like anyone, Guy had his flaws. However, most of them were due to his incessant need to be the best at whatever he was doing at that moment. He led a truly extraordinary and passionate life, which ended as extraordinarily  as it began.

He grew up in the Amazon jungles of Peru with  the Aguaruna natives where he was nicknamed “Hummingbird” because of his constant buzzing about and his need to be involved in and understand everything. I remember listening to his stories of hunting crocodiles as a young boy with his native brothers, and his pet jaguar that would walk him to school and guard his bedroom at night. In my eyes he was truly a Renaissance man—marathon runner, alpine climber, and yet a physician in osteopathy and head, neck and facial plastic surgeon.

Guy was certainly no stranger to hard work, sacrifice, danger, or pain. As a young man, I often turned for support and advice to this truly remarkable person who became one of my dearest friends. It’s unfortunate that most of what seems to be remembered about him is his lack of diving experience and fatally flawed dedication to accomplishing something he believed was important. 

I’ll never defend his pursuit. In fact, I furiously opposed it for years, eventually needing to sever my relationship with him and the technical diving community in St. Croix, USVI, that I had built with such optimism and pride. However, I do believe it’s important to share what I know about how his fateful dive came to be so we can openly discuss the failures of the system that created this “monster” and try to put an end to these foolish pursuits.  

One of the biggest criticisms (rightfully) was his lack of experience. But, to explain how he got where he was with so little experience, it’s important to understand the culture he grew up in. And this is where the weight of guilt sits heavily on my shoulders.

Jon ascending from a 107m/350ft dive at the beginning of his technical diving career.

The Lure of Technical Diving

I found my passion for technical diving out of boredom, to be honest. Swimming for several years along the shallow reefs on top of the dramatic walls of St. Croix as an open water instructor, I was getting pretty burned out from the repetitive lifestyle and from seeing the same fish every day. So, as many 25-year-olds do when they’re bored, I started to do some pretty stupid stuff, such as single tank bounce dives on air to 75 m/250 ft … until I almost died. 

After that, I decided to get the fastest and cheapest technical training I could. I booked a flight to Honduras, and a few weeks later I was a hotshot technical diver. Heading back to St. Croix with no teammates, I did even more stupid stuff. At least this time I had doubles and deco gas with me, but I quickly realized I needed some teammates and maybe a squirt or two of helium. So back to Honduras I went, and another few weeks later, I was a trimix instructor. With less than a year of technical diving experience and full support from my instructor trainer, and within training agency standards, I went to 90 m/300 ft for the third time ever with students in tow. Because the agency signed off on my instructor ratings, I had no reason to believe I didn’t have the experience or know-how to be doing what I was doing. They said I could, so I had a blind and naive confidence that what I was doing was OK.

Doc Deep had just moved to St. Croix and started diving when I was getting the tech community going. Just after finishing his advanced open water course, he was wandering around our shop checking our gear when he saw the banner on the wall advertising us as a technical training facility. When he asked the shop staff about it, they gave him my number and we set up a time to chat.

Now, keep in mind, I was like 26 years old and thought I knew everything there was to know about diving. A beast inside me had awoken, and I felt like I NEEDED to go as deep as possible as much as possible. Then Dr. Guy Garman pulled up in his Mercedes to talk about technical training. 

Guy seemed incredibly sharp, and excited about technical diving. Plus, money seemed to be no object. So, I signed him up for the third round of tech courses that I had ever taught. I made  sure he met all of the minimum prerequisites and course requirements and, within a few weeks, he was a trimix diver. When we started talking about depth records, Nuno Gomes held the record at the time and as an invincible 26-year-old, I thought, “If he can do it, why can’t we?”

Guy prepared to descend for a workup dive to 182m/600ft.

We dove a lot, and I taught a bunch of courses trying to build a team of local divers to help us explore deeper and deeper down the walls of our small Caribbean island. Guy supplied the helium. My partner at the time was my primary teammate, and we were then doing dives in the 120 m/400 ft range, with Guy acting as a support diver (and financier) for most of it. But after a bit, I could sense his frustration growing. It was clear he was not happy in a supporting role, and his ego was screaming that HE needed to be the one to dive the deepest.

I clearly remember one boat ride out for some 120 m/400 ft+ dive where he was acting like a grump. As I was about to descend, I told him not to worry, that he’d be next, and he shot me a look that made me realize our relationship was no longer an equitable one. That dive went OK, but it told me that I needed to think about the amount of resources involved, as well as the risk to us and the support divers. Perhaps it wasn’t worth it just to see a big number on a dive computer. After some soul searching, my dive partner and I agreed that we needed to change the way we pursued technical and deep diving, and leave the pursuit of “depth just because” behind us. Guy didn’t like that.

Over the next few months, we began focusing on longer duration dives at shallower depths as opposed to uber deep dives, and my partner and I built up some experience on our new rebreathers. Guy, however,  distanced himself from us and started talking about how he wanted to be the deepest diver with our other teammates. 

Around this time, I got offered a job in South Florida that I just couldn’t refuse, so I took it. I left a couple of months later. Before I went, I tried to have conversations with him and our other friends on the island about how I thought his pursuits were reckless with almost nothing to gain. But in the end, I just had to leave it at that and try to put it out of my mind as I created both physical and emotional distance from the whole situation.

Guy ascending from a workup dive to 182m/600ft 15 months before his final dive.

The Drive For Depth

Over the next year, a couple of new tech instructors arrived on the island filling the void I had left. Eager to make a name for themselves, they quickly became wrapped up in Guy’s pursuits. I think this is where things really began to take a turn for the worse. The teammates who still remained on the island were very close with Guy, but they were reluctant to support him. However, with the newcomers’ encouragement, Guy continued to aggressively drive forward, earning the nickname “Doc Deep”. 

They started going deep. Really deep: 152 m/500 ft, 183 m/600 ft, 244 m/800 ft. On one 600 ft+ dive, one of the new guys got severely bent. Even so, everyone pushed forward, many were convinced Guy was the one to break Nuno’s record. In 2014, Ahmed Gabr reportedly reached a depth of 332 m/1090 ft, and Guy decided to aim for 365 m/1200 ft.

I couldn’t ignore what was happening anymore when I started seeing the social media posts about their plans and hearing the same from the team at events like DEMA and TekDiveUSA. I pleaded with my friends to not support him, knowing full well what would happen if they continued. They insisted if they didn’t help him, he would do it alone. I believed them, and understood the position they were in. So, I implored the training agencies to publicly condemn these pursuits of irresponsible and dangerous record breaking attempts for their own sake, and to warn the professionals involved, but they wouldn’t take a position. 

  • Rebreather Forum 4

The momentum seemed to be unstoppable at this point; this thing was going to happen no matter what. I said “goodbye” to Guy after a dinner we shared at TekDiveUSA in 2014, with me knowing it would likely be for the last time.

Week after week, the knot in my stomach grew, and then the day came that I had been dreading. 

Of course, the news spread quickly through the diving community, bringing extremely harsh criticism to all of those involved in the form of articles, blog posts, and forum rants. It was hard to keep my mouth shut, but I just couldn’t get involved. I was sad, angry, and became quite depressed. Even though, rationally, I couldn’t see how I could have done anything differently, I felt guilty. I wasn’t alone. Guy’s close friends and family were deeply affected. Most stopped technical diving or diving altogether. One drowned himself in rum and is still fighting to come back. 

My relationship with these people was fractured. I couldn’t help but be angry even though I knew they were only trying to do the best they could to keep him alive. Others who advertised themselves as deep support specialists continued to offer services to help divers achieve extreme depths. As could have been predicted, accidents happened and people got hurt, but that didn’t seem to stop them. Not until very recently, has the frenetic pursuit of deep water record breaking seemed to slow a bit.

So what went wrong on the dive? It wasn’t anything significant, because it doesn’t take a lot at 365 m/1200 ft. Guy’s family has GoPro footage, but the details haven’t been released to the public, and it isn’t my place to do so. All I can say is that successfully diving that deep—and living to tell about it—is more a matter of luck than skill. If anything goes wrong, it’s almost impossible to recover from; and if someone does succeed, I believe  it’s simply because it wasn’t their day to go. What do we learn from these stunts? Nothing. We already know what it takes to put a diver that deep, it’s just not with scuba.

Clockwise: Guy’s triple 20l/HP 150cf tanks. Guy ascending from a training dive with his support divers. Guy’s tanks required for an 243m/800ft dive.

The Aftermath

In Mexico, I questioned a recent depth world record team who asked, “What did we learn?” In their formal presentation, they claimed their reason for not using rebreathers or habitats was that the team didn’t have the knowledge or experience to do so, and gaining that experience would be too expensive and time consuming. They used very low helium content mixes trying to avoid HPNS, but suffered severe narcosis and CO2 issues, making it impossible to manage an entanglement at depth and very nearly resulting in an uncontrolled ascent from an absurd depth that was only stopped by sheer luck. They responded to my “What did we learn” comment by stating that, in the future, they might use more helium and rebreathers. These are all things the vast majority of the technical diving community have understood for over a decade, but they just never thought to ask people who were actively doing extremely big dives almost every weekend.

I recognized a clear similarity in the two teams, a strong reluctance to seek or accept advice from those who were far more knowledgeable and experienced than they. Almost like they thought if they did it all themselves from scratch, that they would find some magic trick nobody had thought of. Or maybe they were just trying to avoid being told that what they were doing was reckless. Either way, one team got lucky, the other did not. 

So where do we go from here, knowing that these reckless boundary pushing personalities will always exist? I think we have to encourage training agencies to publicly speak out against depth records and petition Guinness to stop acknowledging them. Most importantly, I think we need to raise the minimum standards for instructors so that only those with a significant amount of real-world dive experience are guiding new technical divers into the world of deep diving, and are doing so responsibly. I absolutely should not have been qualified to teach Guy Garman technical diving. I was at the absolute peak of the Dunning-Kruger effect when we began our relationship, as was he when that fateful dive took place.

As instructors and industry leaders, we need to watch and listen for clues in our students that their motivation might have more to do with record breaking and ego than competent diving and worthwhile exploration, and set them right when and where we can. This is a skill that instructors need to develop. I was too young and too excited about tech diving to see the signs at the time, and suffered the ultimate consequence.

  • Rebreather Forum 4

However since working with Guy, I’ve refused to issue certifications, withdrawn students from classes, and severed working and personal relationships when I see individuals unwilling to accept that the limits apply to everyone. It’s a tough discussion to make, but as instructors we need to try to guide students in a responsible way. 

This doesn’t mean we need to condemn pushing the limits. Most of us are here because we want to discover what we are really capable of. But mentoring divers to show them what limits can reasonably be pushed, and which ones (like depth records) simply cannot, is important.

Pushing a boundary should really only be tolerated if there is something to learn or discover, in other words, if it’s a risk worth taking. Otherwise we’re just apes beating our chests. 

Guy left a huge hole in my heart when that text came in, but I try to use it as a reminder of the impact I have on aspiring divers and the importance of reinforcing a conservative approach to technical and cave diving. While this is probably the hardest thing I’ve ever written, I think it’s important that we speak openly about these types of events so others can learn from them.

See Companion Story: The Risk and Management of Record Chasing by Neal Pollock PhD

Dive Deeper

Wikipedia: Guy Garman

Undercurrent: A Fatal Attempt at a World Record (2015)

Men’s Journal: Prominent scuba diver presumed dead after world-record attempt off St. Croix by Pete Thomas

Scuba Tech Philippines: Guy Garman: World Depth Record Fatality by Andy Davis

Scubaboard: Doc Deep dies during dive.

Others stories by Jon:

InDEPTH: SUMP POTION #9 by Jon Kieran

InDEPTH: Grokking The FATHOM CCR: My Dive into the Nuts & Bolts with the Inventor by Jon Kieran


Jon Kieren is a cave, technical, and CCR instructor/instructor trainer who has dedicated his 13-year career to improving dive training. As an active TDI/IANTD/NSS-CDS and GUE Instructor and former training director and training advisory panel member for TDI, he has vast experience working with divers and instructors at all levels, but his main professional focus resides in the caves. In his own personal diving, Jon’s true passions are deep, extended range cave dives, as well as working with photographers to bring back images of his favorite places to share with the world. 

Continue Reading

Thank You to Our Sponsors

Subscribe

Education, Conservation, and Exploration articles for the diving obsessed. Subscribe to our monthly blog and get our latest stories and content delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

Latest Features

Trending