I seldom wear my glasses these days since I only need them for seeing clearly things that are far away. If I require to look at something close by I need to remove my spectacles and this means I need to put them down or hook them onto my t shirt whilst I free up my hands to work with whatever I am looking at. With them hooked into my shirt , if I bend down my glasses invariably fall to the floor. Since the frames and lenses are plastic it’s not a problem since they bounce and I merely cluck with irritation as I bend to pick them up. I did not think this laziness through when I bent down to speak to Al as he stood below me on the dock and I was standing above him on the deck of my boat. And that is how I found out about Tom’s favourite tool. The glasses plummeted from the neckline of my shirt and landed with a splash in the ocean below. They floated for a second before they swam down into the murky water and disappeared from sight. I noted where in relation to the hull of the boat and the floating dock they landed and vanished and stripped off my shirt and dived into the sea to retrieve them. The water was not deep but it was murky and gloomy. The sediment and the salt water burned my eyes so I was forced to feel around in the glutinous mud and silt to locate them. Most of us have discovered how, when you are forced to rely on one sense alone, that sense becomes sharpened and ultra-sensitive making everyday objects take on a new dimension in the soft yielding and amorphous mud . As I waved my bare hands sightlessly around in the slime I touched something hard with a smooth surface that was gently curved and had a well-defined edge. The object squirmed into the mud slithering out of my gasp forcing me automatically compensate and to press harder in order to capture it. The sharp pain came as a surprise which my subconscious mind immediately interpreted as a creature that had bitten me and instinctively withdrawing my searching hand before any further damage occurred. I imagined I could see a cloud of blood in the water and the myriad microbes in the filthy water queuing up to invade the wound. Then my rational mind analysed it and I realised what the hard smooth object was. A broken bottle. I had merely cut myself on a jagged edge. I made a mental note to proceed more carefully and shot to the surface to grab another gulp of air. As I reached the surface Dianne and Luna were waiting anxiously for me
“Are you alright? Did you get it?”
“I need a facemask please Luna.” She dashed off to retrieve hers from her cabin and returning knelt down on the dock to pass it to me.
“The water is not deep – but its dark and in the shadow of the boat and the dock. The silt is also very fine and it clouds the water with the slightest movement. There is also a surprising current as the tide is ebbing.” I tried to catch my breath and realised with dismay how the years had crept up on my. My lungs were burning and my ears were protesting at the change in pressure even though it was only about six feet deep her.
Donning the mask I dived down again and found that the mask did little to aid visibility other than to protect my eyes from the burning seawater and sediment. I felt around again and encountered something hard, heavy and with a rough and gritty surface. It was long and the more I felt the more of it I found. It was heavy. I tried to analyse the inputs coming in from my fingers. Underwater charades. Guess what I am without looking at me or speaking. Ah, it was a length of rusty chain. Probably part of the floating dock. My screaming lungs reminded me. Time for another breath of air! I shot to the surface and came up underneath the floating dock and hit my head on one of the oyster encrusted metal undersides. A sharp pain and a jar shot thorough my skull and rippled down my spine as the shock shot through my body. I lost consciousness for a few seconds, more out of embarrassment for my carelessness than anything else. I swam sideways to clear the dock and rose to the surface hurriedly gasping for air and wheezing with the effort. Damn I am disgustingly unfit.
“Geez dad are you ok? You are bleeding!” Luna was concerned.
“ I am fine. I lost my bearings.” This is not going to be a simple matter. In fact this was at the heart of the problem. Since it was impossible to see, and there was nothing to use to provide orientation, it was impossible to work out what territory I had explored and what not. In addition, each time I rose to the surface the process started all over again.
“Luna can you ask Al if I can borrow his Hookah? This was a compact electric air compressor connected to a length of air hose that would enable me to spend more time under the water.
Soon Al appeared and was clearly perplexed.
“ My compressor only runs form the 110volt electricity I use on my boat. He drawled in his Californian American accent. Unless you have a transformer it wont work on the 200volt system you have.” Here is my weight belt though.” I gratefully accepted the weight belt as this would allow me to spend less energy swimming and finning in order to keep a the bottom. This in turn would mean that I disturbed the muck and silt less. Of course it made it a little harder to swim back to the surface, but in balance it was an improvement. I thought about hooking up my dive tank and the time and trouble it would take to unearth my rig from the garage where it had lain in storage for many years. Besides the air in my dive bottle was several years old by now and might even be toxic or dangerous. I discarded that as an option. I tried diving with the weight belt. I made things a little easier. Dianne had rigged up a length of rope tied to some heavy spanners that she dropped to the bottom to give me a reference point. Now I could at least get my bearings and begin a methodical search. I scrabbled in the mud again and found shells, bottle caps, bits of glass and a few desperately scuttling crabs that pinched and wriggled to escape my clumsy grasp. I rose to the surface breathless again and wheezed and gasped to get air back into my starving muscles. My heart banged in my chest and I thought. That’s a new and disturbing sensation. I need to keep an eye on that. I thought.
As I arrived at the surface and caught my breath I heard Tom’s slow drawl.
“I think you may want to try my favourite tool” He threw down a coil of orange hose that he was carrying and smiled down at me with a twinkle in his eye. The air hose was connected in turn to a divers demand valve and mouthpiece know to scuba divers as a DV. This ingenious piece of equipment enables the high pressure contained in a scuba tank to be delivered at precisely the right atmospheric pressure to a diver under water. This ingenious set of hoses is also known as an octopus since it resembles one with its many hoses connecting to a common point.
“The low pressure side of the rig is connected via ordinary air hose to the mouthpiece.” He explained triumphantly. I frowned – not comprehending the implications of the arrangement.
“It means that you can connect up a compressed air tank to a DV without having to carry the tank on your back. In fact you can leave the heavy and cumbersome tank on deck and all you need is the mouthpiece connected via along hose to the tank. Of course you are limited by the length of the hose which in this case is over 5 metres long, but that is plenty for the kind of tasks involved around and beneath a boat . Thinks like cutting loose rope entangled in a propeller or freeing a stuck anchor. Its quick, simple, safe, convenient and effective.” He connected the system up to his air bottle, opened the valve and I took a few experimental breaths. To my surprise it worked perfectly.
“Go get them Tiger” he said pointing to where my glasses lay somewhere in the ocean beneath his feet.
A few minutes later, I felt my way through the mud and touched something that was smooth, had a rounded surface and two angular sections that bent on a hinge. It was my spectacles of course!
I also found a rusted screwdriver and a length of pole that we had lost overboard a few months earlier. I rose to the surface brandishing them triumphantly over my head with a sense of déjà vu as I recalled doing so somewhat more spectacularly twenty years previously in Durban harbour..
“Now you know my answer is whenever anyone asks me what my favourite tool on the boat is” said Tom grinning from ear to ear as he coiled his ingenious invention.
I certainly intend to make my own and Tom was most helpful in showing me exactly how the apparatus works and how to improvise one of my own.