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7/7

On my second return to the Cavern of the Gods, I’ve decided to take Felix the false killer whale with me. That way, if I run out of air he can tow me back to the surface more quickly than I can swim.

Right at the entrance, directly in front of us is an ascending stone staircase. I don’t know how I missed it the first time, but I did. This leads immediately to the upper level of the temple, to the Pillars of Light. How in the world did I miss this? These silt-shrouded columns are like the trees of an enchanted forest, teeming with strange sealife. Pods of sleek black and white Commerson’s dolphins and albino humpback whales, including the Singing Dragon herself, unharmed by the rampage that wrecked the temple. Swimming up a pillar, I discover a Nomura’s jellyfish, floating near the ceiling like a grand chandelier.

Commerson's dolphin

The Singing Dragon

Nomura jellyfish

Through a skylight in the ceiling I pass straight into the Celestial Mausoleum. It’s all there as it was before: the windlass, the animal statues, the golden god that sits in the vault, with the Pacifica treasure spread at his glittering feet. Months ago, I’d barely gotten a glimpse at that statue before everything started coming apart.

In the lap of the gods.

I no sooner lay eyes on the Pacifica Treasure than Jean-Eric gets on the phone and urges me to leave it alone. According to him, they’ve received an offer from the mysterious Karia Foundation to undertake the salvage; they’ll pay us 50,000 p not to touch a thing. It’s hard to pass up treasure when my mutlisensor is going crazy, but okay. Back on Ninball Island I’m gifted with a frogman suit for leaving well enough alone.

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Today’s selection:

Shadow Divers

by Robert Kurson

Plot: A group of amateur divers discover the wreck of a WWII German U-boat off the coast of New Jersey, and proceed to ruin (and in some cases, forfeit) their lives attempting to explore and identify it.

Review: Playing the game Endless Ocean, we take a lot of diving experiences for granted: exploring shipwrecks, tickling deep sea monsters, swimming below 500 feet while eating a box of Fiddle Faddle. But in the oceans of the real world, diving is not so convenient. Or safe. It’s often cold, and dark, and filled with very real risks. Even with sharks out of the picture, Davy Jones can find any number of ways to kill you. You can get stuck in a cave or a wreck; you can get lost and run out of air; you can overstay your visit and shoot back to the surface without decompressing, turning your blood to champagne; you can even lose your mind, think you’re a fish, and draw in deep lungfuls of seawater. Scuba Diving: Just Don’t Do It.

This public service announcement has been brought to you by Shadow Divers, the scariest freaking book about diving I’ve ever read.

Shadow Divers—which is nonfictionbegins by introducing a trio of distinctive characters—Vietnam vet John Chatterton, working-class salvage pirate Richie Kohler, and alcoholic treasure seeker Bill Nagel, crazy mothers all—and charting the disperate paths that bring them together and ultimately bind them over the wreck of a mysterious submarine lying under 250 feet of dark, turbulent water off the Jersey Coast. On one of the first dives to explore the wreck, a less experienced diver dies by succumbing  to nitrogen narcosis, a disaster that unfolds with the slow-motion logic of a nightmare.

Although the sub is definitely identified as a German U-boat, none of the wartime records acknowledge sinking one in the area. Which U-boat is it, and what brought it to the bottom of the sea? Because Chatterton and Kohler are not your average weekend wreck raiders, they begin to dig for answers.

The second part of the book resembles a cross between History Detectives and Treasure of the Sierra Madre, as Chatterton and Kohler comb archives and interview veterans on both sides of the Atlantic for details that can help identify the wreck they’ve come to call “U-Who,” returning for yet more ill-fated dives while charter captain Nagel slowly drinks himself to death.

The final chapters, which alternate between recounting the last days of the doomed U-boat crew and the divers’ ever more desperate attempts to find something, anything that can identify the wreck, are so suspenseful and harrowing that ultimately, the book is exhausting. I put this down with a sense of relief many weeks ago, and haven’t wanted to revisit it until now. Not light reading, no. But recommended.

Journalist Robert Kurson had a great story on his hands when he began writing Shadow Divers, and he delivers it well with careful documentation and a terse, hard-boiled style. Moreover he produces a complex and unsparing portait of determined, sensitive but flawed men and the mystery that changed, and in some cases, cost them their lives.

Next time you return from grabbing loot from the wreck of  HD-9 in the Zahhab Depths and think that someday you’d like to go treasure diving for real, give Shadow Divers a read—it’s a thorough reality-check.

7/5

After 124 hours and 58 minutes of gameplay, I’ve returned to the Cavern of the Gods.

I forgo taking a tour there—this is a family affair, no vacationing bonds traders or rockstars need apply. We will, however, take salvage requests, and a nice lady in a pink and brown wet suit is seeking a gold watch somewhere in the inner chambers of the temple.  This mission is pure exploration, but while we’re exploring, we can turn the multisensor on from time to time and help her find it.

Together with GG, we dive off the Super Dropoff and head west. The water’s murkier than I remember; it takes a while to find the box-shaped slot called the Echoing Terrace that leads into the temple porch. There we find the Stone Cavern Entrance on the left side, magically thrown open. Tingling with excitement, I turn on first-person view and plunge forward.

What do I remember about this place? The last time we were here, all hell was in the process of breaking loose. A white whale, the Singing Dragon of our long quest, was going berserk, slamming its head against the columns holding up the roof of the temple. Rocks were tumbling around our ears and we were almost out of oxygen, trying open escape doors by solving complicated riddles as the clock was running down on our lives. Beyond that, there was a confusing maze of passageways, with a dead end or a sudden current or a goblin shark waiting around the corner. I was simply too panicked to pay attention to my surroundings. When we finally escaped and the entrance filled in with rubble and silt, it was like a curtain going down on my memory. I will barely know what to expect once we get back in.

Inside the entrance, we turn to the right to head north, beginning a counter-clockwise survey of the temple. What immediately greets us is an opah, an immense round fish with silver flanks and red fins. Shaped like sunfish but more closely related to oarfish, pictures can’t convey how large, splendid and doofy-looking these are.

Opah!

 After rounding a corner, on our left is a vast doorway. We descend a wide stone staircase into the first of the large chambers, the Altar of Osiris. At the far end, there’s a huge statue of the god, gazing benevolently on a roomful of worshipful ribbonfish.

Osiris

Turning around to exit, we find a pale Japanese horseshoe crab, lying there on the stairs like Cinderella’s cast-off slipper (if, y’know, Cinderella had really weird feet).

Next we come to the Altar of Horus, which looks identical to the other altar, except that here there’s a trapdoor hidden behind the statue leading into the Subterranean Reception Room. Guarding the passageway is one of the creatures I’d always hoped to see—the ancient chambered nautilus! Common in gift shops but rarely found alive in the sea, I’d been fascinated by this evolutionary throwback ever since I saw a Cousteau special about them. (Now I sound like my tour clients!) Although I’m anxious to see what’s beyond the door, there’s no way I’m going to pass up this moment without swimming around the nautilus, taking pictures of this living fossil from multiple angles.

Chambered nautilus

Through the door and down, our subterranean reception committee consists of two ghostly Japanese spider crabs, waving their claws (invitingly?) at us.

There’s another trap door at the far end of this chamber. Passing up through it, we enter the floor of the Altar of Isis. According to the map, it’s roughly here that we should find the gold watch. But before I can search for it, I see a shadow pass over us. This is Kraken Jr., the son of the giant squid that lives at the bottom of the Zahhab Region depths. I guess he couldn’t handle living by dad’s rules, so he got his own place.

Kraken, Jr.

Finding the gold watch proves to be a bit difficult, but we eventually find it just on the threshold of the trapdoor that lead us into the altar. Leaving the chamber and turning right, there’s another staircase that leads up to a loft area called the Pillar of Shadow. Here are the coelacanths I remember from before. According to the map, this should lead into the Celestial Mausoleum, but I can’t find an entrance. I’d explore further, but I’m out of pictures and nearly out of air.

I promised myself that we were going to swim out of the cavern—no beaming back to the Enterprise this time. There’s a shortcut to the southern gallery that leads us straight out of the temple, but it’s blocked by rubble, apparently in the whale-quake that brought the temple crashing down many months ago. Other attempts to find a quick way out are met with obstacles. There’s nothing left to do but retrace our path through the trapdoors to the northern gallery. As notch after notch of precious air evaporates, I begin to get that closed-in, panicky feeling in my gut that I last felt when we all dashed out of this ancient Egyptian death trap.

Eventually, we gain the exit and power swim out of the temple, out of the cavern to the open sea. My head breaks the surface just as the alarm starts to clang. Again we’ve cheated death and escaped the Cavern of the Gods, but we still have another half to explore.

7/2

I made it! Monaymonaymonay! One million pelagos, baby!!! For a few seconds there, I was a millionaire. And the best thing was, it was those cheapskates at the aquarium that put me over!

First things first—I returned fr0m a long vacation in the Southwest and needed a few days to get settled back home. The first thing I wanted to do when I got back to Nineball Island was paddle around Gatama Atoll awhile saying hello to some old friends. Then I had to finish recruiting Violet, the Pacific white-sided dolphin. I really wish there was another way to get to the Deep Hole, because I’m sick of crawling through the Kelp Tunnel—three weeks off did nothing to change that. It took two more dives for Jean-Eric to break his silence and announce that Violet was a companion. We had a very nice play date together, then I brought her back to her new home in Nineball Lagoon.

Next I took a nattily-dressed fellow named Matthew down to the Zahhab Region Depths so he could see popeyed grenadiers. These are especially good tour fish, because they glow, and as you know, when it comes to client payoffs, glow means dough. We toured the depths, did some salvaging, spotted the oarfish and the giant squid, swam all the way back to the surface and topped it off with a grey whale ride for dessert. Matthew paid out 3956  P for the tour. The salvage yield was poor, but it still brought me within a few thousand pelagos of the million.

That was enough for me to call it a night, but over the vacation, the fam and I visited a nice little aquarium at the Albuquerque Zoo, and I wanted to compare it briefly to EO’s. Really, the biggest drawback of the Tokyo Aquarium is that the main tank is far too big. There’s so much room, even with a couple of fully grown whales in it, that it seems stark and uninteresting. And there isn’t enough junk on the bottom—fake coral, rocks, pirate skeletons, to liven it up or make it look natural. The fish seem lost and depressed, and I can’t blame them. Honestly, when I have  ‘real’ oceans to swim in, why would I want to waste my time in what amounts to a city-block-sized holding tank?

Well, the word from the visitors wasn’t very positive either, as Hayako wearily informed me. On the other hand, receipts were steady if not spectacular, and so far no one had taken to relieving themselves in the tanks or dropping fishhooks over the sides, so so what? I was about to breeze out the door again when Hayako reminded me that I got paid for this gig, whether I put in any work or not. She presented me with a grudge-check for 2,400 P and with a tip of the hat and a smirk I was gone.

Back on Nineball Island, Jean-Eric immediately comes up to compliment me on my money management skillls. He wishes Oceana could be so frugal, spending all her dough on sea pig purses and fancy fins and whatnot. While I’m expecting this to lead to a not-so-subtle hint that she needs a man to help keep her in line, he suprises me by saying that we’ve got a big salvage job waiting for us…in the Cavern of the Gods!

I guess the paycheck from the aquarium put me just over the 1 million pelago mark—the irony! Oh, and we get a 50% discount from somebody for some reason, so that 1 million pelagos? Didn’t need it—we can keep 500,000 of it. The Cavern of the Gods is open whenever we want to return to it.

And that was that. No fireworks. No streamers. No cakes or balloons. Just another job waiting.

Time to get back to work.

7/1

I’ve been on furlough for the past couple of weeks and only got back to Nineball Island last night. It’s good to be back! I’ll have more to tell in the next few days.

6/10

Gatama Atoll—I’m about 25,000 shy of 1 million Pelagos. Now that I’m this close to opening the Chamber of the Gods, it’s tempting to indulge in nonstop treasure orgies to gobble up money as fast as possible. But frankly, I’m tired of salvaging, and I wouldn’t mind if I never set fin in Valka Castle again. So I’ve decided to put the multisensor away and try to earn honest money by any other means.

In fact, today I’m not looking for money at all—I’m just trying to get the Pacific white-sided dolphin to be my friend.  The trouble is, this dolphin—whom I’ve already named Violet—is pathologically shy. You have to approach it  “Red Pony” style,  slowly earning its trust. This actually makes it one of the more realistic quests, because it doesn’t rely on any tricks. No whistles, no rescue efforts—just old-fashioned perseverance.

Of course, this means I have to make multiple trips back to its habitat around the Deep Hole in Gatama Atoll. So we’ve basically set up camp on the boat, sleeping on deck and returning to Nineball Island only to develop pictures. It’s been tremendously relaxing in  a way, like setting up a tent in your backyard for a sleepover, and it’s given me a chance to do one of my around-the-clock ecological surveys that I love so well.

Sunset—The water takes on a hazy glow as bigfin reef squid dart through the kelp leaves like shuttles in a loom.  Pee Wee, the pygmy sperm whale, comes out of the Deep Hole for an evening swim around the Colosseum.

Pee Wee out for an evening swim

Unfortunately, so does Sluggo, the tiger shark. 

Sluggo

I’ve tried to draw up a “Know Thine Enemy” about Sluggo, but he’s too unpredictable. After a daytime appearance early in the game, he now only emerges at sundown, and he never seems to attack as long as you keep your eyes on him. The moment you turn your back and try to move away, he starts to close in, but when he’ll strike is hard to predict. I’ve known him to leave me alone throughout an entire dive; other times he’ll strike two or three times, even with frantic pulsing. It’s almost as if he has moods, and if you catch him in a bad one, he’ll make sure you know about it.

Did I mention that Sluggo is rather large?

Then there’s the pod of five or six Pacific white-sided dolphins that fly all over Deep Hole. I suspect that they’re the real terrors on this reef, scaring the smaller fish away until only a few lost-looking moorish idols are left. And damn, they’re fast—it took me a long time just to single out Violet by her white, hook-shaped dorsal fin. Somehow, Pee Wee, Sluggo and the dolphins are all able to stay constantly in motion around each other without colliding.

Violet

Midnight—The midnight shift is very much like sunset, although Sluggo appears more sedate—perhaps, contrary to popular belief, sharks do sleep now and then. The dolphins, on the other hand, are still bouncing on their beds.

I’ve taken Hayako with me, and her fish-finder indicates an undiscovered creature moving slowly around the Mouth of Truth. I look carefully for it without success. The only thing I see in that range is the ocean sunfish, and it couldn’t be ol’ Sol, could it? I click on him, and magically crusty ol’ Sol transforms into the resplendant Apollo, a golden-hued legendary creature that the native Paolians think is the personification of the sun. Why Sol, you old sea dog, you!

Apollo

Dawn—At dawn, a squadron of Japanese eagle rays take up their formation, circling over slow-moving unicorn fish blanched pale green by the morning sunlight. The light is so strong that I can see directly down the Deep Hole all the way to the bottom. It’s too hard to resist—I take out my multisensor and scan for a few treasures (that didn’t last long). Later, I try to keep up with the dolphins—they’re too fast for me. Using the whistle, I’m able to draw Violet close enough to click on her, but she’s not ready to swim with me yet.

Morning rays

Noon—At noon, the light is more diffuse, the blues so saturated that I’d almost think the sky above the water must be overcast, if that were only possible. Sol is his old self again, shrunken, doddering, nothing at all like the sun. I pursue Violet one more time, but she’s still playing hard to get. I’ll have to come back to Deep Hole another day. Ah well!

Back on Nineball Island, Jean Eric tells me that I’ve got an e-mail from the magazine I sent my photos to. (BTW, how does he know what’s in my  inbox? I guess since he’s the point man, the magazines cc him, but it’s still kind of creepy.) Anyway, Maritime Weekly liked my photo of a leafy seadragon—it rated an “A” and a cover! I tried something different this time, and if it works again, I may be on to something.

Next I had Nancy appraise the whopping two items we found in the Deep Hole. Before she left, she passed along a note from ML, of all people! I thought we’d never hear from him again, but here he is asking for a photo of a whale shark in Gatama Atoll. “Oh wow!” shouts Oceana, “I can’t believe a professional photographer wants our photographs!” Yeah, I can’t believe it, either—better get a copyright watermark on that photo, pronto!

But their treasure wasn’t gold. It was knowledge. Knowledge was their treasure. — Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull

6/3

Cortica River—My indifference to the Cortica River part of the game is well-documented (i.e., repetitive and  boring), but lately that’s were some of the most interesting things have been discovered.

I was on a routine salvage hunt a couple of weeks ago when, after finding the Diamond Telescope, I decided to amble downstream with the  multi-sensor to see what else I could pick up. Scanning the Cortica riverbottom turns out to be some fun, as it’s often a challenge to reach through a thicket of roots or electric eels to get at your glittering prize. At one point I picked up an unassuming canonball and took it home. Polished off, it proved to be a crystal skull, and while it didn’t glow, buzz, read my mind or turn into a super-magnet, it drew a respectable 10,000 Pelagos on the collector’s market.

The next discovery began a few days later, when I awoke from a nap and passed Jean-Eric on the way to the beach. “Perfect timing,” he muttered, folding his newspaper. You can always tell something’s up when Cappy’s been reading the paper.

“It says here a monster’s been sighted in the Cortica River. Witnesses say the creature is pitch black, is seen only on rainy days when the river is running fast. Something about a gigantic black thing. You should check it out.”

For various reasons, I didn’t get around to looking for it until last night. Rain was pelting the river, as it usually is, and you can see the little rings made by the raindrops from under the water—a nice effect. Heading upstream, I kept stopping to announce that I thought something was watching me, then I turn around and nothing’s there. It’s all very ominous—is there some new maneater or Creature from the Black Lagoon I’m going to meet up with? 

My path eventually takes me to Queen Lake. Suddenly…rising from the depths…a black form takes shape…and materializes into…a big fat manatee. Oh Cortica, once again you disappoint me! Mama Cortica, so we’re told, is a benevolent spirit on the river, saving capsized fishermen, uniting young lovers, and frying up cassava cakes for all the children. Very nice, but what was all that about a big black monster? Who reported that story, Don Knotts?

Mama Cortica

Yes, the Cortica River is a queer place, but I’ve saved the best and queerest for last. I was taking a woman named Lisa on a trip to see the Piraibo catfish at the mouth of the temple. Bored, I decided to investigate a rumor that there was a secret hole in the riverbank. This isn’t part of the story, but apparently a glitch in the game programming that was reported by several witnesses on the GameFaqs message board.  In first-person view, you swim up to the left of Spirit Falls, just where there’s a clump of vines growing in the corner. Then you surface, turn to the left, and there it should be—a rent in the space-time continuum. I’d attempted this trick several times in the past, but hadn’t had any success. I was beginning to think this was an anomaly on only some people’s games, but tonight there it was—a jarring, jagged hole in the screen, and through it I see…OH GOD! IT’S FULL OF STARS!

A rabbit hole in the riverbank.

Not exactly, but an endless stretch of open water under a clear Amazonian sky. Dive again and you’re faced with the riverbank, but here’s the cool part—you can penetrate through the wall into the open water on the other side! Swim in any direction, it seems to go on forever and is impossibly deep. Turn around to look back, and below and above the water you see paradoxical vistas of twisted pixellation, semitransparent walls, and cutaway sections of the river.

Looking back on the rabbit hole (arrow)

Hello, Dali!

It’s like an out-of-the-body experience. I can see Lisa staring uncomprehendingly at the empty space where I used to be. Jean-Eric frantically shouts that I’ve lost my partner, but I don’t care—I’m free! I’m transcendent! I’m outside the game looking in.

The riverbank and the 'other side'; Lisa left behind.

After a few minutes of this I pierce the wall again and return to the game, then disappear through the portal once more to see if it still works. It does, and I can reenter the game through King Amaru’s Aqueduct, or I imagine, through any point I choose.

X-ray view of King Amaru's Aqueduct

There’s really no point in looking for fish and treasure now, so I drag us home to develop the pictures I took on the other side. Lisa is sorely pissed that I left her behind; she reads me the riot act and leaves in a snit with no tip. She’s right—I’ve violated my principle of always satisfying the customer—but honestly, I couldn’t care less. I’ve just passed into the twilight zone, and saw that it was awesome.

The Cortica River has just become a lot more interesting.

It’s been a slow couple of weeks on Nineball Island. Between work, holidays and the end of the school year, there hasn’t been much time to devote to diving, let alone blogging about it. A tour here and a salvage there, salting the money away as it comes.  I’ve been back to Zahhab a few times, one of my favorite places. For color, variety and sheer numbers of fish, nowhere in EO can match it.

Coral Valley

Blackfin barracuda swarm near the Super Dropoff

Yellow longnose butterflyfish (Forcipiger flavissimus)

Big Boeing over Mushroom Rock.

I discovered this Crown of Thorns starfish almost by accident.

Stone Castle

 

I swear that thing was THIS BIG!

5/19

I had to take a client up to Northern Canada to see ribbon seals, so while I was there I decided to continue my study of Greenland sharks, which I’m publishing here under the title,

Some Observations on Greenland Sharks (Somniosus microcephalus) in the Waters of Northern Canada

In this field study, I observed three Greenland sharks roaming the north Canada coast. For recording purposes, I’ve named them Geerg, Grieg and Grimm. 

Geerg

Grieg

Grimm

Greenland sharks are the second most agressive species of shark in Endless Ocean, after great white sharks. However, unlike the white sharks of Ciceros Strait, Greenland sharks are highly territorial and keep a respectable distance from each other, never hunting in packs. Geerg can usually be found circling the area south of ice hole D1-2, where it feeds on injured sea otters and half-eaten capelin left behind by hunting narwhals.  Grieg patrols WNW of the same ice hole, and Grimm haunts the far northwest region all around ice hole A1.

Adapted from Phisheep, 2010.

Greenland sharks are wary predators, preferring to circle their prey at a safe distance for some moments before abruptly charging in to attack. For this reason, it is easy when straying into their territory to disregard the “Warning” sign and assume that they are not an aggressive species. This common and dangerous mistake can lead to many unpleasant suprises, as this observer can attest. For, once the Greenland shark senses blood in the water, it will rejoin its attack relentlessly. Then the circling behavior of the Greenlander becomes especially dangerous, as it is often hard to find in the turbid waters until it suddenly strikes from nowhere. An encounter with a single Greenland shark can sometimes be as terrifying as a pack of great whites.

Greenland sharks can be evaded with strong swimming, but they have been known to follow divers well out of their assumed range. Many is the time this observer has thought he had escaped a Greenlander, only, whilst fumbling for camera equipment, to be reminded of its presence with a smart thwack on the back of the head.

In the case of the Greenland shark, often the best defense is a strong offense. Approaching the shark with a pulsar gun ready, aggressively zapping it while it is still circling, will usually stun it enough to allow the diver to pass unmolested. A successful pulsing (usually 4 zaps in quick succession) is generally effective for about 3 minutes, after which the shark will shake it off and return for more. However, if you leave the range of the shark, the effects of the pulsing wear off immediately. It is best to do one’s business efficiently and quit the area for good.

In the real world, Greenland sharks are benthic swimmers, preferring to hug the seafloor as deep as 6,000 feet below the surface. Encounters with humans are extremely rare, except when the sharks inhabit shallow waters like parts of the St. Lawrence Estuary. The flesh of the Greenland shark has unusually high concentrations of urea, making it poisonous, not to mention unpalatable. Nevertheless, with laborious preparation, Greenland shark meat is served as an hors d’oeuvre called kæstur hákarl in the finest restaurants in Iceland, where people will eat literally anything.

For more information about the Greenland shark, visit the fabulously awesome Web site of the Greenland Shark and Elasmobranch Education and Research Group (GEERG) at http://www.geerg.ca/.

Today’s selection:

The Silent World

by Captain J.Y. Cousteau

Plot: French naval officer Cousteau co-invents the aqualung, then proceeds to use it for a series of stunts resembling a post-WWII version of Jackass.

Review: These days, if you’re old enough to remember Jacques Cousteau at all, you probably picture him as the bird-like Frenchman in the red touque who used to come on the television all the time as the host/raison-d’etre of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau. On the show, which I never missed, he always seemed somewhat old, undernourished and frail; he rarely dived with his younger, infinitely more athletic crew, preferring to lend his mellifluous, world-weary voice to narration and to point at things in the water from the deck of the Calypso. It made me wonder—how did this guy get to be the King of the Undersea?

The Silent World, Cousteau’s first book (published in 1953), settles this question more than adequately, and shows a side of Cousteau I never knew existed. Because in the process of becoming an explorer, filmmaker, defender of the environment and quasi-scientist, Cousteau was one stone-crazy mother. After inventing the aqualung  with Emile Gangan in 1943, he was quickly put to work by the allies doing, er, wartime stuff. Whether testing the effects of hand grenades underwater, recovering dead pilots and errant sea mines, or catching live torpedos on film, Cousteau was all up in it. After the war, he continued to push the limits of the new invention, setting depth records when nobody knew how deep was too deep, straddling gasoline-filled bathyspheres, and exploring the limits of shark harassment.

Let me warn you up front: This is not the Jacques Cousteau known to millions through television, the one who frets over baby sea turtles. That would come years later. Here, Cousteau and his alarmingly trigger-happy partner Frederick “Didi” Dumas are not above harpooning a dolphin and dissecting it right there on deck. And while he explicitly warns us about the dangers of nitrogen narcosis—‘rapture of the deep’—you can tell he kind of digs it.

But through all the death-defying anecdotes, what really endures is his ability to bring the submarine world to life through words. At a time when underwater photography was crude at best (as the pictures in this book attest), we’re fortunate that the first unofficial aquanaut was an exceptionally gifted writer. Take this passage (translated by Cousteau himself), and see if it doesn’t evoke experiences from EO:

Fifty feet down off Brava we discovered a large tunnel which passed completely through a small island. In the dark interior, one could look back reassuringly at the emerald glow of the entrance, swim on through shafts of silvery light falling from portholes in the rock above, and turn a corner to find the inviting green of the sea at the far exit. The cave entrances were exuberant with bright silver-blue fish, as animated as a wedding party…Here they gathered by the hundreds in a glittering mass circling in the shadows. They were quite excited by the invasion of the divers, and gathered around us reprovingly, like guests at a genteel reception glaring at uninvited drunks.

The Silent World is a plunge into the bare-chested world of scuba diving in its infancy and an early dispatch from a newly opened frontier, with Cousteau as both its fearless correspondent and erudite host. It comes highly recommened.