More on Reading the Water

by E.R.Cross

The art of diving can be whatever we want it to be. It can be a relaxing snorkel dive in a sunlit bay or a strenuous way to earn a living. For recreational divers it can be more complex and demanding each time we get our fins wet. It is that way because we engage in one of the most exciting of all sports. We can dive with new friends, try new places, new equipment and new techniques. However, whatever our activities, the basic elements of diving remain the same. It is the fluid water we dive in that is never static, always changing. The condition of the water will always dictate certain conduct for safe, enjoyable diving.


Knowledge of water conditions must become part of the dive plan. Some basic information must be obtained by reading the water well before starting the dive. A final analysis of conditions that might affect dive safety is best made just before entry.

An important part of reading the water is to observe and analyze how surface craft activities will affect entry and surface swimming. Also, how estimated future surface activities will affect safety when divers ascend from a skin dive or for a new supply of air. Whether making a dive from the shore or a boat, start reading the water at the site. Continue to be aware of changing conditions as you assemble your gear, check it out and, particularly, while the diver(s) are getting dressed.

Reading the water does not have to be a notebook-in-hand type of survey. Awareness of everything within the area of the site will usually be adequate. Of particular concern are waterski craft, personal watercraft and other small, fast moving boats. The number of boats entering and leaving the harbor and their paths within or near the diving area should be mentally noted. Boating activities are likely to be more dangerous on holidays and weekends than on quieter week days. Remember, once underwater you can hear nearly everything going on around and above you. You can dive defensively.


Not many years ago commercial abalone divers received three to four dollars per dozen abalones. A skin diver could, in some areas, expect to harvest two to three abs of legal size in one breath-hold dive. How things have changed. The California Abalone Industry-A Pictorial History by A. L. "Scrap" Lundy, tells it as it was from 1853 to 1994. Through text and a fabulous collection of never before seen photographs, the author details the story of the 150 years of harvesting this now scarce resource. Poor resource management has contributed to a drastic decline in ab populations. But, as "Scrap" points out in this very important book, many other factors also contributed to the decline. As a result of Lundy's work, a very important part of diving history is available for all to enjoy and to learn from.

Years of experience in the harsh environment of diving for abalone enabled divers to contribute to the development of equipment and diving techniques that are used in recreational and commercial diving today. Everyone concerned with the management of a natural resource will find information in this book that will give them a better understanding of the relationship between divers and the underwater assets of the area.

This new volume is available in two formats: the very affordable paperback edition at $39.50 plus $3.50 postage and handling; and a special, case bound, limited edition at $100 plus $6.50 postage and handling. Bonnie J. Cardone, SDM Executive editor, stated, "The California Abalone Industry-A Pictorial History, is an invaluable record of the industry, it's also the engrossing story of the people who worked in it." Order from Best Publishing Company, P. O. Box 30100, Flagstaff, Arizona 86003-0100; (800) 468-1055.


A copper mystery pump was illustrated in March 1997 Technifacts. J. Hallinger e-mailed the following: "This pump was not for diving but was for testing diving suits. Probably made within a decade of 1900. The dive suit was connected to the fitting and pumped up to test pressure. The suit may have been placed in a tank of water to test for bubbles leaking, like testing a tire tube." I believe this was the primary use for this pump. In the diving locker I worked out of in 1934, we had circular wooden seals to block off the neck ring of the breast plate and others (as plugs) for sealing off the cuffs of the diving dress. However, reader Jay Tanzman, Duanesburg, New York, wrote, "The pump was used to clear blocked pipes, etc., by pumping up a head of pressure in the bell of the pump and releasing it into the attached line."


A study of old maps of the Pacific and other records indicates early knowledge of the northwest coast of the United States and Pacific islands, including Hawaii. An early Japanese map shows the West Coast of North America as well as a group of islands at approximately the position of the Hawaiian chain. Also, Ortelius' Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, dated 1570, indicates considerable knowledge of the northwest coast and of islands in the Northern Pacific Ocean.

It seems likely the earliest wrecks along the Pacific Coast were Chinese or Japanese junks. Early Chinese fishing and trading junks were larger and better fitted for ocean travel than Japanese junks of the same era. However, winds and currents along the China coast would make it unlikely that a Chinese junk would be blown out to sea and across the Pacific. Such is not the case with Japanese junks. The combination of the northwesterly flowing Japan current, strong westerly winds and typhoon or hurricane winds, would all create the probability of an occasional Japanese junk being blown far out to sea; drifting helplessly until a lee shore was reached.

Wrecks of Japanese junks are known to have occurred at: Acapulco in 1617; Kamchatk, in 1694, 1710, 1729 and 1812; the Aleutian Islands in 1782 and 1869; Sitka, Alaska in 1805; Point Adams in 1820; Queen Charlotte Island in 1831; Hawaii in 1832; Cape Flattery in 1833; Mexico in 1845; Atka Island in 1851 and 1871; and Cedros Island in 1853.

Japanese junks were also reported adrift off Kamchatka in 1685, off Sitka in 1813, off Santa Barbara in 1815, west of Hawaii in 1839 and 1854, and off the Aleutians in 1870 and 1871. Three survivors of a junk wrecked off the entrance to the Columbia River were picked up in 1829. A second junk was reported adrift in this area in 1846. Three crew members survived a wrecked Japanese junk off Cape Flattery in the spring of 1834.

These are the known wrecks of Japanese junks. Considering the time span of Japanese junks with only sail power, there were probably dozens more lost to storm winds and turbulent seas. Next month we'll discuss some known galleons and a few other wrecks of the Pacific Coast. In the meantime, dive safely. You will be glad you did.