Lost Diver / Notes to Bob Crawford at Big Sur

High Desert

It seems we had barely gotten to know each other, there was so much left undone. We'd finally meet face to face a couple of years ago at a dive club meeting after e-mailing each other for over a year about the glorious and colorful pinnacles and the dive sites at Schmieder Banks, the seldom visited treasures five miles off the Big Sur coast.

He spoke in broad gestures, spinning tales of the magical times he had lived on expeditions to this underwater Xanadu.

I teased him about not getting back to me with a dive report from his recent trip to the Dalmatian Coast. He said he would, when he had the proper time.

He called me a "poser" when our barge discovery made the front page. I responded as both a "poser" and a "poseur," that they were great dives and I would be glad to manage any PR campaign he needed.

This year he had planned another expedition in their tradition. He wanted veteran divers and the new divers that were invited to form an alliance in good spirit. He promised great "campfire talks" going late into the evenings.

The trip was postponed for various reasons, put off until next year.

I suggested we at least make a day trip out of it. The energy was so good.

Beto agreed. Bob was up for it and plans slowly formed. A boat was reserved. A date was confirmed.

I ran into Bob at the dive shop the week of the trip while he was filling tanks. We chatted for over an hour. We talked of great dives and crossed paths.

We talked about his trip to Mexico, divers we both knew.

We sang praises of the Romance of the Sea, the things we see that others will never know--the world just off our coast waiting only for us divers--especially Big Sur and the submerged gardens of Schmieder Banks.

I teased him about their overnight boat trips where they could, if they wanted, send an excursion ashore, shoot a feral pig, forage for mushrooms, make a wild currant glaze and polenta for dinner. It was always about the camaraderie with his friends, the adventure of each day.

He was very excited to return.

One of his sons had his 30th birthday party the night before the trip.

On the boat we chatted about our lives and the passage of time. Would we be happier being 30 and doing these dives? He said he would love to have those times back, but doing this at this time in his life was a rare privilege.

He wasn't ready to hang it up quite yet.

He suddenly started channeling a curious familiarity, out of nowhere, calling me "Kenny," a name used only by a subset of friends and people from my past.

He said he enjoyed my stories and dive reports. I told him I'd write him a good one after this trip.

He continued to review everyone's dive profiles, calling a huddle, comparing bottom times, stop times, time due back on the boat.

He and Denzil reviewed their profile one last time.

It was a beautiful, warm and sunny day.

He seemed the perfect, tall, and gentle patriarch.

Then he was gone.


Marcos and I made our search, dropping directly below where we had last seen him. We fell quickly to 175 feet, poised above the vast plain that forms the plateau of Schmieder Banks, the last high spot off Point Sur before the Continental Shelf falls into the abyss.

We moved carefully within this intimate world--quiet, still, and silent as a church--floating across a scattered field of stones, a scene of grazing fish.

As we were swept along in mild currents, drifting in the expanse and quiet, gliding like two birds above a flat and wind swept field, random patches of sand formed little barrens in the seafloor scrub brush. Another sand barren drifted past us, silently, in a dream below.

Marcos was just above, floating on the edge of visibility, his light clearly shining in the dimness at that depth.

An outcropping of rock came into view, forced up in brittle angles--rising some 20 feet--rocks against rocks, arranged in a picturesque landscape.

The underwater scene continued slowly by us--strange sunless scenes from the vastness of the West--a painting without horses or clouds, "Canyon Lands" and dive sites named "West of the Pecos" replaced plateaus rising above a high desert world, where winds blew and birds hunted, and the sun shone down on bright, dry, hot summer days.

Here, a grey-blue, slow motion silence penetrated everything, and cool watery winds flowed slowly in dim half-light, were rockfish circled above rocky spires, and a still and quiet coolness held everything in peace.


He was gone.

Five miles off the promontory of Pt. Sur itself, the green of land was visible for miles in any direction. A low haze obscured a distant horizon. On any day this would be a blessing--a day of delicate, feminine breezes, easy sailing, a time for picnic lunches and lazy recollections, or an after dive celebration bathed in a golden autumn light.

The sea lay gentle in the warm sun. Standing just off the rolling hills and rocky coastline, our stories, our lives, all of us together on our little boat were just a tiny dot, a moment's pause along the endless march of time.

He was gone.

The words seemed distant, any sense of their finality, unreal.

Wisps of air moved across the deck. The grumble of twin diesels rolled like drums on the rhythm of slowly rising swells. Overhead, the bright orange Coast Guard chopper screamed and furiously scythed the clear blue sky.

Days later the words still rang with hollow meaning.

He was gone.