Back on Deck

Good Bye to Vanuatu

My trip to New Guinea to search for relics kinda put me in a different frame of mind regarding the wrecks that litter the ocean floor around Vanuatu.

I came back with a different regard for them.

I had just spent a week in the jungle, trekking up and down mountains and pushing through thick vines in my search for World War Two leftovers.

That trip was an exploration of the area where land battles were fought between the Allies and the Japanese.

The wrecks under the water around Vanuatu represent the sea battles that occurred in the same war. Fighting over hundreds or thousands of feet of water. Different ballgame.

I don’t regard one as worse or harder than the other. I just see them as different parts of the terrible whole.

When it comes down to it, whether it was by land or by sea, the battles were all about the loss of individual lives–thousands of individual lives. As fascinating as wars are, with their strategies and counter strategies, at the end of the day, it’s all about a colossal loss of life.

So coming back to Vanuatu and taking out the first wreck-dive party since my return was a bit of a sobering experience.

It was a group of five businessmen from New Zealand. They were all experienced wreck divers, so I didn’t have to dink around with the elementary orientation stuff that I sometimes have to.

These guys knew the drill. They were up to speed on safety protocols; they had all the right equipment (they brought their own); they had experience doing deep water dives. In terms of managing a group, it was a piece of cake.

They had selected two different wrecks that they wanted to see that day. We spent the morning over one and the afternoon over the other.

The guys all had a great time and as excursions go, this one was seamless. No one surfaced too quickly; no one miscalculated depth or oxygen; no one ran into a shark and freaked.

It was me that was off that day. I kept looking down through the water, seeing the gray shape of the ship way below us, and all I could think of was the boot and the helmet and the guns that I’d seen back on Buka and Bougainville.

Those items so clearly represented real individual soldiers. They brought humanity to the war that happened so long ago. They brought MY humanity to that war. I could have been the soldier who wore that boot, that helmet, who stood behind that gun and fired on the enemy.

I looked down at that ship and instead of seeing an awesome dive site saw a big tomb full of lost humanity.

I felt creeped out and sad and horrified all at once.

I’ve never experienced that before in all my years of leading wreck dive excursions. It shook me up to experience it.

Scuba dive excursions are my business so I knew I had to get past all that. And I did, mostly. The freshness of the feelings has dimmed. I can lead trips and be the jolly host.

But I have to say, I don’t think I’ll ever be quite as jolly as before.