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I’ve never been afraid of water. I’ve felt like I’m a dolphin.

Down to 25 metres at the most: beautiful colours, stunning rock formations, shellfish, seaweed, fish … 40 metres down: bits of the same thing here and there. 100 metres: a greyish light and hardly anything growing on the seabed. So nothing reflects the light down there.

I’ve been down to 300 metres: total darkness.

Total.

Total darkness has been an advantage only on two or three of the jobs I’ve done. I am glad I didn’t see what happened.

When you left the diving bell and moved off, there was a light on the bell itself, and you might have a torch on your arm. It was four degrees in the water, and it’s an ice-cold shock when it hits you. Any dive can get very, very cold. You feel it deep in your bones.

In the Viking Field there’s quite a strong current. Sometimes I’ve come out of the bell and hardly noticed it until I let go. Then suddenly you’re shooting away.

I saw fantastic phosphorescence! The odd fish, the odd shrimp, occasionally a fish you’d never seen before, and lots of plankton. But generally the diver doesn’t come across much life. It can be very lonely.

The moment you start working, you churn up dust. And dust in water is like dense fog.

Sound travels well, but it seems packed in wool. It’s just a bit muffled. Things sound like you’re inside a vault. Because water can’t be compressed, and sound waves in water are pressure waves.

You can talk underwater. The gas we used, helium/oxygen, makes the voice vibrate 7 times faster than usual, so we had so-called Donald Duck voices.

You can’t breathe water. I’m very lucky I was never given neon. But a helium mixture – I dived a lot with that. And I’ve dived a bit with nitrox, but that’s more like air. Air is denser, heavier to breathe than a helium/oxygen mix.

Gas failure.

When you pass out for lack of gas, you know it in every last fibre of your body that what you need is air. The resistance to your breathing increases, your mask sticks to your face when you breathe in, and there’s nothing to be had, all you get is water. And when you breathe out, you make sure you don’t lose a drop. It’s a feeling of suffocation that lodges itself in your neck, your Adam’s apple, your shoulders, right up to your forehead. And the only thing you can see is tunnel vision; far, far away, you see two dots and shadows moving about chaotically. Then you get a gnawing sensation in your belly as the last thing you feel before you pass out.

I have passed out several times under water.

On the moon there’s no resistance. There’s little gravity, so it’s easier to jump there. It’s not the same thing in a diving suit. It’s more like on a space shuttle, where you can be pushed back from the thing you’re working on. You’re not weightless, you’re adjustably weightless.

This isn’t a sport. It’s a serious profession, and a very dangerous profession.

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from

PIONEER

2007

Monologue based on interview with a pioneer diver from the North Sea.