Into the Abyss

Bookshelf: Into The Abyss

Into The Abyss: Diving To Adventure In The Liquid World – Rod Macdonald

Into the Abyss
Into the Abyss

I think Rod Macdonald might be quite famous in his part of the world – he’s the author of several diving guidebooks on Scapa Flow and on wreck diving in England and Scotland. I hadn’t heard of him before I read this book, but I think he’s well-known in British diving circles.

This book is more or less his life story as a diver, starting with his introduction to scuba diving in the early 1980s. The water off the United Kingdom is cold – in parts, even colder than the Atlantic Ocean off South Africa’s west coast. He mentions a dive that they’d do every year in a Scottish quarry on 31 December, Hogmanay, and says that the water was so cold (2 degrees celcius or less) that his regulator would spit pellets of ice into his mouth as he inhaled. When Macdonald started diving, the low pressure inflator hose on BCDs hadn’t been invented yet, so the practice was to descend and then orally inflate your BCD at the bottom. Fun times!

Macdonald soon became interested in wreck diving, and given that the North Sea and surrounds saw so much naval action during both wars, there are many, many wrecks to explore. Navigation during the early parts of the 20th century wasn’t as sophisticated as it is now, so skippers relied on dead reckoning and the locations of many of the ships on the hydrographic charts of the region are incorrect. Macdonald and his friends would search for wrecks using the charts as a guide, and then mark them precisely. Many of the wrecks they dived on were “virgin wrecks” – they were the first divers to make contact with the wreck since its sinking.

Deep diving on air took its toll, and after several scary nitrogen narcosis incidents, Macdonald switched to trimix for his deep diving (shortly after it was introduced – he was among the first divers qualified by BSAC in this new skill). This enabled him to dive deeper, and more safely.

Quite early in his career Macdonald acquired a dive boat, and used this for exploring. His anecdotes about boating and skippering a dive boat are entertaining and fascinating – the insight he has into the ocean from being a skipper as well as a diver is profound.

There are chapters on diving in Truuk Lagoon (MUST GO THERE) and Palau, and the book starts and ends with an account of his incredibly dangerous dive in the Corryvreckan Whirlpool off the coast of Scotland. This is a terrifying natural feature in a deep (70 to 200 metres) narrow channel through which there’s an intense tidal current, directed into standing waves and whirlpools by the narrow pinnacle in the middle of the gulf which rises to within 30 metres of the surface. Macdonald recounts how the downward current at the change of the tide was so strong that he watched the bubbles from his regulator become stationary above him, and then start descending. Scary!

This book was completely different to Deep Descent – I didn’t get the same sense of competitive machismo from Macdonald and his fellow divers as I did from reading about the divers who visit the Andrea Doria. They seem to enjoy the thrill of discovery and investigation, searching for uncharted and lost wrecks. But their diving practices are at the same time very conservative, and on several occasions dives were called off because of the sea conditions (which, off Mud Island, can be dire) or because a diver felt unwell or narced early on in the dive. I approve.

Get the book here if you’re in South Africa, otherwise click here.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

2 thoughts on “Bookshelf: Into The Abyss”

  1. Subject: The Darkness Below
    Date: Mon, 11 Apr 2011 20:17:53 +0100
    From: Rod MacDonald
    To: Tony Lindeque


    Can you pass on my thanks to Clare for the kind review of my last book Into the Abyss on your site – much appreciated.

    I don’t know if you will have heard yet in your neck of the woods but my new book The Darkness Below is now set for launch on 30 September. You can get an idea of it from or via my publishers website at

    There’s a lot more detail about its progress on my own site

    Hopefully you can give some publicity to it your way in advance or at the time of launch.

    Kindest regards from Scotland.

    Rod Macdonald

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