Submerged - Daniel Lenihan

Bookshelf: Submerged

Submerged – Daniel Lenihan

Submerged - Daniel Lenihan
Submerged – Daniel Lenihan

Until his retirement, Daniel Lenihan had a dream job, combining diving and archaeology, at the US National Park Service’s Submerged Resources Unit (formerly the Submerged Cultural Resources Unit or SCRU, and renamed in 1999 to include natural resources). He cut his teeth diving during the heydays of the sport, and became a skilled cave diver working with Sheck Exley in Florida in the 1960s and 70s, and deployed many of the principles of that sport when penetrating historical shipwrecks in the United States and around the world.

Submerged, a memoir of Lenihan’s time in the National Parks Service, is a cracker of a book – Clive Cussler wishes he could write like this, and it isn’t even fiction. A competing volume (if you will), Adventures of a Sea Hunter, by James Delgado – a sometime colleague of Lenihan – covers some of the same ground, but with far less impact and immediacy. Lenihan is clearly a doer, and has the requisite ego and charisma to make things happen, even in a bureaucratic setting.

The SCRU team dives and maps wrecks all over the world, from freezing, rough conditions in the Great Lakes in the United States, to a war grave in Pearl Harbour, Micronesia, the Aleutian Islands, and Bikini Atoll, where the US conducted multiple nuclear weapons tests. The chapter that made the greatest impression on me, however, was Lenihan’s account of a body retrieval that he and a buddy did of a diver who had gotten lost and drowned inside an old building that is now submerged in a dam. His account of diving in visibility measured in centimetres, trying to figure out where the diver could have gone in that confined, dark space, is riveting and terrifying. I was also very interested by the tests his team did on submerged motor vehicles, to determine how quickly a car fills up when it is driven into water. Lenihan himself drove a car into a dam, with scuba gear on the seat beside him, and his team attempted a rescue. Because of the air pockets in the vehicle, it was far less stable and much harder to access while submerged than the team initially expected.

The toughness, rigour, safety awareness and innovation that the SCRU team brought to their work is marvellous to me, particularly as they were technically part of an arm of the US government. None of the arms of government are particularly effective in South Africa! This is a fascinating, wide-ranging read that will interest divers and those fascinated by history, particularly its relics that lie underwater.

If you’re in South Africa you can get the book here, otherwise try here or here. For a kindle copy, go 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.

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