Dark Descent

Bookshelf: Dark Descent

Dark Descent – Kevin F. McMurray

Dark Descent
Dark Descent

Kevin McMurray is the author of Deep Descent, a riveting account of diving the wreck of the Andrea Doria. Here, he turns his attention to the largely forgotten wreck of the RMS Empress of Irelanda liner that sank in Canada’s St Lawrence River in 1914, after colliding with a Norwegian vessel in thick fog. Over 1,000 people lost their lives. The Empress lies in just over forty metres of water, but the current, cold water, low visibility and lack of ambient light make it an extremely challenging dive site on which several divers have lost their lives.

McMurray provides a detailed account of the collision, sinking, and subsequent enquiries into the accident. He also describes the history of diving endeavours on the vessel, which began in 1964, when diving equipment was considerably more rudimentary than it is today. As with the Andrea Doria, it is possible to penetrate the Empress of Ireland through the collision hole in her side. The wreck lies partially on her side, which makes the interior disorienting.

The author has dived the wreck several times himself, which enables him to speak authoritatively of the challenges of cold water, low visibility diving (much like what we sometimes do in Cape Town). The wreck lies some distance out in the river (the St Lawrence is wide and eminently navigable) which has its own associated challenges, too.

There has been a fair amount of political wrangling over the wreck, perpetrated by rival dive charters, self-appointed guardians of the wreck site, and others who hoped to benefit materially from the wreck, and McMurray details some of this.

I found McMurray’s account of diving the Andrea Doria to be more immediate (and to give me more nightmares) than Dark Descent, but it is nonetheless an extremely interesting book that itself serves as a monument to what is Canada’s worst peacetime disaster. Both McMurray’s books go some way to explaining the allure of challenging wreck dives that only few divers will ever have the chance to visit.

You can get a copy of the book here or 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.