Retired seaman shares diving experience with Senior Men
Don Morris took the Senior Men's Club of Aiken on a trip back in time to explain the origins of deep sea diving and to share some of his underwater adventures.Don Morris, who moved to Aiken in 1989 with his wife Nancy, is a native of Paris, Texas. He joined the Navy during the Korean War and retired after 23 years as a Lieutenant. He served on the team that did the initial survey for the USS Arizona memorial in the Honolulu, Hawaii, harbor. He has participated in salvage operations to depths as deep as 3,500 feet using manned and cable controlled submersibles. He personally supervised diving operations to 850 feet.Morris related that as early as 486-465 B.C., records show divers were used by Xerxes, King of Persia, in military maneuvers in order to cut the anchor ropes of enemy ships in hopes of causing the ships to go on the rocks and be damaged or sunk. The depth and duration of those early dives depended on the diver's lung capacity. Alexander the Great used diver/swimmers to destroy the boom defenses of Tyre in 333 B.C. Aristotle wrote that Alexander the Great went beneath the surface in a sort of diving bell.Early equipment for divers allowed only a depth of 2 to 3 feet. History documents that Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1518) created a device to go underwater diving, but in shallow waters. In 1819, however, the first metal helmet was used to allow underwater diving for several minutes at shallow depths by today's standards, but deeper than previously possible, said Morris. This early device using a helmet had a type of leather skirt that captured the breathing gas for the diver. Unfortunately, if the skirt was tilted, the gas would escape to the surface so some skill was needed for the diver to remain in an upright position and not lose breathing air.As divers sought to go deeper, the phenomena known as the bends became a roadblock, said Morris. The bends is caused by nitrogen gas in the body being released as the outside pressure on the diver is reduced as the diver surfaces. These gasses form bubbles in the blood which would then travel in the body and potentially could cause blood depletion to critical body parts by blocking the flow. In 1907, decompression tables were developed to help eliminate or reduce the problem of the bends.Morris related that he was involved with a new method of diving called Saturation Diving, which resulted in a 10-day dive to a depth of 650 feet utilizing 12 men in a chamber, and using a transfer capsule that would contain three of the 12 men. The capsule would leave the large chamber to go to depths of 850 feet and return to dock at the large chamber. Decompression from those depths took 118 hours (almost five days) using the technology of that day. Today, divers routinely make saturation dives of 1,200 feet. Morris joked that diving is not for people that may feel claustrophobic.He displayed an ancient urn retrieved from the ocean bottom near Tripoli, Libya. It was judged to have been made in the 17th century, but the value could not be assessed because of its rarity.The Senior Men's Club of Aiken meets the third Wednesday at noon at Houndslake Country Club. For more information, call 226-0338.