A Fishing Tale

Many readers of The Right Blue may not know that I have another blog. I call it my Virtual Scratchpad. It's not about the ocean, or diving, or photography -- except just this once! I wrote an article about fishing and published it there a little while ago. Some of you might enjoy it. It's illustrated with one of my underwater photos, too.

Here's the link, in case you'd like to have a look: Thoughts On Fishing

Easter Weekend - 1974

by B. N. Sullivan

Recently we've been reminiscing here about the Marathon Diving Club, the organization that first trained me as a diver so many years ago. Last week I wrote about the kinds of adventures members of that club enjoyed together. Here's another in the Marathon Diving Club (MDC) series.

The photos below belong to my friend Lorna, who was kind enough to let me use them for this story. They document a trip made by several MDC members and their children over the Easter holiday in 1974. The destination was Paros, a Greek island in the central part of the Aegean Sea. [Click on the photos to enlarge.]

Paros ferry dockThe group traveled by car ferry from the Greek mainland to Paros. In addition to the usual assortment of dive equipment, they took along an inflatable boat that was owned by Lorraine and Leonard, two MDC members. The group posed for the above photo at the Paros ferry dock. You can see the inflatable boat on the roof of the car behind them.

Divers and inflatable boatHere are the divers on the beach, preparing for the day's activities. In the foreground of the photo are MDC divers Big Jer (standing), with Lorraine, Frank and Leonard (left to right) seated on the boat. The inflatable boat belonged to Lorraine and Leonard. The woman in the blue bathing suit, in the background, is Lorna.

Diver consulting nautical chartHere's Big Jer consulting a nautical chart, and briefing the others on what he thinks will be the best spot for the next dive.

Fisherman with his catchFast forward to: Big Jer with his catch of the day -- a grouper that's big enough to feed the whole MDC team, and their families.

Dining at a tavernaBefore returning to Athens, the group formed up at an outdoor taverna in the port area for drinks and food and chat. These 'taverna debriefing sessions' were a standard part of every MDC excursion.

Thanks very much to Lorna for unearthing the above photos and sending them to me. Considering that they were all scanned from snapshots that are thirty-four years old, they still look pretty good!

By the way, not all of the MDC members went on that particular trip to Paros. Some of us stayed behind in Athens that weekend, and -- just for the record -- here is what the rest of us did.

We got together at the home of MDC member Phyllis, for food, drinks, and a group sing-along. (Those were the days!) Here we are on Easter, 1974, on the veranda at Phyllis and Jim's house in Kifissia, Greece. That's Phyllis on the left.

I feel very fortunate to have met all of these wonderful people way back when. I feel even more fortunate that so many of us have remained in touch all these years. We became the best of friends, and the adventures we had during our times together have been unmatched. It's no wonder that we are willing to travel thousands of miles for our periodic reunions.

Happy Easter to everyone. And to all the MDC members, thank you so much for the memories -- and for your enduring friendship.

MDC - Diving, camping, hiking, and ... cliff climbing?

by B. N. Sullivan

Recently I've been telling stories here about a dive club I belonged to many years ago. When I first introduced the Marathon Diving Club, I mentioned that most of the club's members were expats of assorted nationalities living and working in or near Athens, Greece from the late 1960s through the 1970s. I explained that the club got its name from Greece's Marathon Coast, where the club was based. We all did a lot of dives along that coast, and that is where the club's instructors trained beginning divers as well, but our diving was not confined to that area, nor was diving all we did together.

Preparing for a diveYes, it was called the Marathon Diving Club (MDC), but perhaps it should have been called the Marathon Adventuring Club. We all were divers, but at times it seemed that the diving was just an excuse to pursue many other kinds of adventures.

Sport diving was new then, and we all developed a burning need to dive in as many places as we could, just to see what was under the water's surface. A sort of meta-sport developed within the group: The club's members always were on a mission to discover new dive sites.

Some MDC members traveled frequently on business, and would come home from their journeys brimming with ideas for future dive trips. Not to be outdone, those who stayed closer to the home base would fan out to the shorelines and islands of Greece at every opportunity to scout potential venues for dive club get-togethers.

Those get-togethers often were more like expeditions. The most spectacular of our adventures entailed international travel (more on that later), but most often we all would travel together to explore a promising dive spot somewhere in Greece.

Off we would go in a convoy of a half dozen or more vehicles full of camping gear and dive equipment, including the club's portable compressor to fill our tanks. We would drive -- sometimes hundreds of miles -- to some coastal location that one of the members had spotted. At other times all those heavily laden vehicles would be put onto car ferries that took us to one Greek island or another. Several MDC members owned boats, or had access to vessels owned by their employers, so there were many boat trips here and there, as well.

Since nearly all of these expeditions lasted for at least two days, part of the responsibility of finding a new dive site for the club was to find a place where everyone could stay. Sometimes there would be a cheap hotel nearby, but more often than not, we camped. Certain club members became very good at negotiating with the owners of seaside farms and olive groves for permission to camp on their land. I can't recall ever paying money for the privilege of camping, but barter deals were not uncommon. For example, since several of the club's members were avid spear-fishermen then, giving some fresh fish to the land owner was frequently a part of the deal.

All of us were young -- in our 20s and 30s -- and most of us had small children. We were all far away from our homelands and families, so our kids went everywhere we went. Usually there were a few non-diving spouses in the group, and -- bless them -- they would keep an eye on the children while the rest of us were diving. It was a really congenial group that way.

DiversSome of the places we visited were readily accessible, but we also explored more remote locations. There even were times when we'd have to hike the last half mile to the beach. When that was the case, we'd all have to make numerous trips on foot, in order to get all of our supplies and equipment to the shoreline from wherever the cars were parked.

One place, which became a favorite, was a picturesque cove situated at the base of a cliff. The underwater terrain there was spectacular, but getting ourselves, and the kids, and all of our stuff down to the little beach was a real challenge. The only access was a narrow, steep goat trail that ran down a heavily wooded hill next to the cliff. The trail was so treacherous, even the goats used it infrequently!

I remember our first trip there -- all of us lined up, staring over the edge of that cliff to the water below. The scene was very beautiful, and the clear water beckoned, yet we all stood there contemplating that goat trail, wondering how we could ever manage to get all our equipment down to the bottom without tumbling -- never mind how we would get it back up to the top later on!

After some discussion, someone proposed that we string together collectively whatever rope we had with us (and anything else that could be used as "rope" -- jumper cables come to mind!). Once cobbled together, this would be used to lower the heavy and bulky things to the base of the cliff. I remember watching the men dangle everything from scuba tanks to a hibachi and a bag of charcoal over the side of the cliff, one item at a time. It took awhile, but it did the trick. Meanwhile the women and children carefully picked their way down the goat trail in pairs.

Our efforts were rewarded. We enjoyed a couple of very scenic dives, while the children played on the little beach. We capped the day's outing with a hearty picnic meal before climbing the steep path -- and hauling our gear back up the side of the cliff, piece by piece.

The photos on this page are from that trip. There is a ruin of an ancient temple at this site, located on the Gulf of Corinth, but in 1970 when we first visited the spot, the ruin had not yet been "developed." In fact, to this day, the Greek countryside is dotted with many ancient ruins that are just there: No tourists, no fences, no admission fees, no postcard vendors -- just some remnants of centuries-old stone structures, overgrown with grass and wildflowers.

In the top photo you can see an old stone pier. At the base of the pier, on the land side, were some large rectangular blocks of cut stone. Other than that, there was very little evidence of what turned out to be a temple to the goddess Hera, from the Classical era.

Years later the ruin was completely excavated and now has been developed for tourism, as well. The last time we visited, we hardly recognized the place. Not only was there a large paved parking lot near the top of the cliff, replete with marked parking spaces for tour buses, the ruin itself turned out to be quite extensive. There are wide paths leading down to the cove now -- no more need to use the little goat path! -- but I doubt if diving would be allowed there these days.

Here is a link to the Wikipedia page about the Heraion of Perachora, as the temple is called. The first photo on that page shows how it looks today. The second photo on that page looks more like it was in 1970. They certainly had to remove a lot of trees and bushes, and move a lot of earth during that excavation.

Coming up on The Right Blue: More MDC stories from the 1970s, including a spectacular cave diving expedition, a trip to the island of Paros, and our first dive trip to the Red Sea -- illustrated with old photos that MDC members have sent to us to use here.

Two Brief Announcements

E, for ExcellentWe have decided to make one short post with two brief announcements, sharing some Hawaii-grown news before we return to our series about diving in the early days.

Our first announcement is that The Right Blue has been rated E, for Excellent, thanks to a fellow blogger from Hawaii. "Mahalo nui loa" to Evelyn, of Homespun Honolulu, for nominating The Right Blue for this award.

We'd also like to invite the readers of The Right Blue to click over to our friends Pua and Keoki's blog, Best Hawaii Vacation, to read Bobbie's guest post, Tips for Watching Sea Turtles in Hawaii. Illustrating the article are two of Bobbie's sea turtle photos, both taken at Puako, Hawaii. (Regular readers of The Right Blue already know something about Puako's sea turtles. If you missed them, please read our stories about Myrtle the turtle and her friends at Puako.)

Learning to dive, 1970 style

by B. N. Sullivan

From the moment I first put on a dive mask at the age of 10, I was hooked on seeing whatever there was to see under the surface of oceans and lakes. And from the time I knew there was such a thing as scuba diving, I wanted to learn how to do it. My chance to become a scuba diver came in 1970.

American Club, GreeceI was living in Greece at the time. In those days, most Americans living in Greece belonged to the American Club, a focal point for expat activities. The club was housed in a once majestic old hotel building in Kifissia, a suburb north of Athens. Among other amenities, its facilities included restaurants; a bar; a bookshop full of the latest American newspapers, magazines, and books; meeting rooms that were let out to members for various activities; and a very nice swimming pool. Every American I knew stopped by the American Club at least once a week for one reason or another.

One day in the spring of 1970, I dropped by the American Club and saw a hand-lettered notice on a bulletin board there. It advertised an upcoming scuba diving class. I couldn't believe my eyes. I was ecstatic!

The scuba diving classes were being offered by an organization called the Marathon Diving Club (MDC). The club was founded by a couple of American men who had learned to dive in the U.S. Navy. They started the club as a means of getting together a pool of potential dive buddies in the Athens area. The only trouble was, scuba diving was quite a new sport in those days, and there were few people about who had learned how to do it. So, hoping to recruit new divers into the fold, the club's founders decided to offer diver training classes.

U.S. Navy Diving Manual-1970They ran their first class in 1969. I was in the second class, in 1970. The basic classes were held in a meeting room at the American Club. The MDC instructors had learned to dive in the Navy, and since that is what they knew, we learned to dive the U.S. Navy way.

They put together their own syllabus, and taught us the basics of underwater physics, diver physiology, principles of diver safety, and dive gear maintenance. We had no text. Instead, our instructors gave us hand-outs that were excerpts from the U.S. Navy Diving Manual. (I subsequently ordered a copy of the manual from the U.S. Government Printing Office, and I still have it on my bookshelf -- all 668 pages, not counting the index!)

When we had learned all the theoretical bits to their satisfaction, and had passed our written tests, our instructors took us into the American Club swimming pool. There we would eventually learn basic practical skills and try the equipment, but not before the instructors were satisfied that we could 'handle ourselves' in the water.

We had to demonstrate that we could swim the length of the pool underwater, without coming up for a breath. We had to retrieve heavy objects from the bottom of the deep end of the pool, after having swum there underwater from the shallow end. We had to tread water for what seemed like hours - with no fins, and with hands above the head. Only then did we get to put on a mask and a scuba tank to see how that felt.

swimming poolWe learned how to clear water from our masks and our regulator mouthpieces. Then we did an exercise called "doff and don," in which we had to go into the pool in full scuba gear, swim to the bottom of the deep end, take off all the gear, put it in a neat pile, and swim back to the shallow end without it. That was the "doff" part. For the "don" part, we had to dive back down to the bottom of the deep end and put all of the gear back on, piece by piece, and swim back to the shallow end of the pool underwater with everything on correctly, masks cleared, and breathing through the scuba regulator. We did this exercise over and over and over.

When the instructors were satisfied that we knew how to use the equipment properly, they took us to Schinias Beach on the Marathon coast so that we could repeat the exercise in the sea. The spot they selected was about 30 ft deep, with a sandy bottom. We had to suit up on the beach, swim out to a marker, dive down to the bottom, remove all of our gear, pile it up on the sandy bottom, and make a free ascent to the surface. After a few breaths of fresh air on the surface, we had to free-dive 30 ft back down to the bottom, put all of our gear back on, and then make a controlled ascent to the surface.

For those who managed to survive the dreaded doff and don exercise in the Aegean Sea, the final phase of training consisted of diver harassment. Yes, that's right -- harassment. Remember, these instructors were Navy divers, so they taught us much like they had been taught themselves. Hey, if it was good enough for U.S. Navy divers, it was good enough for us!

As the students swam around underwater on their first dives, happy as all get out to be diving in the sea on scuba at last, the instructors would sneak up from behind and turn off a diver's air, or suddenly pull off his/her mask (and other such indignities). The rationale was that a diver had to be ready for any emergency or irregularity, and be able to solve the problem in place. We were supposed to be able to cope, without panicking. In short, we had to know how to rescue ourselves.

This brand of diver training was not for wimps, to be sure, but the upshot was that the MDC instructors turned out a lot of very competent -- and confident -- divers over the years. I did not realize how good my initial diver training had been until, years later, I undertook several more advanced training courses. For example, I remember noting that most of the emergency procedures and 'advanced' self-rescue principles that were taught during my Rescue Diver course were a mere review for me. I had been required to learn most of that in my initial course, so many years before.

Next, I'll begin telling our readers about some of the amazing adventures the members of the Marathon Diving Club had together, way back when. First, I'd like to say thanks to an old friend, "Big Jer," my first dive instructor. We chatted at length on the phone yesterday, reviewing how the MDC and its diver training course came to be. I wanted to be sure I had all the details right, before I set forth the story here for all the world to read. (By the way, Big Jer still dives!)

Introducing the Marathon Diving Club

by B. N. Sullivan

I wrote last week that I had just returned from a reunion with some long-time friends, all of whom had been members of a dive club in Athens, Greece many years ago. The name of the club was the Marathon Diving Club, and it was organized by a couple of American men who were living and working in the Athens area at that time. (The image on this page is a patch bearing the Marathon Diving Club emblem.)

The founders of the club had learned to dive while serving in the U.S. Navy, and had continued to dive for recreation. The idea for a club arose as a way to attract and train other sport divers living in the Athens area, and thereby increase the pool of potential dive buddies.

Marathon Diving Club emblemThe club name might be a head-scratcher at first. It does not imply that we did marathon dives! Rather it reflects the fact that the focal point for many of the club's early activities was an area known as the "Marathon coast" - the region on the eastern shore of Greece's Attic peninsula, near the site of the ancient Battle of Marathon.

In the early days, most of our organized dives, and some of the club's training activities, took place at beaches along the Marathon coast. The club also had a small facility located at Nea Makri, a little town situated on the Marathon coast. The facility (more like a little shack!) was where we stored pieces of communally owned dive gear. It also housed the compressor that filled our scuba tanks.

Recreational scuba diving was a relatively new sport in the late 1960s and early 1970s when we first met and began diving together, and it was almost unheard of in Greece. As I recall, there was only one dive shop in Greece at that time, and it was in the port of Piraeus. Certified training for new divers was non-existent there, so the founders of the Marathon Diving Club put together a training program of their own.

The club's instructors all were -- or had been -- U.S. Navy divers. I have no idea exactly how many new divers were trained over the years by the Marathon Diving Club's instructors, but it was a good number. What amazes me, when I think back, is just how good that initial training was, and how many of the divers trained by the club's instructors stayed with the sport for years -- even decades (including yours truly).

I'd like to thank my friend Lorna for unearthing a Marathon Diving Club patch -- in mint condition, no less -- and bringing it to last month's reunion. Lorna's husband was a founder of the club, and was my first dive instructor. You'll meet him in the next regular post (right after Wordless Wednesday) , when I write about the Marathon Diving Club's training program for new divers.