A long, long time ago on some distant islands:
Before my Kayaking addiction, Flintknapping addiction, before wind-surfing and paintball addictions.....there were days and nights of diving...and more diving.
While in the USAF: Assigned to Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (once known as "Cape Kennedy") supporting the Air Force Eastern Test Range , however when my enlistment was up;
I was hired by Pan Am World Services as a Diver to return the test range.
A diver subcontracting to the USAF
Our home base was the old Launch Complex 11 on Cape Canaveral Air Force Station and we would weekly or bi-monthly catch a ride with the USAF to the far flung island test range.
These Air Force and NASA tracking stations were connected by a series of underwater cables and other things I should not talk about (was not instructed "not to talk about things", however I feel no need to explain everything that was happening on the test range) -Why bore you with little details?
You tube news video about Antiqua Tracking Station and a small mention of a 1000 miles of undersea cables.
A diver subcontracting to the USAF,
Antiqua Tracking Station
Most island trips went something like this:
Dive, hike, dive/snorkel, hike, party, hike, surf, deep sea fish, night dive, paintball and hike. Then Dive some more. Sleep. Party? Back on the USAF plane to Florida & plan the next trip.
Which Island next boss?
Hiking Ascension Island below the mountain top NASA tracking site. (Photo: Mark and I back when too much sun exposure was a distant joke)
Pan Am Beach, Ascension Island, South Atlantic
(in the photo) Divers Mark, John, Ed and Frank
One could suppose I had won a lottery of sorts when hired as a diver for the USAF.
I was Paid very well to do unlimited dives on exotic locations. ALL gear, food, travel and expenses covered. (Well someone had to do it)
The USAF almost begged: "Here please use these two zodiacs whenever you want and we will fly them to where ever you wish!" (Diver Randy and Mark in Photo)
The next seven years diving the Air Force Eastern Test Range-in other words back to Ascension Island, Antiqua, Grand Turk, Grand Bahama and Puerto Rico.
Cannot begin to describe what a good time that was, being paid to dive in beautiful blue waters and working with the dedicated professionals of the Missile Range.
I made futile attempts to keep up with the other divers who just might have been legends in their own times.
Have to admit: "Legends" are a tough act to follow. Although my un legendary efforts to keep up with that crowd was extremely fun, exciting and oft times very pleasant. And there was the sin of pride of being associated with legends.
The Range Map (could be termed the "playground")
Photo of part of the Eastern Test Range: (missing is the Seychelles Islands)
Source: The Air Force Space Museum on CCAFS FL
Found this description of us on the "Range Rats" booklet & while it is somewhat of idealistic description----- I had a good laugh.
"The U.S. government installed a submarine cable along the island chain from Cape Canaveral to Antigua early in the missile testing programs. The cable had to have repeater stations to boost the data and audio signals at periodic intervals to prevent data loss or drop out.
There was a team of divers that performed the undersea cable inspection and maintenance, and they were all cases of walking nitrogen narcosis." Not a bad description if I may say
"From the time they arrived until they
left. Apparently, the danger that these divers encountered in performing their
jobs gave them an extremely high tolerance for alcohol. But they were
good at what they did, both professionally and partying." Not really any danger- But we were good.
And someone had to get paid to do this job......
The USAF Eastern Test Range: A Brave New World!
What "Alice in wonderland" story had I been hired into?
Contemplation at one of the many Pig Roast parties on Green Mountain, Ascension Island. I was getting paid for this.....
Land Crab hunts
Weekend hunts for land crabs. We would take one claw and release the crab. The hunt would go on until we had 50 pounds of claws for a feast! (Frank, George and Mark)
Spelunking (caving a volcanic vented island)
Weekend cave explorations of the volcanic fumerals. (gas vents) (John the Diver)
The American Base on Ascension Island.
Every trip to Ascension: After unpacking, I would hike to the top of Red Hill in a vain attempt to counter jet lag.
Night dives for lobsters (Diver Randy and I)
This was the night I kicked a sea urchin and moaned all the way back to the beach.
Average fishing trips
Deep sea fishing in the Carribean and the South Atlantic.
(My wahoo caught off of Grand Turk--a long way from Missouri)
Not everything was fun and games. We were always on stand-by to go to sea and repair the underwater cable that linked the Air Force Tracking sites
The Cable ship
Photo: At sea with 8 miles of repair cable we had loaded on the barge. -Creosote cable in the tropical sun was dirty and fairly miserable.
(Divers Frank and Ed on the lower deck)
One way to wash off the creosote dust --Diver Mark
Diver Frank with his superhuman snorkel skills
Divers Ed and Randy in the foreground & Frank and Ron at the bow as we hauled aboard an underwater cable
Winching the undersea cable from the ocean floor was only the first step. Photo: unwinding the 16 strands of steel armor from the cable in order to splice it.
Divers Mark, Randy, Frank, Ron and John
But back to more fun things
The USAF said "Here use these Dive Propulsion Vehicles to inspect the under sea cables and remove any lobsters that get in the way" --That may not have been the exact quote.
(Randy on Grand Turk Island)
Work Hard, Play Hard, Diver Ron at a Pig Roast on Green Mountain, Ascension Island. Legendary parties!
Pig Roast on Green Mountain Ascension Island.
George, me & Ed
And the fish hunts. Trash can full of Ascension Island Grouper
(Divers John, Frank and Mark)
Photo of me after a cave dive on Ascension Island.
A long long way from the Ozarks of Missouri.
More Night Dives
Night dive haul of Ascension lobster
(Divers Frank, John and Mark)
Day dives! (an entire connex of beer fell off the supply ship. Guess who found it?) Why Ed of course.
(Diver Ed & and rocky cleft for water entry)
Ah the surfing.....
Diver Jeff and Mark enjoying some Ascension Island surf
Surfing Ascension Island-Mark, Jeff & I might be in this pic. Notice the rocks to avoid?
Pan Am Beach
Waves building, more or less canceling both day or night dives and surfing.
On to hiking or spelunking!
Hike and explore!
The Hikers: Diver Jeff, Cindy, John and myself hiking a dormant volcano on Ascension Island
I hiked down to the edge of the cliff to look at the Frigate birds
Seas calmed and back to the ocean!
Sometimes there were near misses!
Just, just getting the Zodiac past the surf.
Undersea visitors. Wait, we were visitors....
Deep sea fishing when one felt that itch
My deep sea fishing pose. I seem to recall asking my boss if we were going to get a pay raise?
Anyway, finally a long sleeve shirt. -sun protection.
Wait, is that a beer can?
Or back to Caving
Wait, cave exploring without a shirt? (I still have those scars) Young and stupi.........
Grouper hunts on the upper Caribbean islands.
(Still no shirt but quite proud of my grouper on Grand Bahamas Island snorkel hunt)
"After the dive"
Relaxing with Divers- Ed, Mark and Jeff.
Mad scientist "Trash" on the deck also.
"After the Dive"
Antiqua. Shirley Heights. (Photo credit Mark)
The end of legends....
Well all things come to an end. The undersea cables for the test range became obsolete and that particular party (career) was suddenly over.
Luckily I was able to jump into a communications job at Kennedy Space Center (and have not left yet!)
Thanks for looking at this brief glimpse of the world of the Pan Am Divers.
Ode to the Pan Am Divers:
Interestingly incommodious indigent indolent indomitable intoxicated inexplicable interpretive invigorating inflexible impressions.
Incredibly impish infectious idealistic impracticable impromptu inferences & incongruent indelible informative indications, inadvertently insurmountable insufferable instinctively insanely inquiringly initial itches
Inscrutable insensitive inspiring intact interchangeable irrelevant inquisitions & inventive irresponsible ingenuously inactive interactive intercommunications
Note: Attempting to maintain decorum and good taste, I have mostly omitted the Test Range parties.
Considering throwing out good taste and let flow the other pictures, but have to think about that......And edit....
Still thinking about the parties....
Return Home from Eastern Test Range page
My fictional series/stories on Florida history:
Freedoms Quest (book one)
Struggle for the northern frontier and other lost tales of old Florida.
Available on Amazon