I was 24 and living in Vieques, Puerto Rico, when I overheard Navy divers in a bar talking about $100,000-a-year incomes. I had no idea what commercial diving was, but I went ahead and signed up for a course with Ocean Corporation.
On day one, the school owner gave a speech: “You are going to be cold, wet and tired, traveling hours to get to work. Some of you will last five minutes. Some will be lifers.” I thought, What the hell have I gotten myself into?
But I stayed, finding my way into saturation diving. That’s where the money is. The deepest site I’ve clocked in at was 450 feet, which means living for 30 days in a sat chamber at roughly 430 feet.
I lasted 14 years in this business because there was nothing I wouldn’t knock myself out to get done. I’m 5-foot-3 and 125 pounds, so, yeah, there are tricks involved. We breathe a helium-oxygen mix, so most of the time, everyone sounds like Mickey Mouse on the radio. I learned to talk slowly and deeply — I call it putting on my “man voice.” I’ve tied air-filled milk jugs to impact wrenches to of set the weight. I also learned that you tie a rope to that same wrench because, guess what happens if you let go?
As for living at depth, no, I can’t tell you most of those stories on the record. One prank I can share: I let the air out of a supervisor’s car tires at the docks after he filled my toolbox with minnows on a job. But that was in good fun. For the most part, you keep your cool. Because, man, did it feel good to work alongside these guys, earning their respect. Never in a million years did I think I would be a lifer, and I’m still here.