(And the little voice says: Shhhh, don't jinx it. Good advice, I think.)
I promised I'd say more about the dive trip. The dive trip was awesome. It was hard, it was more than a little dangerous, it was dirty, and it was fucking wonderful. You are a different person when you are doing work like that. White Collar Jimbo is garrulous, open, engaging. Trying to find something to do with his hands while he talks. Trying to find that balance between hair-too-neatly-styled and hair-the-wrong-kind-of-messy. Blue Collar Jimbo is laconic, poker-faced, still. His hands hang at his sides like slabs of meat. Doesn't give a flying fuck what his hair looks like. Everybody goes through this kind of transformation. You aren't the same person on the boat as you are in the office. It's a different world.
Also, everybody pukes. One time or another. There are no exceptions. You don't get judged by whether or not you puke; you get judged by whether or not you go back to work after. And, aesthetically, by how you puke. One guy has a hilarious puke; his first time out, he didn't lose it until he went into the water, and he shook his head violently from side to side while it was happening. BLUB-BLUB-BLUB-BLUB-BLUB! This has now become a bit of boat jargon, that sound. "Blub-blub?" You feeling pukey? "Blub-blub..." ugh, it's getting to me. That kind of thing. My puke was approved of - tremendous volume, great distance, no wasted sound or motion. (Also: spinach.) It hit me in the cabin looking for a logbook for the captain; I finished finding the book and came out before I succumbed. Handed him the book, raised a finger when he tried to talk to me and said "one minute" and turned to the rail calmly and let flew. "Man, that was awesome - it looked like the discharge from the pump!" Damn right. No hacking or gagging or yelling. All business. I am the very watchword of efficiency, fuckers.
Not everybody can hack it on the boat. As much seems to be made of unsatisfactory puking style as unsatisfactory ability to work after it's over. One guy who didn't cut it is described, quietly, with a sense of sadness, as "like a cat - quiet, desperate little hacking noises." This kind of thing isn't approved of. He doesn't work on the boat anymore.
I had never actually been seasick before. I didn't know I could get seasick - it's the kind of thing you'd think six years in the Navy would bring out. Fact is, if you think you can't get seasick, you're wrong. You just haven't been in the right conditions. You get on a small craft and drop anchor at only 20', in 20 knot wind, then shimmy into a wetsuit with a full hood, with it squeezing you on the belly and - worse, infinitely worse - the adam's apple; then you do a few bounce dives in and out. Swallow some double-pressure air while you're on the bottom, trying to wrestle the Atlantic (hint: it's bigger than you are), then pop up like a cork and scramble back on the deck and that air you swallowed on the bottom is twice as big as it was when you swallowed it, and you're burping it out uncontrollably. Urp. Urrrrrrrrrp. Yeah... you're gonna get seasick. Not every day, not every trip. I was out two days and only got sick the first day, and only once. But at some point, you WILL get seasick. Even the captain can get sick.
So, after the first three dives I cried uncle and peeled out of my suit. I was deathly ill and just didn't really have my shit together enough for another dive - I was worried I was going to get sick UNDERWATER. Not okay. So I learned to work topside instead. Still damned hard work, but you can SEE what you're doing (the visibility was under one foot that day) so it's easier to pick up for a first timer. It takes a while to pick up the rhythm, there is a lot going on and nobody up there to hold your hand while you do it. Get to the dive spot, throw the anchor on the call, let the boat swing around. Throw the safety line a little at a time - let it unreel behind the boat, don't let it tangle up. Hang the ladder. Drop the pump intake. Start the pump and run it until it primes; shut it off. Help the divers into their BCDs and tanks. Check their air. Fist-bump 'em off the boat. Put on the headset; listen for their commands. "Start the pump!" Do that. Stand by the line. "More downline, please." Toss out some more downline - not too much. Keep doing that as they request it. "Stop the pump!" "More downline, please." Try not to stare at the downline trailing off under the surface - it doesn't tell you anything, and it will make you sick. "Pick the pipe up off the bottom." Pull the core - a 10' section of ocean bottom in a big aluminum pipe - up by the downline. Scramble to take off the headset and stow it in the cabin before the first diver shows back up at the surface; as each diver surfaces, grab his fins (don't forget to positively tell him "GOT THEM" when you have them - and don't say it if you don't; fins don't float) and stow them. Help him shed his tank and BCD; rinse and repeat for the second diver. Pull the core in the boat; measure it, hacksaw it if necessary, mark it and cap it and tape it (both ends) and stow it. Pull in the safety line. Pull in the anchor on command - and do it fast when the call is made; the captain drives back towards the anchor and if you don't have it the hell off the bottom by the time he gets to it, it's not coming up. Wash, rinse, repeat.
If you think that sounds like any monkey could do it, you might be right. Or you might not. It's a fair bit to keep track of when you're actually out there heaving and pitching and trying to understand the commands garbling their way out of an underwater acoustic phone set that keeps cutting out randomly. (Short circuits are a fact of life in a marine environment.) Not to mention trying not to get sick. And there's no time to fuck around or fuck up. If you are going to do the job right you are constantly looking around trying to figure out the next thing to do before you can actually do it. Jump, frog. Puts an extra urgency on it when you actually did the last few dives yourself and it's fresh on your mind just how bad it sucks down there. The better you do your work the easier it is on your divers, and they fucking well deserve the support.
But you get the satisfaction - if you learn it quickly enough, if you bust your ass, if you do enough right - of functioning like a well-oiled machine. It's a lot of fun, in a macho shared-hardship-and-camaraderie kind of way. There is a satisfaction to getting a job like that done that just isn't there in white collar work.
On the way home after the second day, we stopped at a truck stop to refuel halfway back. A white guy with dreads came up, and asked me about the boat, and about what we were doing. I gave him the short version; he gave me a CD. Dubconscious. It was his band - I looked over, and there was a big entourage over on the other side of the truck stop. After a moment's reflection, I realized he had almost certainly decided we were kindred souls because of the name of our survey vessel - the RV Irie. Pretty cool. Beats the hell out of getting friended on Myspace. We listened to the CD on the way back - not bad.
When we got back, the boss came ambling out of the office and congratulated me on "not drowning" and said "that's an accomplishment, anyway". Not drowning. Thanks, dick. Good thing I wasn't really doing that for YOU in the first place. Boss has his moments, and he generally means well, but he's not what you'd call a skilled motivator. Nobody is likely to give him a mug that says "fearless leader of men".
Time on the boat definitely gives you more to talk about on a first date than time spent, to paraphrase Hoss from Basic Instinct, "jacking off the goddamn machine". I don't think it exactly hurt me any to show up freshly sunburned and feeling manly and talking about offshore diving. (I held waaaaay back on the puke talk, though. Saved that for you guys. That is love, do you feel it?)