Ted Turner, the founder of CNN, once claimed during an interview that he owed his success to his father who had advised him to, “never set yourself goals that you know you can achieve.”
An inspirational piece of advice that, (despite sounding as though it fell out of a fortune cookie), set the scene for CNN’s explosive growth into a global news and communications’ empire.
Lacking CNN’s financial and technical resources, our own modest efforts to establish a viable underwater communications system hit an enormous stumbling block during a recent charter-boat expedition to film a documentary on exotic marine life.
Before we’d even cast off from the wharf, we knew that the expedition was doomed. Finding a small packet of fortune cookies hidden away in the galley, Krabbmann sneaked out on deck and began stuffing them into his mouth until a coughing fit alerted us to his distress.
“Pthweehh!” he said, blowing crumbs and half-chewed pieces of paper over the side. “These aren’t biscuits, they’re death traps for the unwary.” He threw the remaining two cookies over the stern and straight into the beak of a circling albatross that – after struggling to swallow the things – crashed onto the deck.
“That doesn’t bode well for the trip.” Said C.B., the dive supervisor, who immediately tried to dislodge the offending cookie trapped in the bird’s gullet. “Haven’t any of you read, “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”, about all the ill-luck that befell the ship after he killed an albatross? There. That’s better.” The relieved albatross struggled to the side of the vessel and soared away, leaving C.B. holding a small fragment of paper that simply said, ‘Never set yourself goals …’.
All of that was forgotten in the trip out to the reef. The sea was calm, the weather perfect, and all of the equipment that we’d be using, (including the underwater communications gear and topside video relay), had been double-checked and functioned perfectly. Until it came time to dive.
“There’s a large cowrie shell with the mantle slowly opening in the bottom of the picture.” Said Krabbmann, monitoring the video from the deck of the vessel. “Just zoom in on it.”
“Wh … (squawk, squelch) … ay? (Crackle)… ease …(spluurk!) eat it!”
“Eat it? No you can’t eat it. I repeat. I want you to film it in close-up.” Krabbmann replied.
“What don’t you want me … (phllllt!) … o eat?”
“I didn’t tell you to eat anything!” Roared an increasingly frustrated Krabbmann. “I just wanted you to … Hello! Hello! Can you hear me?”
The unit had died. Whatever the initial cause, it was a condition that C.B. pronounced as terminal after viewing the results of Krabbmann’s attempts at resuscitation using a large hammer.
“Now how do I tell them what I want them to film?” Bemoaned Krabbmann, looking at the video monitor. C.B. offered a solution.
“I suppose we could always attach a signal line to the camera-man and then – using a pre-arranged system of simple ‘Pulls and Bells’ similar to those that the old standard divers used to use – you could direct them left, right, up, down, zoom in, zoom out.”
The diving camera-man was briefed and – after an accelerated programme in which he and Krabbmann practiced sending and receiving line signals – he descended back to his chosen spot by the reef wall.
Poised in front of the video monitor and tightly grasping the line, Krabbmann watched the screen closely. “There.” He suddenly yelled, jumping up and pointing to the monitor. “A fire clam. A fire cl …” The screen dissolved into a flurry of bubbles as the diver was jerked away from the reef.
“We can always try sound signals.” Said the ever-inventive C.B.. “You seem happy with a hammer. Using the same code as for the line signals, just tap on the ladder. The sound, being magnified and conducted more easily through the denser medium of water, will let the diver know what you want.”
Nobody expressed surprise when, on Krabbmann’s first attempt to communicate his wishes to the diver by tapping on the ship’s ladder, it suddenly disappeared over the side, to reappear a moment later on the video monitor as an image crashing onto the reef below.
Lips tight set, C.B. emerged from the galley with two empty tin cans and a ball of string. Punching a hole in the base of each can, he connected the two together and handed it to Krabbmann.
“Do you think it’ll work?” Krabbmann asked.
C.B. responded with a time-honoured hand signal that, for such a simple, two-fingered gesture, communicated volumes and served to highlight the fact that – regardless of language barriers and without need of words – divers really can be excellent communicators.