In May 1993, Asian Diver magazine, with six issues to its credit, was barely a year old when Rainer Sigel – the magazine’s Founder and Publisher; Michael Loh – its Creative Director and I attended the annual PATA (Pacific Asia Travel Association) conference, then taking place in Hawaii.
Always attracting a strong following of key ‘decision-makers’ drawn from a membership base that included many of the world’s leading national tourism organisations, airline carriers, hotel chains, travel wholesalers, and travel related media outlets, the annual PATA Conference was awash with business networking opportunities for a fledgling publication out to put Asia on the world-map of dive tourism.
Given tourism’s growing economic worth, those countries hosting the event went to enormous lengths to win favour with the delegates. Each day was a hectic round of breakfasts, brunches, lunches, cocktail parties, dinners, receptions, banquets and, if time still permitted, courtesy sight-seeing tours.
Which is how Rainer, Michael, and myself – together with Chris Sweeting (a Singapore-based publisher of travel magazines who I’d known for several years and who asked if he might join us) – were guests of Aaron’s Dive Shop, in Waikiki, for two boat dives off the island of Oahu.
Fitted out with a mixed array of rental equipment from the shop, our first dive was to the wreck of the ‘YO-257’, a former U.S. Navy vessel resting on the sea floor at a depth of 30.5 metres. Purposely sunk as a diving attraction, penetration of the hulk had been made as safe as possible by the strategic removal of deck and hull plates of varying size. And at 175 feet (53-metres) in length there were plenty of compartments to explore.
With warm waters and outstanding visibility, we glided in, out and around the wreck, admiring the sea-change that turns all wrecks that have been submerged for some while into gardens of colour, when Rainer, on discovering a small opening cut into the ship’s deck, swam headfirst down into the bowels of the ship. I attempted to follow.
At this juncture, I should point out that Rainer was (and still is) of a somewhat slimmer build than my own Viking-godlike physique. While he passed easily through the opening, I only managed to get half-way through before becoming jammed. Fortunately the compartment below was one of those with a large panel removed from the ship’s side. With plenty of ambient light flooding into the otherwise dark space, I could clearly see Rainer looking quizzically up at me just as one of the ‘Atlantis’ tourist submarines passed close by the wreck.
The ‘Atlantis’ submarines were a step up from glass-bottomed boats in that they were designed to carry a relatively small number of passengers on an appreciation tour of the underwater scenery and marine life of the Hawaiian Islands to a maximum depth of about 100 feet. With large viewing ports along each side and a tour-guide’s commentary to point out items of interest, passengers had unobstructed views of marine life and other sub-aquatic attractions … such as the purpose sunk wrecks.
Although we could clearly see the submarine, it was quite unlikely that its passengers were able to see us, or anything other than the deepening shadows leading from the side-entry opening into the compartment. Apart, that is, from a seemingly disembodied pair of still kicking legs apparently fused into the vessel’s deck plates. It was a scene taken directly from a 1984 movie, ‘The Philadelphia Experiment’, in which a U.S. Navy experiment to send a warship back in time had backfired, and the ship – having been brought back to the present – re-appeared with dire results for the previous crew.
With camera flash-lights from those aboard the ‘Atlantis’ submarine going into overdrive, Rainer looked up at me and burst into laughter at my predicament. At which point – and knowing that he’d come to my aid if the chips were really down – I joined in. Like the reverse of a stubborn cork that’s suddenly removed from a bottle of fine wine, I was dislodged by my frantic fin kicks and Rainer’s laughter bubbles, bouncing briefly upwards and then, suddenly, descending downwards into the compartment and away from the submarine’s cameras.
To this day, I still believe that there are people out there who, having seen the movie, believe that the ‘Philadelphia Experiment ‘ is more than just an apocryphal tale … and who have the images to back up their beliefs.
But the most memorable part of that particular dive came later.
Back on the boat and heading towards shore, we all compared notes about the dive and about our various diving aspirations. Both Rainer and Chris – although both being publishers living in Singapore, had never discussed the idea before – were convinced of a need for a Singapore-based Dive Show that promoted the Asian region.
Two years later, on April 7th, 1995, Rainer and Chris hosted the first Asian Dive Exhibition and Conference (ADEC) that took place at Suntec City, in Singapore; an event that paved the way for one of the world’s most successful on-going dive shows.