If you want to know what `real' scuba diving is all about, look no further! Speaking as a diver of almost 40 years experience with an abiding interest in shipwrecks, there are many I have visited and a great deal more which are still on my `Bucket List.' This diver has already visited several of both the former and the latter.
Of all the books I review, I reserve my hardest comments for those about shipwrecks and diving. Being the two subjects I study in the greatest of detail, I frequently find too many would-be authors put pen to paper without understanding either subject. Thankfully, Rod Macdonald is one of that rare breed who knows these subjects most thoroughly and fully understands how to put that knowledge into a readable and engaging style of writing. In short, this is one of the most intense and exciting books about Diving I have ever had the good fortune to read and when someone of my experience finds himself saying "Wow!" it must be really good.
In this work, this author takes us through his personal experiences of visits to some of the world's greatest shipwrecks - a number of which are designated `War Graves' (the formal term is a `Protected Place' under the provisions of a British law called `The Protection of Military Maritime Graves Act 1986.'). It is important, therefore, to point out that, whilst all vessels are designated are (by law!) with some being out-of-bounds, this author had all the necessary permissions for his own visits.
Let me be quite clear, this is no collection of small albeit exciting shipwrecks. On the contrary, we begin with an account of the 32,000 ton White Star Liner `Justicia' lost off Northern Ireland during WW1. From there, as we follow this diver's exploits, we then visit the remains of the German High Sea Fleet scuttled in Scapa Flow in June 1919 and the magnificent wreck of the Wallachia lost in the Clyde in 1895. As this diver continues to explore the possibilities of deeper and deeper diving he is often found in difficult conditions deep underwater and often in pitch darkness.
After yet more exciting wrecks from the both world wars, the author describes his indoctrination into `Trimix' - a system of mixed gases which permit divers to venture even deeper, after which he visits the Corryvreckan whirlpool - one of the largest whirlpools in the world. And may I say, having seen the world's `second' largest whirlpool in the Bay of Fundy, Canada (created by strong in-coming tides swirling around a particular island) I did not want to be in the water until calm had retuned.
From here we visit the remains of HMS Hampshire on which Kitchener died during WW1 and the 11,000 ton Liner Remuera lost off Fraserbugh in 1940. It is at this point, however, after enthralling accounts of the Liner Laurentic - with her still missing cargo of gold bullion, the 23,000 ton battleship HMS Audacious, Justicia, Empire Heritage and U 155, we discover the down side of continued, serious, deep diving as the author suffers his first `Bend' and his encounters with fishing nets snagged on wrecks.
With visits to the remains of HMS' Repulse and Prince of Wales (lost to the Japanese off Malaya just 3 days after Pearl Harbour), the book continues with many more examples of the most exciting diving any person might hope to enjoy.
As I said at the beginning, if you want to know what real diving is all about, look no further.
This is a must read for anybody interested in diving and is a brilliant read for those who aren't. The author's writing style is very approachable whilst incredibly informative. Technical terminology is explained relevantly to the situations the author recounts and the reader is always kept turning the pages following the limit pushing excitements. I could not not put this book down and together with "Into the Abyss" a great deal of history is recorded and recounted.
The pace of the book is fast and the themes vary cleverly from inspiring excitement to moving human tragedy. The first hand account of diving the Corry Vreckan Whirlpool where the sense of foreboding laid out on paper is equal to the tidal forces being described keeps the reader on the edge of the seat. While the moving description of a ships sinking retold by the author from first hand accounts given by WWII survivors is thought provoking and emotional.
A great book which I will no doubt be reading again.
This has got to be the most enjoyable dive book I have read in a long time, for some reason I missed out on his first book, Into the Abyss, but Rod covers this period by starting the book with a précis of his early days of diving. This section certainly brought back memories of dives using home made wetsuits and very rudimentary dive equipment. Rod then effortlessly moves us through deep air dives, his introduction to technical diving and finally into his move to rebreather diving, where naming Ewan Rowell's rebreather "Kato" brought a smile to my face.
Rod weaves a golden thread through his diving career, picking out wrecks, characters and events that are all interlinked in their own ways and all form part of this fantastic story, leaving you wanting him to write another volume so that you can continue to follow the tale.
Rod shares the joy and elation of his diving as well as letting you feel the apprehension of some tense moments inside deep, dark wrecks. Rod never over dramatises but I certainly could remember a few similar experiences when diving in cold, dark conditions in the same Scottish waters.
For wreck detectives, this is a fantastic tale of search and discovery, guesswork and deduction as Rod turns information from fishermen and marks on charts into dives on virgin wrecks and then the painstaking work of proving the name and history of the wreck. As always, the wreck drawings are detailed and give you all you need to prepare for a dive on the wrecks.
I took the book on holiday, looking forward to dipping into it between sightseeing but opened it on the plane, was instantly gripped and read it cover to cover during the flight. There isn't a dull page to be found, it entertains, informs and delights from beginning to end as you move from Stonehaven to Scapa and then to the South China Seas to follow Rod on his dives on HMS Repulse and YHMS Prince of Wales.
Rod is a legend in Scottish diving and his Scapa books are the bible for anyone diving the German battle fleet. If you love diving, wrecks or just like a well written, true life adventure written with passion and attention to detail, this is the book for you!
Even the name of Rod McDonald's latest book has the air of a thriller novel; and if you're a dive junkie like me, then that's exactly what it is.
Although I'm not a techy, I love wreck diving within my limits and like many other devotees, I've made pilgrimages to dive wrecks in Scapa Flow, the Sound of Mull, the North Atlantic and a few more exotic locations around the globe.
And that's the real thriller of `The Darkness Below'. Rod not only reveals the facts of lesser known and enduringly fascinating wrecks in locations I'm familiar with, he goes even further; exposing the history of other maritime classics I would never have known about. That's why this book is so different.
Like many other commentators, Rod could have chosen the easy path and concentrated on the more commonly known wrecks. But he'd just have been delivering re-hashed information presented from his perspective. Because Rod refuses to do that, it's what makes `The Darkness Below' a refreshingly great read.
The book itself is excellently arranged. The many illustrations combined with Rod's in-depth descriptions and the wealth of both historical and anecdotal information doesn't leave the reader wanting.
Often I'll read a book on wrecks only to find myself disappointingly asking very obvious questions due to the lack of basic information. You won't find that in `The Darkness Below'. It challenges and pulverises the senses with information. It truly is an excellent and informative read and a book you'll find yourself returning to repeatedly for another fix.
If I could sum it all up, I'd say for me `The Darkness Below' is like a fusion of the most exciting presentations I've watched on National Geographic or Discovery; and reminiscent of the pioneering explorations of Cousteau. And as the opening chapter acknowledges: the late great Monsieur Cousteau may have been your idol Rod, but you're equally trail-blazing an awe-inspiring path yourself.
Still the best diving book I have ever read. Being a diver from the pre-technical era I found it a fascinating and extremely well written account of that transition period and how this opened up a whole new world of deep wreck diving to the amateur. The author also has the unusual gift of being a great writer and diver who is therefore able to recount his experiences in the best possible way. Still the benchmark diving book in my opinion.