“Deep-shipwreck diving is among the world’s most dangerous sports.” So promises this well-paced tale of adventure on the high seas, which goes on to demonstrate the thesis in gruesome detail.
The “sport” of deep-shipwreck diving also promises riches to those fortunate enough to find doubloon-laden galleons or ingot-weighted steamers on the ocean floor, which adds to the competition and all-around sense of urgency. When a salvager named John Chatterton heard the tale, told to another boozy salvager by a boozy sailor, of an unidentified craft that lay in water less than 300 feet deep some 60 miles off the coast of New Jersey, he likely assumed that plenty of adventurers would be bearing down on the spot, especially when it turned out that the craft was a WWII–era German submarine: “A virgin sub—especially if it were a U-boat—would attract the attention of rival divers everywhere.” But, Chicago-based journalist and Esquire writer Kurson tells us, Chatterton and his crew managed to keep the location secret, having dispatched a singularly indiscreet and bibulous mate to say that they had discovered a U-boat one day, a merchantman the next, a warship the next, “until no one believed any bit of it.” Getting down to the ship was one thing, involving much dangerous work that took the life of an experienced diver—whereupon, Kurson writes, divers from all over requested a spot on the team—and fueled plenty of tensions. Discovering the identity of the craft was quite another, and Kurson’s account of how the divers determined which U-boat it was—until they did, they were calling it the U-Who—and why it ended up not far from the New York docks adds sizzle for those readers who are less interested in the minutiae of ocean-floor exploration than in good old Eye of the Needle/Hunt for Red October–style tales of derring-do.
Still, buffs of either category of adventure will find this a pleasure.