Tanks for the memories: Scuba divers discover that a 'whole new world' awaits

By Brian Cox

Legal News

"Do you want to see the shark?"

The dive guide wrote the question on her slate.

Deep in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean off Burma, state Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Kelly nodded and swam after the guide to descend into a cave and then along a side passage. Kelly, who has been scuba diving in exotic locations since the mid 1980s, realized there was a series of cavelets off the tunnel. The guide stopped at one and pointed inside.

Kelly's first thought on seeing a dozen long gray shapes clustered in the cavelet was, "My God, they're storing torpedoes in here." But then she realized the sleek objects were not torpedoes. They were sleeping sharks. She and the guide did not linger.

"If they had woken up, we would not have been in a good position," says Kelly, "but I trust the guide and she wouldn't have taken me there if there was any danger."

It was a thrill she'll never forget.

Kelly has held a fascination for diving since she was a child. She remembers planning to assemble her own diving outfit with gear from the Army surplus store.

"But my mother learned of my plans and squelched it," she says wryly. "She probably saved my life."

The allure of diving returned decades later while she was on vacation in Hawaii, where she took her first dive. She was smitten.

"All these years I've been fascinated by the coloration and shapes you see under water," she says. "There is no end of interest. It's extraordinary watching all this life go by."

She has dived in the waters off Thailand, Palau, and the Galapagos Islands. She tells the story of preparing to swim what is known as the German Channel, a 3/4-mile passageway the Germans cut through the reef in World War II to connect the Philippine Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Strong currents push divers along at a terrific rate of speed.

"You're like a guided missile," Kelly says.

But the moment she most vividly recalls is when she was hanging on to the coral waiting her turn to enter the channel and a hammerhead shark swam past. Normally, Kelly doesn't find sharks ominous. They pay little attention to divers, she says. But this one was different.

"He gave me a second look," she says wryly.

That's a thrill she'll never forget either.

The justice says she is drawn to diving in large part because it offers an opportunity to explore an entirely different world and to escape the cares and concerns of life on land. She is not alone in that sentiment.

"You're not thinking about anything on your dive except your dive," says Robin Asher, an attorney with Miller Canfield who has been a diving instructor at Rec Dive in Royal Oak for 10 years. "It's not intentional. It just happens. Diving is a great stress reliever."

Maybe that's one of the reasons diving appears particularly attractive to lawyers. Along with Asher, there are at least two other instructors at Rec Diving who are attorneys, according to Diane Richards, who with her husband Jim has owned the diving shop for 13 years.

"One of the huge misconceptions is that scuba diving is an adventure sport," says Richards. "Everyone I know talks about how tranquil diving is."

That's certainly what attracted John Cardello, a maritime lawyer with The Jaques Admiralty Law Firm in Detroit who learned to dive at the Air Force Academy but took it up as a recreation when he was attending law school at the University of Texas and looking for a reason to get away from the "damn library." For a break, he'd go dive in Lake Travis near Houston. He's been diving now with Rec Dive for 14 years.

Attorney Don Crawford, corporate counsel at Harman International Industries, turned to diving for relief from a different form of stress. He took up the sport seriously after a divorce in 2000, traveling with a group through Rec Diving to Cozumel, Mexico, where he became hooked. The following year, during a trip to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, he realized he wasn't going to get his diving "fix" on only one or two trips a year. He needed more. Now an instructor at Rec Diving, he has dived in dozens of locations, including all five Great Lakes and in the Pacific Northwest.

On his first dive off of Vancouver, he tells of turning to find a harbor seal not two feet from him.

"He was this far away, looking right in my eye," Crawford says. "It was so cool."

Another time, diving in the Channel Islands, he watched sea lions playfully spinning through the water. He says he'll take sea lions over sharks any day.

"The biggest part that keeps me coming back is the doodling around in the shallows looking for little critters," says Crawford, who is an avid photographer of the sea life he encounters.

It's the colorful and exotic sea life, actually, that remains a constant source of wonder for most divers.

"It's a whole new world I didn't know existed," says Oakland County Circuit Court Judge Joan Young, who dives once a year while on vacation and keeps a log of what she's seen, such as eels and barracuda and sea turtles.

And the coral reefs along which most of the dives take place can be stunning. Cardello describes the coral heads and canyons as resembling underwater cathedrals.

"It's pretty mind-blowing," he says.

Attorney Randy Judd, another instructor at Rec Diving who has gone on close to 1,100 dives, describes the thrill of seeing blue-ringed octopuses in the tidal pools of the South Pacific. The creatures are tiny, but are also one of the most venomous of marine animals.

"It's really the small things that keep diving interesting," says Judd.

The sound of life 100 feet below the surface can be startling and unexpected, says Crawford. There's clicking, snapping, popping and a huge, deep gurgling sound that comes from water shifting.

"It's really noisy," he says. "You can hear parrot fish crunching on coral. Shrimp make this popping noise. All sorts of critters make noise."

In addition to observing the varied marine life, many divers find fascination from exploring wrecks, whether in the Great Lakes or in the South Pacific.

At Truk Lagoon, north of New Guinea near the Marshall Islands, Cardello dove on the sunken remains of 60 Japanese naval vessels destroyed by an American bombardment during World War II. At the bottom of the lagoon are coral-encrusted tanks, fighter aircraft, submarines and battleships, boxes of munitions and thousands of weapons. The shipwrecks and remains are sometimes referred to as the "Ghost Fleet of Truk Lagoon."

Cardello spent a week there, going on four or five dives a day.

"There were a few times when we went deep and dark and had only our flashlights," says Cardello. "It was sort of spooky."

Another attraction diving holds for some attorneys could be the demands of the sport. As with the practice of law, it helps in diving to be detail-oriented, a problem solver, and a clear communicator.

"You have to have a good head on your shoulders," says Judd. "You can't be prone to panic."

And then, of course, there is the cool equipment: a wet or dry suit, a stabilizer jacket, an air tank, a regulator, a depth gauge, fins and a mask, maybe an underwater camera or even a dive knife.

"It's like putting on a spacesuit," says Cardello. "It's the closest you're going to get to being an astronaut."

But Asher points out that all anyone really needs to take up the sport is a mask, fins, and a snorkel.

"Most people have the misconception that you have to dive deep for a great dive," says Asher. "But you do not have to dive deep. Thirty feet can be a terrific dive."

"I enjoy teaching and getting other people into it," says Asher, who has taught people as young as 10 to older than 60.

He says another misconception people have is that diving is difficult, but it's not. It doesn't even require someone to be athletic.

Young, who got into diving after experimenting with snorkeling, can attest to that. "The truth is," she says, "I don't really like to swim and I'm not particularly adventurous."

But the buoyancy and tranquility she experiences while diving captivate her.

"It's a magnificent perspective you don't ever see," Young says.

It's that perspective that lures these attorneys back to the deep water time after time, trip after trip. It never gets old.

"There's always a first or something new that people take away from a dive that they've never experienced before," says Asher.


This is a reprint of an article that ran in the Fall 2011 editon of MOTION.

Published: Wed, Jul 4, 2012