The history of the Atlantica Expeditions began in the fall of 1963. During that year, each day after school, I would rush home from my rural bus stop, run down our long dirt driveway to my home and turn on our tiny nine inch Zenith black and white television. And there I would watch the daily re-run episodes of Sea Hunt. Day after day, week after week and month after month, Mike Nelson was my daily afternoon companion. And at the vulnerable age of 12, like a duckling imprinting on its mother, I imprinted on Lloyd Bridges - and it would be an impression that would define my life.
But as in real life, the duckling also imprints on other stimuli besides mom and TV personalities. I was also a space fanatic and devoured sci-fi books with the same enthusiasm as I devoured undersea adventures. I literally leaved them together in my mind as I read and then re-read the sci-fi greatest such as Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke who by some divine intervention, both authors started out writing juvenile fiction. And so it was that I somehow imprinted on both science fiction and undersea exploration simultaneously – so much so that I have never recognized any difference between the two exploits. Both were adventures into alien worlds which required engineered life support systems and magnificent gadgetry.
By the time I was 14, I was ready to enter the void. I ordered every equipment brochure I could write for, inclu
ding AMF Voit and US Divers. I carefully circled each item of equipment I wanted and then asked my mother of she could help me come up with the money to order the equipment.
There were several problems with this request. The first was that the accumulated list cost more than my dad made in a month. The second was that I was too young to get a job. But the third was most problematic – I could not swim. For someone bent on building an underwater empire, this was definitely going to be a problem.
My mother, in her infinite patience and knowledge of young teens, decided to allow me to take the first necessary steps to my dream by enrolling me in the Tulsa YMCA swimming program. This, she reasoned aloud, would be the ideal first step before strapping lead weights to my belt and jumping into water more than say - four feet deep. I will never forget the ride to the Y and the ensuing most humiliating day of my young-teen life.
Since I could not swim a lick, even though I was fourteen, they had no choice but to put me in the beginner Pollywog class. The rest of the kids were about half my age and half my height. Like a school of little piranhas, they ganged up on me and had a very good time at my expense. I left that day with wounded teenage pride and no intention of ever going back there again. The only problem was, I still could not so much as tread water.
Soon thereafter, girls intervened into this dilemma and the hormone driven priorities took command of my rational thinking and my carefully chosen path into the abyss of ocean and space. Soon thereafter I found myself an undergraduate student at Oklahoma State University. The whole hormone issue had not resolved itself then or now, but I somehow learned how to integrate it in with the rest of my thinking.
One Saturday afternoon in 1970, I wandered out of sheer boredom over to the Colvin Physical Education Center and wound up in my bathing suit and staring at the magnificent indoor pool. I was alone and the pool was abandoned save me and the lifeguard. Unfortunately, most of the pool was over my head and I was very self conscious at not being able to swim. I looked over at the lifeguard and down at the water, over to the lifeguard and down at the water. Then I slipped in to the shallowest end and just stood there for a long time. I was encouraged that then lifeguard was only a few yards away and I was the only one in the pool, so the chances of my actually drowning were fairly low. I began to experiment with what the YMCA teacher had called “bobbing”, then I hand walked myself around the edge of the pool, clinging to the wall when the depth fell below my ability to stand. I have hoped over all these years that the lifeguard was daydreaming and not paying much attention to me and my juvenile antics. What I have come to realize was that I was in the process of very effectively teaching myself to swim - making it up as I went. It may have appeared silly, but it was very, very effective.
Eventually, the crucial moment came. I walked over to the diving well – 14’ deep, and lowered myself in the water. I clung to the wall for a long moment, then let go, treading water. It worked. It was easy. There was no screaming or splashing about. I didn’t die. I was just calmly and peacefully treading water. From there the rest was easy, kicking from corner to corner and paddling my way edge-to-edge. Then eventually the time came to swim all the way across and eventually to swimming laps. It all took no more than three Saturday sessions. I was now fully ready for the deep blue sea.
The deep blue sea did, in fact call to me, even though I had never even been there. The idea that I had a divine calling to build an undersea human colony was always there, like a splinter in my mind. One day in 1971, I decided to give it an honest try – and I called it the Omega Project.
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