From Watt Key, the author of the acclaimed Alabama Moon, comes a thrilling middle grade survival story about a scuba dive gone wrong and two enemies who must unite to survive.
It's the most important rule of scuba diving: If you don't feel right, don't go down.
So after her father falls ill, twelve-year-old Julie Sims must take over and lead two of his clients on a dive miles off the coast of Alabama while her father stays behind in the boat. When the clients, a reckless boy Julie's age and his equally foolhardy father, disregard Julie's instructions during the dive, she quickly realizes she's in over her head.
And once she surfaces, things only get worse: One of the clients is in serious condition, and their dive boat has vanishedalong with Julie's father, the only person who knows their whereabouts. It's only a matter of time before they die of hypothermia, unless they become shark bait first. Though Julie may not like her clients, it's up to her to save them all.
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.50(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
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The GPS beeped, signaling our arrival at the dive site. Dad slowed our old twenty-nine-foot trawler, the Barbie Doll, and I sat up and peered through the windows of the wheelhouse. We'd lost sight of land over an hour ago. Nearly thirty miles off the coast of Gulf Shores, Alabama, there was nothing to see above the waterline except for an endless expanse of swells shimmering in the sunlight. But off our port side I saw a swarm of fish descending in a column through the jade-colored water.
"You're right," I said to him. "There's fish all over it."
Somewhere in the depths below were two army tanks, government surplus from the Vietnam War. Three years before, my dad, Gibson Sims, had been hired to tow them out on a barge and push them into the water, where they sank to the seafloor to create an artificial fish habitat. Then, through an unfortunate occurrence that had nothing to do with him, the coordinates were lost and the tanks presumably abandoned forever beneath over a hundred feet of water.
It wasn't until a week ago that Dad found the tanks again. He said they'd attracted barnacles and tiny fish, which in turn attracted larger fish until the tanks were a fully developed reef. Now the reef was home to hundreds of varieties of fish and resembled an amusement park for sea creatures.
I was eager to see the reef, but most important to me that day was knowing these tanks could save Dad's charter business. We needed to make sure our clients, Hank Jordan and his son, Shane, had a good dive and told others about it.
"Yep," Dad said under his breath, "they'll get their money's worth."
I sensed he was nervous, too. He knew as well as I did how important this dive was.
I looked at him. He was barefoot in his swim trunks and a faded madras plaid shirt. His wild gray hair seemed permanently stiff with dried salty water. His face was a little sunburned, but he was still fresh and youthful-looking, like a boy trapped in a middle-aged body. He was a big bear of a man, but he often reminded me of an overgrown kid. And despite the family and financial problems we'd left ashore, I felt proud of him for the first time in a long while.
Just the anticipation of a scuba dive can melt your worries away. And once you descend into the blue-green depths it seems the rest of the world doesn't even exist. I feel like an astronaut drifting in silent, immense space. Only this space is not dark and empty, but full of colorful sea life. Nothing compares to the thrill and peacefulness of hanging weightlessly in this mysterious world of exotic creatures.
Dad glanced behind us, making sure our clients were still seated on the back deck. The location of the tanks was a valuable secret, and he didn't trust them to keep their eyes off our navigation equipment. Those two were about as difficult as they came. Both Mr. Jordan and Shane spoke to us rudely, didn't listen to advice, and were always arguing with each other. Dad was still stewing over Mr. Jordan insulting his charter operation that morning and looking down on me like a twelve-year-old girl had no place on the boat. Normally he would have told them to take their business elsewhere, but today they were paying nearly four times our usual rate — and we needed the money.
"I don't think they can see the GPS from back there," I assured him.
Dad frowned doubtfully and wiped his forehead again with a hand towel.
"How do you feel?" I asked.
On the way out I'd noticed him sweating and wiping his face. I guessed it was his diabetes and got him a candy bar, but he didn't seem any better.
"Dad?" I said again.
He didn't like talking about his health and didn't seem concerned about it either. I felt like I was constantly having to monitor him. I recalled a dive the summer before when we'd had to surface early because his blood sugar was low and he got disoriented at fifty feet. It was episodes like that which worried me.
"Dad, are you able to go down or not?"
It was over a hundred feet to the seafloor, and I wasn't a certified dive master like he was. I'd certainly been that deep many times before, but it wouldn't look very professional to the Jordans if I replaced Dad as their guide. But if something were to happen to Dad at those depths, people like the Jordans couldn't be relied on to help him.
"Mr. Jordan won't like me guiding them," I said.
"I'm not worried about what that jerk likes and doesn't like," Dad replied. "Those two are reckless enough to get themselves in trouble down there. And I don't want you mixed up in it."
"I can handle myself," I said.
"I know ... But I can still be worried about it."
Dad's the toughest person I know. I once saw him stitch a cut on his leg with a fishhook and fishing line so he wouldn't have to end a dive trip early. I knew if he decided to send me in his place he would have to be feeling really bad. But one of the most important rules of diving is if you don't feel right, don't go down. There are already too many things that can go wrong with a person's body in the depths without adding other complications.
I exited the wheelhouse to find the Jordans arguing about their spearguns and who got to take the larger one. Shane was about my age. He and I had been in the same class at elementary school when I lived with my parents in Gulf Shores. That was before Mom and Dad divorced and I moved to Atlanta with Mom, leaving Dad behind in our old house. Now Shane was taller than I remembered, and he'd grown his hair out so that it hung almost to his shoulders in a style popular with local surfers. He wore a Salt Life T-shirt, AFTCO shorts, and deck sandals, all of it looking like he'd pulled the price tags off that morning. He's smart, athletic, wealthy, and good-looking if you like the type. I don't like the type.
Even when we were younger, he struck me as one of those kids who complain about everything like they're in a constant battle with an unfair world when I can't imagine they know anything about unfair.
Shane's father was a local attorney, but his face was on interstate billboards clear to Montgomery. On the advertisements Hank Jordan looked tall and young in a trim, expensive pinstripe suit. He held a stern expression and had his arms crossed over his chest like he'd just solved a big problem. What I saw standing before me in a fishing shirt, shorts, and Crocs was a shorter, wrinkled version of the man on the signs. He looked a lot more like an aging weasel.
"This it?" Mr. Jordan asked.
"Yes," I replied as I made my way up to the bow. "We're at the Malzon tanks."
That's what Dad and I called them, after the guy who hired us to put them in the water.
I unfastened the anchor chain and held it while Dad maneuvered the Barbie Doll, taking it in and out of gear and assessing the current. Finally I heard him tap on the window glass. I let the chain slip from my hands and heard the anchor plunge into the water. For scuba divers this basic piece of boating equipment is much more than something to keep us moored in place — it's our guide to the seafloor and our lifeline back to the boat. I leaned over the railing and watched the white rope stream into the depths. The visibility was decent, but the current was strong up top. I hoped it wasn't as swift down below. That's one problem with scuba diving. You don't really know what dangers you're up against until you're deep into them.
I waited until the rope grew taut and I heard the engine groan as Dad backed against it. Then I could see by the way the rope stretched and dripped water that the anchor was holding. I looked at Dad and gave him the okay signal with my fingers. He shut off the engine and I threw out the safety line, a smaller rope that floated alongside and that we used to get ourselves to and from the anchor rope once we were in the water. When I returned to the stern I found the Jordans arguing again. This time Shane was complaining that Mr. Jordan had left his dive gloves at the house. It seemed there was no end to the things they could find to fuss over.
Just then Dad stepped out of the wheelhouse and stood watching them. "As soon as you guys work out your problems I can get you in the water."
Shane frowned, shook his head with disgust, and gave his dive bag a kick. "Jackass," he mumbled to his father.
Mr. Jordan ignored his son. He zipped up his wetsuit and grabbed his buoyancy compensator device, or BCD. This is an inflatable vest used to counter a diver's weight belt and control how fast we ascend and descend. After the breathing apparatus, called the regulator, it's the most important piece of equipment a diver wears.
"The anchor should be close to the north tank," Dad continued. "But there's fish all over both of them, and you shouldn't have any problems finding your way around."
I studied Dad, still wondering if he was going or not.
Mr. Jordan carried his gear to the air tanks strapped to the gunnels. He pulled one of the tanks and began clipping it to his BCD. Shane was in his wetsuit already. He grabbed his own BCD and carried it over toward the tanks.
"Go ahead and suit up, Julie," Dad said.
Mr. Jordan looked at him.
"She's going to take you down today," Dad said.
"You've got to be kidding me," Shane said.
"Gib, I'm not paying all this money for some kid to guide me," Mr. Jordan said.
"You don't need a guide. She's only going to watch for your own safety. She's made more dives than the two of you combined, so you're in good hands."
"What's your problem?" Mr. Jordan asked.
"I'm not feeling well."
"You might have told us that before now."
"Well, Hank, you want me to pull anchor and start back in?" Mr. Jordan studied him and I saw a look of intense dislike pass between them. "We came this far," he finally said. "We're going down there."
"That's what I figured," Dad said, turning back to the wheelhouse. "Finish getting into your gear and roll off."
Dad went back inside, and I got my wetsuit and booties out of a plastic storage bin. I was already wearing shorts and a tank top pulled over a white skinsuit, a thin layer that protects against jellyfish and makes it easier to pull on the neoprene. I removed my shorts and tank top and pulled the wetsuit on. Then I clipped my weight belt around my waist, and strapped my dive knife to my ankle. As I fastened my BCD to one of the remaining tanks I kept an eye on the Jordans. All of the gear they pulled from their bags was new and top-of-the-line. Among these items were pony tanks, small air tanks about the size of fire extinguishers. They each strapped one to their BCDs next to their main tank. This was as much assaying they planned on staying down longer than they should, and Dad wasn't going to like that.
Shane strapped his knife to his ankle and grabbed his speargun. "We better shoot something," he said to his dad like I wasn't there.
"I doubt he's ever made this much money off one trip in his life," Mr. Jordan muttered. "You'd think he'd show a little more effort to accommodate us."
"He'd go down if he could," I said.
They ignored me.
"Well," Shane said, "at least she can help us carry the fish up. I don't know why else we even need her."
"My name is Julie," I snapped. "And if you want me to stay behind, I'm sure Dad won't have a problem with that."
Dad stepped onto the back deck again. I saw him eye the Jordans' pony tanks. He frowned and knelt beside my BCD, checked that my air valve was on, and clicked the purge on my regulator a few times to make sure air was flowing through it. Once he was satisfied, he hefted the gear onto the railing. Together, the tank, BCD, and regulator weigh nearly forty pounds. My weight belt was already ten pounds. All of this combined is too much for me to wear out of the water, so Dad usually lowers it over the side for me.
Dad motioned with his chin for me to get in. I put my mask around my neck, spit in it, and rubbed the spit around with my finger. It's a trick to keep the glass from fogging and works almost as well as the more expensive defog drops the Jordans were using. Then I slipped the mask over my face, pulled on my dive fins, and rolled overboard. The current swept me alongside the hull until I was able to grab the safety line. A moment later the Jordans splashed in next to me and bobbed to the surface with their spearguns held over their heads.
"Check them out," Dad said from above as they grabbed on to the safety line.
I swam around behind each of them, checking that the valves were all the way open on their tanks.
"Everybody check your air meter and give me a thumbs-up if it shows full," Dad said.
Each of them had a console about the size of a telephone handset connected to their tank with another hose. The console contains an air gauge, a compass, and a depth meter. Dad and I still preferred the older analog gauges, while the Jordans were using the newer digital models. They inspected their air readings and signaled okay.
"Take two breaths out of your regulators and give me another thumbs-up," Dad said.
Their regulators checked out.
"I want to remind you that this dive is a hundred and five feet. I recommend you stay on the bottom no longer than twenty minutes. Julie, when you start up, stop at twenty feet. Make sure you have enough air to hang there for fifteen minutes."
"We've got ponies," Mr. Jordan said.
"I see that. And you can do what you want. You signed waivers. But I'm telling you what I recommend."
"We know what we're doing," Mr. Jordan said.
"The current up top is pretty strong today," Dad continued. "Hopefully it won't be bad on the floor. When you get back to the boat, hold on to the safety line and I'll help all of you get your equipment in."
Dad lowered my BCD, tank, and hoses to me. He held the top of the tank while I worked my arms into the BCD and buckled the waist strap. I took a couple of test breaths from my regulator, checked my gauges, and gave Dad a thumbs-up signal. Then he leaned close and said, "Twenty minutes' bottom time, Julie. No matter what's going on. Understand?"
I nodded. He gave me a long look that told me he didn't like the situation any more than I did. Our clients were an accident waiting to happen, but I was about to find an even bigger problem waiting in the depths below.
There is nothing more fun than scuba diving. But like any other extreme sport, it can also be dangerous. Most people think it's all about how much stored air you have, but it's mostly about depth and time. After you descend below thirty feet the water pressure begins to force nitrogen from the air you breathe into your bloodstream and lungs. The deeper you go, and the longer you stay at those depths, the faster you absorb those dangerous gas bubbles. You can stay on the seafloor only a certain amount of time before you have to return; you rise to the surface slowly and make safety stops at the shallower depths to let the bubbles leak back out of your blood. If you ignore the time limits and stops or do them wrong, and you come up too quickly, you face your worst nightmare: the bends. If you get bent, you can become paralyzed when you reach the surface.
Dad once described the bends to me with a bottle of Sprite. He explained that the carbonation in the soft drink is made by filling the bottle with compressed gas and then sealing it under pressure. Then he shook up the plastic bottle and set it in front of me.
"That's how much pressure your body's under during a scuba dive. What happens if you take the top off that thing?"
"It'll spew everywhere."
"That's right," he said.
Dad grabbed the Sprite and barely twisted the cap so that I heard a slight hiss of escaping pressure.
"So you let the gas out slowly," he said.
I watched the gas bubbles gradually rising to the top of the soda, and I suddenly understood.
Every diver's body has a different tolerance for the depths, but we all use charts and computers that calculate the recommended time limits and duration of the safety stops. That's how Dad came up with twenty minutes on the bottom and a fifteen-minute stop on the way up. If you decide to stay down longer than what the calculations advise, it gets more complicated. These dives are referred to as decompression, or "deco," dives. Additional safety stops are needed and we have to make sure we have enough air left to wait them out. The risk of getting bent is much higher. Apparently the Jordans were willing to take this risk.
By the time I was clipped into my BCD and breathing through my regulator, our clients were already at the anchor rope and heading down. I looked up at Dad one last time.
"Make sure they get to the tanks," he said. "Then back off."
I nodded to him again, flipped my fins, and gave chase.
Excerpted from "Deep Water"
Copyright © 2018 Watt Key.
Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
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