Uncle Bill Installment #14

Photo by Bill Scales.

So, Mr. X called me. I hate calling him “Mr. X”. It sounds X Files or worse, porno.

At 88 years old he sounds very sharp and robust. He didn’t know Uncle Bill well at all. He was Uncle Bill’s roommate at the time of his disappearance. He was on San Salvador Island for a total of 2 years and 3 months, but had only been there a short time when the accident happened, maybe a month? There were 3 people to a room and they were all coming and going at different times, not spending much time in the room.  He definitely remembered the incident, but was fuzzy on the details. “As I recall it was sort of going to be his final dive trip…” He wasn’t all that fuzzy.

He had thought Bill had gone diving alone. He’d forgotten about Don Diehl. He said that since Diehl worked for GE and not RCA, he might not have been told about it. He didn’t know why Bill had taken the boat but he believed it had something to do with diving to a certain depth. “Yes. I think it was about the depth.”

We both were excited to talk about the Eastern Range and his place in it. I offered to send the government report and he readily accepted. His adult child, who is just a couple of years younger than I am, shared the conversation with us. They are hip to the dive scene and, coincidently, a SCUBA diver. We all speculated about what Bill could’ve been up to. The capabilities of divers in 1958. We laughed about the term “Skin Divers”, which is what divers were called then. It sounds so … Sea Hunt.

 

Lloyd Bridges in Sea Hunt.

He didn’t remember that the divers bodies were never found.

We discussed “hydrogen narcosis”.  (A Google search comes up with, “Hydrogen narcosis produces symptoms such as hallucinations, disorientation, and confusion, which are similar to hallucinogenic drugs. It can be experienced by deep-sea divers who dive to 300 m (1,000 ft) below sea level breathing hydrogen mixtures.”) Bill or Don could’ve succumbed to it. Either could’ve tried to help the other and… bad things happened?

The conversation moved on to what stuff there was to do on the island at the time. He told me, ” There was, in Cockburn Town, one so-called hotel and it also had a bar and there was Jake Alvrie’s [sp?] bar – that was the more popular one.” I asked him if he’d spent time at the bar, laughing. He said “A little bit, but rum and banana cream sodas doesn’t go too well together.”

He hasn’t kept in touch with anyone from there. “I’m 88 years old and I was there in my early 20’s.”

We spoke for about a half an hour.

I asked about his thoughts on black coral. “I’ve never heard of black coral. I think I would have it had ever been talked about or anything.”  I asked if it would have been frowned upon for someone who worked for RCA or whoever, to try to make money on the side? “Possibly … they really didn’t want us to do anything to upset the status quo with the native people. They were British subjects at that time. I would think that trying to do something like that might be considered interfering with their welfare.”

We ended the conversation with me promising to send him the government report and, yes, we’d keep in touch. Genuinely nice people, they were. It was a good experience. We hung up.

 

Oh yeah … there was that other thing.

 

Photo: Bill Scales. Circa 1956-58. San Salvador Island.

 

Photo: Bill Scales. Circa 1956-58. San Salvador Island.

 

Photo: Bill Scales. Circa 1956-58. San Salvador Island.

 

Photo: Bill Scales. Circa 1956-58. San Salvador Island.

 

You can keep track of updates and photos, beyond what I post on my site, on my Whatsapp channel “Outermost Uncle“.

 

Back to Installment #13.

One Response

  1. Great story! Uncle Bill was an adventurer and like the conversation with Mr. X and his daughter, I think it had to be something drastic might have happened to one of them and by the other trying to assist at such depths, it caused them both, but its what they enjoyed doing back then on the island. Your true life writings are wonderful, keep going, dont stop your uncle Bill is smiling and enjoying you keeping his memory alive. Awaiting installment #15 San Salvador is still a awesome Scuba Diving spot people travel from all over the world to experience diving at Columbus Isle and Riding Rock Inn and Marina. May be Mr. X daughter should come and experience scuba diving here, its once in a life time!

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