Employee Portrait Gallery—Will Sellers: Alvin Coming Up

By Will Sellers

This excerpt from Will’s memories of working with the submersible Alvin from 1982–1986 describes recovering the vehicle after a dive in the Pacific Ocean when the submersible group was still adjusting to the sub’s transfer from Lulu to Atlantis II.

Not all recoveries were terrifying, potentially dismembering events. Most were actually fun, and in flat calm weather you could do it with your eyes closed.

We set out one afternoon in a Pacific that was as flat as the sea can get. Not a hint of a swell or ripple. If you dropped a quarter or a shiny washer overboard, you could watch it sink for what seemed like hundreds of feet. I’ve never seen water so clear.

It was a very hot day, so we launched the small boat a bit early so we could get a little swim time in. We had a couple of grad students along for the ride. As long as the weather was good we would take tourists out with us. Most wanted better camera shots of the whole ship. You had a better chance at getting a seat if you were cute and female.

The surface controller had vectored us over to the area where he had calculated that Alvin was coming up. Once on the spot, we killed the motor and four of us jumped over the side while the coxun stayed in the boat. Wearing trunks, fins, mask and snorkel, I floated on my stomach alone about 30 yards from the boat. Swimming in the open ocean is a very different thing all together. This is definitely the deep end of the pool. Looking at the sun’s rays penetrating down into that infinite depth with your ears submerged is a totally sensory experience.

I could hear the other swimmers and some noise from the small boat, but in the background was something else. It was very faint but I recognized it right away—it was Alvin’s underwater telephone. At 13 kiloherz it was right in the middle of the human audio band. I knew it was close, so I concentrated looking down and breathing through the snorkel. It wasn’t long before I spotted it. Just a small white dot at the limit of my vision. Like a bad pixel on a very large screen with all the rays of light dancing through the water.

I lay perfectly still with my arms outstretched watching Alvin get bigger and bigger. It finally came to the surface about 50 yards in front of me. There’s one good thing about being on the bottom of the learning curve. They would never let you do that now.

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