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Ocean Gladiator -- Battles Beneath the Ocean

by Mark Ellyatt
Paperback 2005 Emily Eight Publications, 340 pages
ISBN 978-0-9551544-0-9
7.75 x 5.0

As if further evidence were needed to illustrate that extreme divers get no respect, Mark Ellyatt's Ocean Gladiator aptly proves the point. Ellyatt, you see, set a (since eclipsed) world's deep diving record of 313 meters (1,027 feet) in 2003 but did it in such relative obscurity that I had actually never heard of him. His book is "currently unavailable" at Amazon, which neither shows its cover nor had any customer reviews until I posted this one; and the Bird's Underwater diveshop in Crystal River, Florida, (where I picked up a signed copy of the book) is the sole place in the US that, according to the author's website, carries it.

As is, Ocean Gladiator, while billed as a collection of scuba adventure stories written by an irreverant Brit who roams the world in search of adventure, is actually a most enjoyable and remarkably cohesive book that details the journey from open water certification all the way to some of the world's most extreme dives. Ellyatt's style is very tongue-in-cheek and at times it's not quite clear what is fact, what's embellishment, and what is wild/playful exaggeration. What does come through loud and clear is the author's contempt for posers, bullshitters and other self-important characters within the dive industry. In particular he's critical of training standards or the lack thereof, as well as a careless, cavalier approach to diving by instructors, dive shops, self-appointed experts, as well as divers themselves.

At times this critical stance towards the industry seems at odds with Ellyatt's own penchant for highly dangerous diving adventures ranging from countless (very) deep dives on air, to experimenting with unproven decompression models (at times with disastrous consequences), to attempting near suicidal dives under the most adverse conditions. At times you wonder if Ellyatt is a risk-seeking, fun-loving, globetrotting adrenaline junkie or a serious, conscientious, accomplished deep diver. Most likely a bit of both, but in line with a twice-stated Arnold Palmer quote ("The more I practiced, the luckier I got"), one can safely assume that the real Mark Ellyatt is almost certainly a far more serious and meticulously prepared diver than his lighthearted storytelling might have you believe.

The book is organized into 12 chapters, beginning with Ellyatt's start in diving (and lots of criticism of training and instructors), to becoming an instructor (more criticism), globetrotting as an instructor through the Caribbeans, Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean and many other places; doing business closer to home in the southern English Channel; and then increasingly complex deep-dive adventures to very deep wrecks and other high-risk sites. Later chapters include riveting accounts of an almost 600 feet dive in an abandoned copper mine, an 850 feet open water "warm-up" dive for a record attempt that ended in near disaster, a 1,027 feet world record dive in 2003, and finally the 2004 discovery of the HMS Victoria, a British Navy flagship that had sunk off the coast of Lebanon in 1897.

Like an increasing number of essentially self-published books, Ocean Gladiator is light on proofing and editing (run-on sentences, lack of punctuation, occasional logical gaps, etc.). Ellyatt, however, is a spellbinding storyteller, and despite the rough edges the book is a fascinating and thoroughly enjoyable page-turner that's hard to put down. -- C. H. Blickenstorfer, scubadiverinfo.com

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