Sea Salt is a different diving book. It's a collection of memories and essays by a man who has been diving for over 70 years. Seventy years! He's seen it all. Born in 1922, Stan Waterman grew up the son of a wealthy cigar manufacturer and is one of those rare individuals who, throughout his life, did as his dreams and love of the sea commanded him to do. Including such things as leaving his fiancee and her mother behind on a vacation trip when the lure of crewing on a fishing boat for several weeks became too strong. Or, on his honeymoon in the Mediterranean, going his own way exploring islands when he was "ready for a little of my own space and the adventure of lone travel." But Waterman is so disarmingly honest, so intent on telling his story, no holds barred, that we cannot help but root for him and his way of life. And that life, after a start in blueberry farming and a brief foray into running his own dive boat in the Bahamas, was spent on, around and under the sea, doing underwater filming all over the world whenever possible, and touring the country speaking and showing excerpts from his films during the winter. He still does that. And he still sponsors live-aboard tours.
Stan Waterman is one of the pioneering underwater videographers and photographers, and he was among the first to swim with sharks without the safety of a cage. He made groundbreaking films, such as the classic 1971 documentary Blue Water, White Death. He directed the diving photography of the movie The Deep. He won five Emmys for production work for the ABC show American Sportsman. But either he is so self-deprecating in his accounts, or so unaware of his own accomplishments, that he never exudes the scientific self-importance of a Jacques Cousteau or even much lesser diving luminaries. Instead, Waterman portrays himself as a free and often bumbling spirit who is frequently in over his head. One who is flawed, always open to indulgence and adventure, and always full of good humor. There are no dry lectures on diving history and theory. Careful yet passionate in his pursuits, Waterman still gets seriously bent when he and his family lived in French Polynesia for a year in 1965, but escapes without permanent harm. He goes with the flow, even takes on mercenary assignments such as promo films for oil company rigs. He is unprejudiced, guided by his enthusiasm, and thus able to relate a great variety of different experiences.
As a result, Waterman comes across as a lovable, unique, worldly gentleman full of stories of the sea and its creatures large and small. One who pursued his own interests with abandon, spent half his life away from home and his wife (who was not a diver and didn't join him on any of his dive trips until his 80th birthday) and his children. Yet, he also never seems without deep love for his family, never abandons them to find his inner self, and is always the good guy, though at times taking liberties and a good dose of freedom.
Sea Salt is a compilation of loosely knit thoughts and recollections, some relating to diving, some about the origins of particularly interesting mementos, a number of vignettes of times gone by and colorful people met and known, and even such snapshots as a brief chapter on a girl that once caught his fancy. It's an old gentleman sitting down, over a tumbler of Vodka or two, and reminiscing, wondering how it all happened, and not believing his own good luck (and bad -- Waterman's mansion filled with history and memories burned to the ground in 1994). It's being proud of his children, of both spending much time away from his family yet also having amazing adventures together. How does a man do all that? How can he hold a family together? How can a man be both as self-aware, strong-willed, independent and proud, and as self-deprecatingly gracious and kind? Sea Salt provides the answer.
This rather remarkable book is organized into three parts.
The first is a collection of 20 memories from Waterman's life, ranging from his youth as the pampered son of that wealthy older father in a grand mansion on the coast of Maine, to adventures throughout the world and the seven seas. Waterman never beats around the bush in his descriptions that are often, well, "salty." He doesn't pull any punches -- perhaps the privilege of a man who has seen and done it all. And is sort of surprised to still be there to tell it all.
The second is 33 essays and articles most of which were published in Ocean Realm magazine between 1986 and 2001. They represent more or less self-contained essays, positions, memories, adventures, and thoughts in general. Here you read much about sharks, the central theme of his professional life. Waterman is fond of saying that sharks put his children through college. He also has strong feelings about how they should be treated (with respect as creatures that are neither friend nor foe), and about the folly of ever more absurd "shark feedings" to provide photo ops for dive tours. He is not afraid to admit mistakes. He does not rewrite history. He never makes himself look the hero. He never lectures. He's just himself.
The third and final part is entitled "Letters Home." It is a brief collection of letters Waterman wrote to his wife Suzy. This section deals a lot with getting older, and what diving means to a man who's done it all his life. The big stuff no longer holds fascination as Waterman turns to the small things out there, the endless world of macro shoots, where tiny creatures fill the lens of his camera.
There are also 32 pages of photos, most in vivid color and showing Waterman and his exploits. This old gentleman may be affable and self-deprecating, but he does like the limelight. And if he truly dislikes the cocktail parties and book signings after his presentations, as he alludes to early in the book, it certainly doesn't show in real life.
-- C. H. Blickenstorfer, scubadiverinfo.com