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Yucatan Deep

by Tom Morrisey
Paperback 2002 Zondervan Publishing Company, 368 pages
ISBN 0310239591
8.5 x 5.5

Yucatan Deep is a deep cave diving book that reads like a documentary of a world record setting deep dive but is, in fact, fiction. The reason why even readers well versed with cave diving may not realize this is because Morrisey is a cave and deep diver himself, and because he is weaving real people and real locations into his story.

Anyone familiar with the record deep dive at Zacaton where cave diving legend Sheck Exley died and his partner Jim Bowden reached a depth of over 900 feet without reaching bottom will relate to Yucatan Deep. It starts with a similar pair of explorers diving "Cenote X," a fictional sinkhole that is supposed to be almost 1300 feet deep. Like at Zacaton, the more experienced diver perishes whereas his partner survives an aborted attempt after having problems of his own.

The story then becomes that of the surviving cave diver, Mike Bryant, and his girlfriend, an accomplished diver herself and also a medical doctor. This is another similarity to real life where Zacaton support diver, Ann Kristovich, played a similar role. Sheck Exley's name is never mentioned, but Morrisey's "Pete Wiley" is certainly close enough.

After the tragedy Bryant is just not himself anymore. He mourns his friend and is drawn back to try again, which greatly strains his relationship and causes him to make uncharacteristic errors while diving the Ginny Springs cave system.

The issue is forced when the bad guy in the story, a shady Rambo-style character attempts to do his own record dive, against the wishes of the Cenote X owners. A sleazy gossip Scuba website stirs up controversy and it becomes obvious that Bellum, the bad guy, seeks more than just a record. Something valuable is hidden in the Cenote.

More characters are introduced. One is a former champion surfer who has found God without giving up the surfer lingo, and a Mayan tribe in the Yucatan near Cenote X. The missionary surfer adds a good deal of religious content, reflecting the author's own religious leanings. At times the religious overtones are so strong that it's no longer clear if Yucatan Deep is a book on diving or one on faith. In a bookstore it might be at home in either section.

In any case, it's clear that Bellum wants to keep anyone else from seeing the bottom of Cenote X and will stop at nothing from achieving that goal. He appears to succeed as he aggravates Bryant to the extent where the deep diver has to abort his attempt due to excessive gas usage. Bellum then does a solo dive and claims to have reached bottom at 1280 feet, but pictures make his claim suspect.

So Bryant makes another attempt but his equipment is sabotaged and he encounters mortal danger on his way up when he is faced with an attacker. Superior strategy lets our hero prevail: he repeatedly knocks his opponent's mask off. Wearing a rebreather which recycles breathing gas but doesn't have a lot of air to spare, the bad guy runs out of air and Bryant brings him up and delivers him to the authorities.

Now it is down to the final dive. This time all goes well, Bryant touches down at 1280 feet, finds remnants of sacrificed Mayans, and also a chopper filled with drugs. Bryant cannot resist investigating and taking pictures but at the cost of overstaying and using up his air. Somewhat predictably, he finds God and faith in the black depths of the Cenote, a way out of the helicopter which had flipped over, his line that had gotten cut and lost in the silt, and then the body of his long-dead dive partner, with a bottle still full of breathing gas and a functional regulator. So he miraculously makes it up and all is well (after fixing a case of the bends in a recompression chamber). Analysis shows that his dead partner's tank had been tampered with, and the drug packages hid more valuable treasure yet. So all mystery is resolved, and the bad guy awaits his inevitable fate.

While I was not seeking or expecting an evangelical book, I found Yucatan Deep fascinating reading. The dive sequences are superbly described and the overall plot is compelling. I did not care for the very strong religious overtones as they added missionary zeal at the cost of the believability of a very good story. While faith and prayer are personal issues of importance to many, divers rely, and survive, on training and competence. -- C. H. Blickenstorfer, scubadiverinfo.com

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Complete Diving Manual
Deep Descent
Diver Down
Diving into Darkness
Diving Science
Diving with Sharks
Dragon Sea
Eyewitness: Scuba Diving
Fatal Depth
Fatally Flawed
Hiding on the Bottom
Into the Deepest and Darkest
Neutral Buoyancy
No Safe Harbor
Ocean Gladiator
Scuba Diving for Dummies
Sea Salt
Setting the Hook
Shadow Divers
Shipwreck Hunter
The Blue Edge
The Cavern Kings
The Devil's Teeth
The Last Dive
The Silent World
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