A Coffee Drinker's Cry for Help

by Richard L. Gilmore
Winning entry of the SCUBA divers liars contest.

I am almost always late for the ferry, barely making it or just missing it. So for once I decided to be different and not go through the aggravation and get to the dock at least 45 minutes early. I mean, after all, I've got a decent audio system in the car and several books that need reading, or I could go to the terminal building and check out the latest video games. I could hardly get bored. It was important that I make the ferry that day because several people going on a chartered dive trip to the San Juans had entrusted the transportation of their diving gear to me and my classic blue VW bug. Our charter boat was to leave from Bremerton.

So just to make sure that the trip would not be delayed on my account, I arrived at the dock 45 minutes early. However Murphy's Law was in full force as it seemed half of Seattle had arrived for the same trip 55 minutes early. My access to the boat and the maintenance of an already shaky reputation seemed in serious doubt. I told myself there was no use worrying about it. I am sure you have told yourself that on occasion and probably derived the same amount of comfort from the thought as I did that day.

After forty minutes of pretending to read a book (I needed the frustration and tension of a video game like I needed a kiss from an electric eel) the boat began to load. As I got closer to the ferry, the situation was looking steadily worse. As far as I could tell, I would miss the ferry by two or three cars; a green SUV with a load of screaming cub scouts and a nicely restored white mid 70s El Dorado with a white haired, cigar smoking man at the wheel. I could barely make out a faded bi-centennial sticker on the bumper. Both cars were more than twice as long as my little blue beetle.

I was desperate and with thought of another hour and a half wait behind the scout troop (and the choice remarks my "friends" would have for me) I jumped from the car and ran to the ticket taker. Her red hair clashed with her signal orange safety vest. I explained to her that I had a very small car that would fit where the other gas-hogs couldn't. She looked hesitant to make any decision, so I said, "Let the deck hands on the boat decide." She seemed relieved to have the responsibility passed on... to anyone. Two hands were trying to decide if they had room for one of the larger cars and weather or not to take the time to try it.

I yelled, "Do you have room for a V.W. bug?"

Without really thinking they both said, "Sure."

"Great," I yelled back, "I'll be right there."

Without waiting for an answer, I ran back to my car. Desperation can make a great salesman of anyone. I am sure they were still wondering what had happened by the time I was rolling down the ramp.

Well, there I was, the last car on the boat. I had decided to stay in the car with the windows rolled up to get a little quiet and grab a quick nap. Once the ferry was underway, the safety chain started to tap the rear bumper of my bug. I wasn't too worried about the bumper's finish, but the noise was enough to blow my chances of any cat napping. So I decided, what the hell, it's a calm day. I got out of the car and laid the safety chain on the deck. I got back in the car and quickly drifted off to sleep. Any of my college professors will be glad to you that I have a remarkable talent for falling asleep.

Suddenly I was jarred awake by what could only be an explosion. My first thought was that some crazed terrorist group had torpedoed the ferry. However, that was not the case. When my vision cleared what I saw was even less believable. There, looming directly in front of my car - and pulling away - was the ferry. Needless to say, I was a little shocked. Off to the right I saw a fully loaded container ship that had evidently crossed in front of the ferry. I figured that the ferry must have pitched on the wake and my car either rolled or, more likely, slid on the oily deck into the sound.

Of more immediate interest was the view of my front hood. Water was steadily covering it and advancing on the windshield. I remembered the old commercials that showed these things floating. The water was to the bottom of the windshield when I thought to use my horn to catch attention from the ferry. There were few people on the deck and they were all looking towards the container ship. None of them seemed to have noticed the unusual sight I must have made. I hit the horn. It made a slight click and a feeble chirp and died. By now the water was almost half way up the windshield. I wasn't sure, but my submergence did not seem to be slowing down.

"I'm going to sue those bastards at VW." I screamed at nobody in particular. "They said these things would float. Well, I've got a window full of fish willing to testify to the opposite."

When I calmed down from that outburst I noticed the acoustics were quite good. This was probably due to the fact that my bug and I were completely under water. What would Arlo Guthrie do? I mean, he wrote the Motor Cycle song while plunging off a cliff at 500 mph. Could I do anything as good for the world to remember me by? Hell, I didn't think that anyone had seen me fall into the water. So much for fame and fortune. I turned on the stereo and slipped in an Allman Brothers recording. I always think best with good music.

My descent didn't seem nearly as fast as when the water was first covering the windshield. I assumed that the full buoyancy of the car had possibly slowed or stopped my sinking; at least I certainly hoped so. I tried to gauge my depth peering up through the window. I guessed that I was about ten feet below the surface, but I could not tell if I was still sinking. I thought what my car needs is a depth gauge.

Then it hit me, the car did have a depth gauge, probably a half dozen of them. I had put most of the small gear in the trunk... including several weight belts. Damn, thoughts of million dollar lawsuits against V.W. flew out the window... and drowned. I realized the large amount of dead weight I was carrying was responsible for the car going under. My beetle was staying pretty level, so I guess I did a good job balancing the weight.

A gear bag on the floor in front of the passenger seat had what I was looking for, a regulator and dive console with depth gauge. It was a new high-quality rig, reliable and accurate. I congratulated myself on my choice of diving buddies. The gauge read only 5 feet. Looking up I could see that I was at least 15 feet down, maybe more. Since water had not leaked into the car as far as I could see, I assumed the bug was doing an admirable job of maintaining surface pressure. My hatred of the VW people changed rapidly to admiration and near awe. Maybe I could write the million dollar commercial. What a customer testimonial... if I survived. I knew that the windows would not hold much pressure and if I was still going down, it was only a matter of time before the windows would burst with explosive force sending me rapidly to the bottom. Considering I was in Puget Sound, that could be a long ride.

I started to hook up the regulator to one of the tanks in the back seat, just in case. I had serious doubts though about being able to bail out in time before the car took me too deep. I thought about equalizing the pressure by opening a floor vent and letting some water in. That was no good however, because the compressed air would not give me the displacement and buoyancy that even now didn't seem to be quite enough to keep me from sinking.

As I opened the valve on the tank with the regulator, the obvious became clear again, use air from one of the tanks to equalize the pressure inside the car with the exterior water pressure. As if to hasten my plan, I noticed that water had started to seep around the window seals on the passenger door. As air hissed from a tank, I watched the depth gauge. Rivulets of water had formed on the door window. The depth gauge needle started to climb. Looking out the window it seemed that I hadn't gone much deeper. I continued to release air until the depth gauge read 25 feet. The water stopped oozing through the window seal.

I spent some time toying with the idea of bailing out again. I could probably break at least two and possibly three windows at once. This would allow rapid flooding of the car and hopefully a quick enough chance at swimming out before I went below 150 feet. I was still weighing the pros and cons of bailing when the noise of an engine intruded on my thoughts. "Damn," I muttered, "I am still in the ferry lanes." I looked up to get an idea of how deep I was. I must have been slowly rising because I seemed to be only ten feet from the surface. Way too close to the surface for comfort when you might be run over by several tons of metal. Hell, it wouldn't even have to be a clean hit, the turbulence alone would toss me around sending dive gear crashing through windows and doing bodily damage to me. I decided not to take a chance and slipped a diving mask on. Then grabbing the regulator I had set up, I reached for the floor vent controls and opened them.

I had expected a spray of water but only got a trickle. The car was still pressurized to a depth of 25 feet. Bubbles rose around the car from air escaping through the floor vent. I thought about opening a window slightly, but once opened I doubted it could be closed. Maybe the wing window would work. It pivoted and could be operated under higher pressure with less bending than a large window. The visibility was good today, and I was having second thoughts about my plan of taking on ballast. I mean this isn't a submarine and the chances were pretty low that I was going to be struck. Sound travels so fast and so well under water that things sometimes lost their perspective. Then I got my perspective back. A view many fish must see when they are about to become seagull scraps appeared. An impossibly wide, dark mass was bearing down on me. Occasional brass colored flashes showed where the bow propeller was digging through the water towards my tiny world. Refracted light from the water's surface gave a random effect to the spinning prop.

"I think I'll open the window now." I said to myself. What followed was an interesting auditory experience. The propeller was creating a low-frequency thumping noise felt as much in my stomach as heard in my ears. The engines were producing a piercing whine that drilled through my head. Now with water rushing in at my feet, the pressure in the car began to rise. In the background the Allman Brothers band played on. A great stereo.

The water level was rising fast. The car was thumping like an unbalanced washing machine on spin cycle. I didn't seem to be sinking very fast, but it looked like I might be below keel level. With the pounding on my ears I couldn't tell if I was equalizing or not. Impossibly, the thundering pulse increase in volume by orders of magnitude and the car made a sudden lurch upward. Apparently I had just gone under the bow prop and was being sucked up in the prop wash. I was sure that there was no way to avoid being drawn into the more vigorously spinning stern prop. I can only guess what happened next, but I assume the roof of the car collided with the boat hull because several windows shattered and were blown inward by the water.

I could see nothing, feel nothing, hear nothing. I was only aware of my heart thundering in my chest. This was sensory deprivation, death or both I told myself. Then the faster thumping of the stern prop started beating on my stomach. I figured I was still alive, but doubted if I could still hear. I definitely couldn't tell up from down, but I knew what a pair of blue jeans must feel like going through a heavy duty wash cycle to get that used look.

The car's interior was a confusion of tanks, weights, rubber, nylon and assorted bits and pieces of car interior. The only reason I wasn't knocked cold was dumb luck and the fact that water now totally filled the car. Then with surprising suddenness, the turbulence stopped. Not knowing which way was up; I started looking for my bubbles. Though the light was dim, my eyes adjusted and I noticed my bubbles were falling to the floor of the car. That seemed odd and it took a moment to figure out I was upside down. That was the reason for the darkness.

The tangle of gear around me hindered my efforts to move. I knew that if I couldn't get clear of the mess, my only hope would be to land on the bottom and pray that it wasn't too deep. Not liking the odds on that gamble, I continued to work at getting free. The flow of water through the broken windows created a current that was dead set against me. I fought the urge to check the depth gauge. It would waste time and only add to a sense of panic.

It was a few minutes before I became aware of a new sound, other than the ringing in my tortured ears. It was a sound I associated with certain science fiction movies that mistakenly assume that one can hear space ships flying through the vacuum of space. A strange sound for an engine, but I was sure that it was not a sound of nature. And it seemed to be getting closer. But that couldn't be. Well sound does do strange things under water.

I found it odd that while in my dangerous and deteriorating predicament that I should be thinking so clearly and logically about things that had no bearing on my situation. I was probably getting a nitrogen high. I was nearly untangled from the mess when my bug came to rest with a clang. The car stayed stationary for only a moment then started to roll.

"Wonderful", I thought, "I hit bottom at a reasonable depth only to be on a slope. If this keeps up I won't be able to bail out and this canyon is probably 500 feet deep."

I gave up struggling with the gear when I noticed the sound of the car as it rolled. It was definitely a metallic sound. Then I remembered the clang the car made upon landing. Suddenly the background engine noise stopped. A thought crossed my mind, an impossible thought, almost as impossible as being run over by a ferry boat in the middle of Puget Sound in a blue VW bug.

My tumbling car quickly slowed to a halt and came to rest on its hood. This car seemed to like being upside down... I didn't. I didn't seem to be too tangled in the mess in the car and without a steady flow of water through the windows, I found I could maneuver with ease. Looking at my depth gauge I found my depth was only 85 feet. That was less than half of what I feared. Air left in the tank was another matter. I had less than 300 pounds left and apparently in the tumbling, the reserve lever had been pulled. I could set up another tank and regulator but I didn't know what was left in the car. Some gear had been lost out the broken windows.

I decided it wasn't worth the time or air to try and set up a new tank. In addition, I was just starting to notice that I was really cold. With no dive suit on I needed no weight belt, but I would quickly lose the ability to use my hands for any intricate work in this cold water. I needed to get to the surface now. Pushing my tank in front of me, I swam out the passenger window. The safety glass had shattered into small blue cubic fragments so there was no danger of being cut. Once outside the car it only took a brief look to confirm that I had indeed landed on a submarine. It was a rather odd looking craft, but I don't know all that much about subs. There were three towers on the deck and some odd looking structures that I guessed might be antennae. I looked back at my car and in the rear window, the only window in tact, was a buoyancy compensator. That would be especially useful on the surface. I decided to take one shot at breaking the window. Then I would head for the surface either way. The booted end of the tank would probably not break the glass, so I would have to use the rounded part of the tank near the valve to make metal to glass contact. I got into as good a position as I could and after a couple of fast breaths, took the regulator out of my mouth. I thrust the tank at the window as hard as I could. The window took on the appearance of a spider's web. I lost my grip and floated off across the deck.

I felt the first rising of real panic. It was odd, I guess that my situation has seemed so hopeless until now that panic was not a reasonable emotion. Now with escape in sight, panic seemed like a good idea. I swam back to the tank. Grasping the regulator I took what proved to be the last few pounds of air from the tank. To say I was committed is an understatement on a par with the Pope is Catholic.

Repeating my earlier move with the tank a little more carefully, I managed to break out the window. I pulled out the buoyancy compensator and was getting ready to pull the CO2 cartridge for a fast ride to the surface when I noticed that another tank with a regulator hose attached had been hiding behind the BC. I pulled the tank from the car and stared in amazement at the state of the equipment. There was a regulator hose attached to the tank, but that was all. I was not sure if I had installed the regulator hose or if it had been loaded into the car that way, but during the turbulence the hose must have been cut - the mouthpiece was gone.

I grabbed the valve on the top of the tank and cracked it open. The sudden rush of air sent the hose whipping around like a wounded snake. I backed the flow off to a reasonable level and I took a drink of air from the end of the bubbling hose. I remembered that while filming The Creature From the Black Lagoon, they used a compressor and hose to supply air to the actor in the creature suit. Breathing this way was a little odd, but if a guy in a monster suit can do it, so can I.

With a supply of air, I chose to take a moment to put on the BC. I looked up and started for the surface. Swimming without fins is slow work. I didn't need to decompress because I hadn't been underwater very long and had stayed well above dangerous depth of 150 feet. I decided to take the fast ride up and reached for the cord that would inflate the BC with a CO2 cartridge. As I fumbled for the cord, I felt something grab my feet and left arm hard. Just then I got the CO2 cord and pulled. The BC inflated quickly and I felt myself begin to move through the water.

There was a flash of silver, a sudden blinding gout of bubbles and the BC deflated faster than it had inflated. My progress towards the surface halted. It was a knife that I had seen flashing toward my body that had punctured my BC. As this thought sank in, my air tank was roughly pulled away and dropped by the diver who had grabbed my left arm. Now a third diver joined the first two who seemed to be in the process of killing me. This third diver's rig had a second regulator. He offered it to me. If I could have, I would have laughed. This has been one of my shortest dives and I am already on my third tank.

I was escorted to an airlock in the submarine. On the way there I noticed several more divers around my poor beat up beetle. I was taken to a small, but nice cabin and given coffee and hot soup and allowed to sleep. I was exhausted. I awoke without knowing how long I had slept. After a meal, several officers and two men in dark suits listened intently to the story of how I ended up on the deck of their submarine in a blue Volkswagen Beetle. I realize, looking back on it, that they asked few question and seemed to accept a tale (that if told me) I would dismiss out of hand as delirium or drunkenness.

It's been three or four days that I have been aboard this craft. When I ask when they are going to release me, they are evasive. From what I have been able to gather, I have stumbled onto some highly classified project. I suppose they think that spies drive VW bugs into Puget Sound when investigating submarine activities. Anyway, I am writing this to throw overboard in a coffee thermos they forgot about after the first day they picked me up. To the rest of the world, I have disappeared without a trace and I think they just might want to keep it that way.

I have overheard talk about docking tonight and "getting rid of our problem." That sounds unfriendly at best. This may be the only chance I have to get help. I have to finish up now. There seems to be a lot of activity. Please help me. My name i
* * * * *

He must have had to stop writing and stuff the story into the thermos bottle so that he could toss it overboard. The thermos washed up on Sucia Island where I found it. A series of storms in the previous weeks means the bottle could be from almost anywhere in Puget Sound.