Kevin McMurray, the author of Deep Descent, has dived the Doria and lived to write about it. Not everyone does. Sharks, hypothermia, oxygen toxicity, nitrogen narcosis, and the bends are major hazards facing divers. Add to those swift currents, dark murky silt, entanglement in abandoned fishing lines and nets snagged by the hulk, and twisted steel wreckage corroded to razor sharpness, and you begin to grasp the difficulties of diving the wreck. The Andrea Doria lays at nearly twice the safe and acceptable diving limit of 130 feet. The book details a number of dive fatalities, proving that many things can and do go wrong — and when they do in such a hostile environment, the consequences are deadly.
Yet, people still dive the Doria. Why? For dishes. After several years of developing diving skills, expensive classes in deep (or "technical") diving, and $10,000 worth of exotic gear, an aspiring wreck diver has bought the opportunity to collect a few souvenir cups, saucers, and dishes emblazoned with the Italia Line's logo. Actually, there is more to it: It's like asking why people are so mad about climbing Mount Everest, the Andrea Doria being the Everest of shipwrecks. In fact, this book is very reminiscent of Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air, about the disastrous season of 1996, when so many climbers perished on Mount Everest.
The book doesn't read like Clive Cussler's Raise the Titanic, but it isn't a kid's book either. There is little "gee whiz" factor. There are no heroes. The emphasis is on what happened, in what sequence, and why. Expounding on motivations and personalities is done at arm's length; the author tries to stay neutral and evenhanded when describing long-standing rivalries. The language is occasionally coarse and profane — after all, a quote from a dive boat skipper tends to be pretty salty.
If you want to dive the Doria, get busy — the wreck is deteriorating rapidly. If you're sane enough to prefer experiencing your extreme sports from a comfortable chair, read this book.
Deep Descent: Adventure and Death Diving the Andrea Doria
By Kevin F. McMurray
$26.95, 301 pages