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Getting A Head
BobHalstead - 4/29/2013 8:05 AM
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Category: Educational
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By Bob Halstead

The other day, when preparing for a dive, I accidentally put my hood on backwards. Suddenly everything went dark, and I could not see. Muffled, I shouted for mpff-help! … but no one came to my rescue and I could hear the other divers leaping into the water yelling and gurgling. I suppose I must have looked pretty scary.

Fortunately I discovered my error and, on rotating my hood 180 degrees, had the pleasant surprise to see I had the dive deck to myself. Well almost, Dinah came on deck to see what was going on.

“What are you up to, you idiot” she greeted me, a common expression of her love.

“Just clearing the dive deck for you Honey, it was getting a bit crowded.”

“Oh you’re so sweet Darling, kiss, kiss”


Milliners used to advertise “If you want to get ahead, then get a hat” which, in my youth, I mistakenly visualised as “If you want to get a head, then get a hat” imagining that I could be of service to people who have lost their heads by checking out any stray hats I stumbled across.

For divers I can proclaim without any doubt that “If you want to get ahead, then get a hood” I am seriously fond of hoods. My first experience of one was diving with Dimitri Rebikov in the Bahamas in 1969. Dimiti designed very high tech (for the time) underwater cameras and propulsion vehicles. He actually gave me one – the only snag was he had lost it diving the Andrea Doria in 75m of freezing high current water off New York, and I would have to go find it to take possession. As you can see he had an evil sense of humour. I liked him.

But he did know his science and realised that submerged in cool water most of a diver’s body heat disappears through the head, and this is the region where most attention should be paid for thermal protection. Putting his theory into practice Dimitri used to dive only in swimmers – and a hood. It looked … different.

Go get a hood. I like the fluffy lycra types since they can be close fitting and flexible and very comfortable and still do the job. You do need to punch a couple of small holes in the top otherwise trapped air soon makes you look like a cone-head. Neoprene hoods may be necessary for cooler water, but if not chosen with care can be very uncomfortable, and even risky if they are too tight, especially round the throat.

The hood prevents cold water ear and head ache, keeps the brain working at its optimum level and keeps hair out of your face. They can even be put on over the mask straps to secure the mask on those tough current dives. I admit they look terrible on underwater models so mine are not allowed to wear them. The solution is to find a blonde model.

Well, that is not true, but I had to find an excuse to tell this story:-

I heard about a brunette in terrible pain who went to see her doctor.

“It hurts everywhere Doc. If I touch my leg it hurts, if I touch my arm it hurts, if I touch my head it hurts …”

The Doc looks at her for a moment then says “You’re not a brunette are you? You’re actually a blonde”.

She looks at him amazed. “Well, Yes, that is true” she says, “but how could you tell?”

You’ve got a broken finger”.

When I first came to live in Milne Bay PNG I was soon reminded of my vision of heads lying around waiting for a decent hat. Milne Bay has ancient Skull Caves. In these caves the skulls of what were apparently conquered enemies were collected. Some of the skulls have stalactites formed over them so all this happened a while back – perhaps thousands of years ago.

Villagers are usually happy to take visitors to see the skulls, which are treated with little reverence. They do not claim them as ancestors, and allow the skulls to be handled. Many of the skulls have chunks missing where a club, or stone axe, bashed its owner to death.

Earlier this year I met Louis Psihoyos principal author and photographer of a wonderful book called Hunting Dinosaurs (Random House NY) about the people who search for dinosaur bones.

In the book he tells the story of Edward Drinker Cope, one of the greatest and most famous dinosaur “bone hunters” that ever lived. Just before he died in 1897, to get one up on a bitter enemy and rival bone hunter Othniel Charles Marsh, he donated his own skeleton to be the type specimen for Homo sapiens.

When a new biological specimen is to be named, a type specimen, the reference for all future comparisons with that species, has to be collected and lodged in a museum. But science had neglected to collect a specimen of our own species – and now Cope was donating his own skeleton for that purpose. Unfortunately once prepared it was found that his bones were not perfect but showed early signs of syphilis. So his skeleton was rejected, put in a box and stored.

Louie found out about this story and wondered whether Cope’s bones were still accessible. They were, so he went to the University of Pennsylvania to examine them. Then he had a brainwave. He was about to set off on a three year odyssey meeting all the world’s great living dinosaur bone hunters – they would all know of Edward Drinker Cope – so why not take Cope with him?

The museum was happy to give him a loan, and he got the skeleton. Eventually he just carried the skull, in a cardboard box, and when conversation with the latest bone hunter got round to Cope he would mention casually that he had Cope with him , whip out the cardboard box, and display Cope’s skull. Of course the modern bone hunters all wanted to pose for photographs with Cope’s skull.

At the end of all this, since no one else was nominated as type specimen, it was decided that Cope would get his death wish, even if his skeleton was not perfect. Homo sapiens was named in 1758 by Carolus Linnaeus with the brilliant, but brief, description – “Know thyself”. Louie tells in his book how Cope’s skeleton was measured and described, a paper written and submitted, and how in 1994 Cope became the type specimen for Homo sapiens.

A beautiful wooden box lined with velvet was built to replace the cardboard box, and a brass nameplate commemorates Cope’s new status.

Now this really got me thinking. It would be fun to have some famous diver’s skull on board to whip out during those wonderful apres-dive ramblings that we enjoy with Aussie wine on live aboard dive boats. Then I got an even better idea.

I’d really prefer, like Woody Allen, not to achieve immortality through my work, but by not dying. But it seems that, after all, we all will have to go sometime, and I really cannot find any enthusiasm for being interred in a coffin two metres deep nor being reduced to ash to be blown and scattered, especially not in the ocean or up my loved one’s nose. When in the distant future my time finally comes, then, (after passing, I hasten to add) I have decided on a much more appealing end.

I will donate my own skull, in a special velvet lined Pelican case, to a dive boat in PNG. I could be part of the dive briefing – “This site was first dived by Bob in 1976, and he named it Bob’s Knob. He always reckoned that it was a great dive, didn’t you Bob? ….” … open box to see grinning skull…. In my life I’ve always been happiest aboard a dive boat on some adventure, now, for me, all the great adventures could continue,

Only thing is, I’ll have to see if I can get Dinah to come with me. “Hey, Honey …..”