This is my story and I am sticking to it.

by Donald Tipton

Every day is a good day to dive and every dive is better than being stuck in some office. But there are moments in every divers life that seem to exceed the boundaries of that which is wonderful or fantastic to become something beautifully profound. The really important thing is to always be ready for when the sea gives you this moment, and to always be aware that you will never be ready.



The sun was directly overhead as we made our way to the wreck site. The old freighter that sank mysteriously 20 years ago, was half submerged, and down by the stern. The bow rose from the sea to point ominously into a cloudless sky. Tightly wedged between giant coral heads, the hulk had endured storm after storm for years. Its paint had given way to a mantel of rust that, in the late afternoon sunlight, made the ship to appear more like a work of art than a wreck.

Since the waves were pounding against the starboard side, I decided to make my entry to port. I had come to the Silver Bank, near The Dominican Republic to photograph Humpback Whales, but with not much success. So, I decided to take this little side trip. As I entered the water, I saw below me, the debris from the wreak strewn all about the sand sea floor. Everywhere were giant coral heads that rose 20 meters to just below the surface. As I dove deeper, I imagined the evening when this ship sank. The massive jolt from proceeding at top speed to dead still, must have come at quite a surprise to the Captain and crew. I swam through a narrow space between two coral heads and it seemed the wreck had become a living thing like the reef itself. As I approached the hull, it became apparent that the coral heads supported the wreck from the mid-ships forward, so that the keel of the bow was well above water level.  I entered the ships vast empty cargo hold through a large gaping hole amidships. The light danced across the deck as small fish darted among the debris. Shafts of light filled the water column below a torrent of waves.  Through the shafts of light I thought I saw two divers heading in my direction.



The really odd thing about it was that they were not producing any bubbles, as though they were using re-breathers.  Also, it seemed very unlikely that there were other divers in such a remote place as this. I decided to hide behind a bulkhead and wait to see what happened next. As the two swimmers came closer, I had the overwhelming feeling that something wonderful was about to happen. This was a great understatement.



Through the shafts of light emerged two beautiful ladies. They seemed to glide effortlessly through the water as though they were dolphins. I held my breath in anticipation. They swam into the center of the ship and began an underwater ballet in perfect tempo with the surge of the sea. It seemed as though the music of the ocean provided the score for this ballet within a sunken ship. It was then that I realized that the two beautiful ladies were Mermaids. 



I had the realization that they were Mermaids because they never seemed to surface , nor did they have any sort of air delivery system. Instead, they swam as though dancing in and out through the shafts of light. Their movements were as fluid and lyrical as their ocean environment. The ship had become a stage and sunlight through pulsating waves had become the spotlight. I sat, hiding behind this bulkhead, partly in disbelief and partly in excited amazement.



How could this be happening and how was I ever going to be able to prove to others what I had seen. It was then that I remembered the reason that I was diving on the wreck in the first place. I was there to shoot pictures. I began looking for an opportunity to begin shooting this marvelous Mermaid ballet. I soon had my chance. The two began to face each other as they ascended the water column. This was the perfect opportunity to sneak out and get some shots. With the excitement that came from each shot, I became more and more bold. Soon, I was beyond my hiding place, shooting away, with no thought of being seen. Then I realized the wonderful moment that would be lost if I were discovered. Quickly, I retreated to my hiding place.  As the two Mermaids made a pirouette very close to my position, it seemed that they were alarmed about something. Were they aware of my presence? In the excitement of their dance, the Mermaids nor I had made any notice of my bubble exhaust. I tried to hold my breath for as long as I could in the hopes that their alarm would subside with time. I knew the symptoms of hypoxia and I could feel itís grip begin to embrace me. When I could hold my breath no longer, I exhaled with an explosive burst of bubbles. It was then that I knew my presence had been discovered. In a flurry of light and bubbles, the Mermaids were gone. I was alone, with only the light dancing about the wreck to continue the ballet.  I swam slowly out of the wreck and back to the boat. My thoughts were consumed with trying to understand what had just happened. As I went around each coral head, I hoped to see my Syrenian friends, but it was not to be. As I ascended slowly under the boat I remembered the images that I had just taken. I knew that I would see the Mermaids again, if only in my photography and my dreams.  

Well actually, this is what really happened.  Erika is a wonderful friend who has a childlike exuberance and joy for life.  She is the chef on the live-aboard dive boat, Bottom Time II and is the wife of the captain, Roger Maier. Christopher is also a wonderful friend who has a profound gift for understanding and helping people. She is a frequent facilitator on the Bottom Time II. I had asked Erika and Christopher to help me in shooting a sequence for an underwater music video that I and two other friends, Clay Powers and Lee Johnson, had been working on for the last two years. The video is SAND FLOOR CATHEDRAL and is an aesthetic and spiritual view of the sea.

Captain Roger piloted the launch with Erika and Christopher, who were to be my models for the shoot. Also on board was composer, Lee Johnson, who had come to the Silver Bank to experience the amazing beauty of humpback whales, while assisting me in image making.  I shot the ladies swimming together outside the wreck before we all went inside the hulk. It was great to have Lee as a assistant since I was shooting video and stills so we had to carry a lot of gear inside. The surge was blowing through which made a couple of the steel plates in the hull rattle.  This produce a eerie sound, like a banging moan.  Erika and Christopher are both excellent free diver and the shoot went like a dream. It was a wonderful shoot that just seemed to flow with the sea.  The entire experience had a beautiful dreamlike quality to it. The only drawback was that it was over too soon.  On the way back to the boat, I had the idea for the alternate version. I hope you didnít mind too much, reliving my daydream.