BARE The Adventure Contest Runner Up: George Small | Scuba Diving

BARE The Adventure Contest Runner Up: George Small

BARE The Adventure

Last year, BARE celebrated its 40th anniversary by taking divers on three of the world's most amazing dives with its BARE The Adventure video series. Adventure team divers explored the breathtaking beauty of Rangiroa, Tahiti, the epic diversity of the Great Barrier Reef, and the frigid unknown off the coast of British Columbia. In addition, BARE asked Sport Diver_ and_ Scuba Diving_ readers to share their ultimate dive adventure story for a chance to win one of these once-in-a-lifetime dives._ ****

George Small
Chapel Hill, North Carolina

For me, a great diving adventure doesn’t have to include coral, currents and clear water. In fact, one of my most memorable diving experiences occurred in a freshwater lake in Michigan. This lake is accompanied by a great deal of lore and legend going back more than 150 years ago, when it was used by loggers and trappers to transfer timber and furs onto Lake Michigan, where large ships could load it for transfer throughout the Great Lakes region.

One story that piqued my interest involved a trapper who brought in a huge load of furs one year and was paid in gold by the shipping company. With the pockets of his coat filled with gold coins, the trapper set off across the lake in his canoe, returning to his camp. As the story goes, a strong wind came up and he capsized midway across the bay, never to be seen again. Presumably, he sank to the bottom weighed down by his gold.

When I told this story to my brother, he was skeptical but agreed to be my buddy diver on a planned exploration of the lake. The day was warm and sunny, yet I felt a slight tingling of apprehension as I looked toward the bay where we would soon be diving — the fur trapper’s last resting place.

We tied up to a dead snag tree near the shore, geared up and began snorkeling toward the center of the bay. The bottom quickly dropped from sight. The top 5 to 10 feet of water were green-gold, colors created by the interaction of sunlight and lake algae. However, as I looked downward, the depths appeared opaque, heavy and black. Once we were well out into the bay, we deflated our BCDs and sank slowly, maintaining vertical positions and facing each other. Looking into my brother’s eyes behind his mask, I wondered if my apprehension was as obvious as his appeared to be.

At 30 feet, the water became noticeably colder and the ambient light, colors and visibility were diminishing rapidly. We assumed neutral buoyancy at just over 50 feet in a very dark and cold world far removed from the sparkling, warm and colorful dives we were so used to on our Caribbean trips.

Below us, we could make out the shapes of old logs lying on the bottom of the lake in a jumble. They were huge — 30 to 40 feet long and 3 feet in diameter — moss covered and somehow menacing. Was this where the trapper met his fate, sinking down amid these looming behemoths, clutching at his pockets to remove the gold that was of no use to him if his final resting place was at the bottom of the lake?

The whole scene was silent and eerie as I kicked down toward the sunken logjam to inspect the dark nooks and crannies between the logs. I had come here to see if I could find anything left of the old trapper; if he actually existed in anything other than legend. I looked back at my brother, who appeared ghostlike in the dim light, floating motionless above me. Again, I felt the tingle of apprehension, which was not relieved by the OK sign he signaled. I turned and went deeper into the labyrinth.

Moving cautiously through an open area formed beneath a teepee of sunken logs, I gasped into my regulator and flailed backward. There, in the shadowy clouds of silt that I had kicked up, was what appeared to be a body, floating horizontally amid the logs. I turned and bumped into my brother, who had dropped down to see if I was in trouble. Now all of my warning alarms were going off, but despite that, I was compelled to see if we had actually discovered the legendary trapper.

Giving my brother the “follow me” signal, I re-entered the dark area beneath the logs and we slowly approached the body. I wondered at the low roar I heard in my ears as we moved in before realizing that it was caused by my anxiety-fueled rapid-fire breathing that was sending up an almost constant cloud of bubbles. And then the body moved.

This time, my brother and I both gasped huge lungs full of air as we backed away, wondering what the hell we had gotten ourselves into. I signaled that we should surface, and we began our ascent while keeping an eye on the opening in the logs below. As the bottom slowly dimmed, we saw that the body was moving out of the logs and steadily rising toward us from the darkness below. I have to admit, all thoughts of decompression and safety stops left my mind and I was ready to bolt for the surface, when my brother grabbed my arm and started shaking.

At first I was alarmed, but I soon realized that he was shaking because he was laughing hysterically while trying to keep his regulator in place. What the hell? He pointed back toward the trapper’s body, which was now about 10 feet from us, and I saw that the “body” was actually a huge lunker sturgeon, who was now placidly staring at the two bubbling fools who had dared to enter its lair.

We had a good laugh at dinner that night, telling our story to the locals. But as we left for the night, one old guy said, “Laugh all you want, boys, but the part of the legend you don’t know about is that the trapper’s remains are supposedly guarded by a huge fish who will attack anyone trying to get to the gold. It’s probably a good thing that you backed off when you did.”

I glanced at my brother, who took one look at me and flatly said, “No way. We are not going back down there, you idiot!” And we never did.