A Year Underwater …Book Review

“There’s nothing I love as much as spending time on, under, or near the water with family and friends, and I hope to keep doing so well into my hundreds,” says Jerry Shine. In his new book, A Year Underwater, Shine takes the reader on a yearlong voyage in the oceans along the East Coast. Yes, in the oceans, not on them.

No matter the age we are now, at one time or another many have looked out at the water and wondered, what’s down there? Shine answers that question while providing some amusing stories along the way. Dive by dive, the reader is tanked up alongside Shine as he braves the elements and provides amazing descriptions and observations of the life that lives below the surface of the ocean.

His passion for diving began when he received a snorkel mask at age five. He writes, “I do not remember a whole lot about what happened after that, but no doubt, I put it on, walked outside and right into the lake.” Today, Shine is both a writer and an accomplished underwater photographer currently living in Somerville, MA, and this is his third book. He has also written and published for a number of magazines, including Audubon, Wired and National Geographic Adventure.

Traveling up and down the eastern seaboard, Shine has dived in many places known and many more unknown, or less visited than most dive spots. His dives could be in the best of environments, and also the worst. Diving throughout the year, especially in the dead of winter, dealing with frigid water temperatures, extreme tides, water hazards and man-made obstacles, Shine has seen and experienced it all. And, still, with all of the conditions being what they are, the question he is asked most, no matter where he is diving is: So what did you see down there? That question still makes him pause to think of a good response.

Beginning in Eastport, Maine, in the dead of winter, Shine and two friends stand on a gravel ramp adjacent to the remnants of the old pier. He describes both the look and feel of the place with a deft eye, clearly demonstrating he has been here many times. The large turn of the century brick buildings, with dim lights in some windows, bright lights in others and blackness in many, are the backdrop and very much part of the dive. In all the other places this book takes the reader, Shine’s story is not only about what is under the water, but also what is around it. The place makes the dive, and the dive and place together make the experience unique, challenging and memorable.

The book, in four chapters following the seasons of the year, is not a photographic journal, but more a guide by way of the anatomy of a dive. The heavy gear, the time and weather of the day, dive companions, life philosophies and, of course, what is seen under the surface are all here. In addition to Maine, Shine spends time at dive sites in Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, North Carolina, and the St. Lawrence River in Quebec, Canada. All of the stories are unique and interesting to follow, but it was with the dives made in Maine, that I was most enchanted. Given my proximity to these shorelines, and my ever-casting eye out across the water, I too, find myself wondering what’s out there.

Shine describes in the finest of details life under the water that many of us will never see, and makes it exciting to discover. The nudibranch, a sea slug that baffles the senses with extraordinary colors and shape, with which Shine is especially fond and has photographed throughout his life, are found in many of the dives. There is also plenty of other life he describes adeptly, almost as if he is describing his best friend. From the most delicate of anemones to a ferocious looking, now tamed, wolf fish of Buckman Head, Eastport, a celebrity amongst divers familiar to the area, affectionately named Gene. There are starfish, octopus, eels, and schools of fish, turtles, and squid, yellow sponge fish and flat tunicates all here within an amazing backdrop of kelp, seaweed and coral that sustain and protect all of it. In Shine’s words, “it’s sometimes like a Jackson Pollock has come to life underwater.”

And, there is a shark encounter. Did someone say shark?

I have to admit I lingered on this page. Here, in Maine, many assume waters are too cold or just not “shark friendly”. But, while diving at Gleason’s Cove in Perry, Maine, Shine is surprised by a seven-foot shark. Asked about the encounter, Shine said, “I was kneeling on the gravel, and I looked up into the water in front of me and realized it was suddenly getting darker for no apparent reason. Then, the shark’s head materialized out of the gloom two or three feet in front of me. It veered off instantly and swam by within inches.  I could see its gills fluttering and every scratch and scar along the side of its body until it disappeared.  It was a porbeagle — kind of a mini-great white — about seven feet long. I’ve been diving around Washington County for about 20 years and that’s the only shark I’ve ever seen there. It really startled me the way it came out of the gloom, but was an incredible experience.” This brief encounter is another example of those mysteries we often think about when we look to the sea, wondering what is out there.

So, what did you see down there? One can easily imagine after reading this excellent book and spending a year diving with the man, how Shine might answer that question going forward. With a slight smile bordering on a smirk, Shine would now probably say, “Read the book.”

Blue Sphere Pubs, 2017      Softcover, $16.95

RJ Heller

About RJ Heller

Having arrived here from Pennsylvania over four years ago, there has been plenty to learn and even more to observe. This place is different, but I mean that in a good way. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I am a college graduate with a teaching degree, a business founder and seller, and a father of two children with my wife Stephanie; life has been full and somewhat adventurous, but finding Maine remains a high watermark in my life.