Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 49.djvu/413

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
395
PEARLS AND MOTHER-OF-PEARL.

rending of a way from ear to nasal passage. Nearly all divers become partly or totally deaf. Incipient heart and lung troubles are quickly developed to a fatal end. Paralysis is often induced. Sharks occasionally devour the naked natives; such tragedies are not common, however, since the splashing and constant agitation of the water serve to keep them at bay—though, no doubt, the natives themselves would credit their immunity to the shark-charmer who accompanies each boat.

The native crews off Ceylon usually include ten divers, five of whom rest while the other five are diving. Each man has a diving stone, weighing perhaps forty pounds, to which is attached a rope long enough to reach the bottom, and having a loop for the foot. The diver slips his foot into the loop at the sinking stone, inhales a full breath, compresses his nostrils with his left hand, raises his body as high as possible, and sinks swiftly to the bottom, feet foremost. The average depth for native divers is fifty feet, the greatest depth about seventy-five. The naked diver must work with great rapidity, as he can remain at the bottom only about fifty-five seconds. In spite of stories of divers remaining below for three or four minutes, the best divers rarely reach eighty seconds, and few exceed sixty. In this brief period such shells as can be secured are thrust into the shell-bag, net, or basket, the tender in the boat is signaled by the line attached, and the diver assists his own ascent by seizing the bag line as it is drawn up.

In the Persian Gulf the ancient custom of stopping the ears with cotton saturated with oil and closing the nostrils with pincers of tortoise shell is still in vogue. But the primitive method of diving is now being superseded by scientific diving in the modern diving dress. This consists of a rubber-cloth suit in one piece from foot to neck. The hands are bare, the elastic wristbands of the dress hugging tight enough to exclude water. The neck is large, of course, to admit the body after the feet and legs. The diver once in this dress, the neck is fastened between the double rims of a brass corselet, and then a big copper helmet is set over the head and screwed to the corselet. The helmet has glass windows at each side and in front, an air-tube entering at the back through which air is supplied by a pump worked by a couple of men in the boat, and a valve at the side for the outlet of vitiated air. The armored diver wears leaded canvas or leather boots weighing fifteen or sixteen pounds, and a couple of heart-shaped leaden plates over chest and back weighing twice as much more. He has a life-line fastened to his right foot and then by a slip-noose about his waist. This life-line is held by a "tender" in the boat who answers signals: one jerk, pull up; two, more air; three, lower bag.