The morning of the first accident dawned sunny and bright, like most mornings in the Cayman Islands. On the dock, I pulled on an old dive skin left over from filming one of MARI’s annual documentaries. My name—Finola Fleming—was emblazoned in hot pink letters down the right leg. I tied the skin’s arms around my waist to keep them out of the way while I loaded my gear on my stepfather’s dive boat.
My stepfather is Ray Russo, former world champion freediver, now CFO of MARI, the non-profit oceanographic exploration foundation he and my mother run. My mother, Madelyn Anderson Russo, is the famous and highly accomplished ocean explorer who founded the institute. I recently joined the family business as marketing director and principal underwater photographer, a job that I love. Mostly because it requires me to dive every day.
I tucked my dive bag under the bench along the side of the boat to keep it safe and out of the way during the trip. The 36-foot Munson had been custom made for Ray back in his treasure-hunting days. Despite years of hard use in every ocean on earth, the boat still gleamed like new. Ray made sure of it.
I carried my scuba tanks on board and stowed them in the tank rack before going back for my photography equipment. “All set, Ray,” I said when I’d put everything away.
Ray and his lifelong dive buddy, Gus Simmons, were sitting in the twin captain’s chairs while waiting for me to finish loading up. Ray gave me a devilish grin. “Is that all you’re bringing, Fin? You sure you don’t need any more stuff? Another camera, a change of dive skin, some lip gloss?” He and Gus both laughed, and I laughed along with them.
“Women never travel light, do they, Gus?” Ray said. “What is all that stuff?”
Gus chuckled. “Looks like standard gear to me, boss. Just an awful lot of it.”
The two men had been best friends since they met one day on the playground. They’d started out in a battle for supremacy, giving each other black eyes, split lips, and torn clothing, before they realized they were evenly matched. After a lifetime of friendship, the two men were so close they often finished each other’s sentences and watching them dive together was like watching a single organism.
Ray was training for the dive he would be making for MARI’s upcoming annual documentary. They’d be doing a series of progressively deeper open water apnea dives. No tanks, no fins, nothing but their frail bodies against the cruel ocean depths. Ray and Gus wouldn’t be using any gear except a mask and an aluminum noseplug while training to freedive to 330 feet.
Down that deep, it’s dark. It’s cold. And it’s lonely.
Not to mention dangerous.