Thank you for your warm note [of congratulations]. When I first started diving shipwrecks in 1988 on Long Island the Andrea Doria was always the “big dive.” Long before technical diving, and rebreathers were being employed, the “Doria divers” were at the top of the craft. I was lucky to be around at that time and at the beginnings of the technical diving movement. I jumped on it and trained hard for four years to get to the Andrea Doria in 1992.
It was on that trip on June 25, 1992 (18 years to the day from this one) that lifelong friends have been made. But those friendships only solidified once I kept visiting the Andrea Doria. And those friends begot more friends. And some of those friends are no longer with us.
In 1993 I was crew on the Moyer Expedition aboard the Wahoo. That was a hard project to do. Billy Campbell and I rigged the 1,000 pound panels down the Winter Garden corridor in 220 feet of water. When those came up it was exciting. I could only imagine how many people had sat around them having a drink or a coffee sharing good times. But when this bell came up ….. it was a moment-stopper. Here I was on board the Explorer, on my expedition, standing with Gary Gentile, and my good friend Capt. Dave Sutton looking at what I immediately knew would change Carl and Ernie’s lives. It would become a media frenzy. It would be a lifetime moment for all on board. And, it was a deep sense of accomplishment of the culmination of my last 15 years work of introducing people to big shipwrecks. I was as proud of them as I would be of my own children.
I personally would never have found that bell. I gave up hard seeking for artifacts years ago when I began working the USS Monitor. So for two guys, who on their first trip got the bell on my expedition, nothing could be better–other than had my wonderful wife Kathy (#24 on the Doria Women’s Diver list) and my dear departed friend Tony Maffatone had been there.
On my drive home cross country I stopped at Evelyn Dudas’ house. (Evelyn was the first woman to dive the Andrea Doria in 1967.) It was an unexpected and surprise visit. The smile on her face was one I can never forget. Over dinner Evelyn, Michael (her son) and I poured over her late husband’s (John Dudas) Doria notes and documents and she realized that this bell was just a few feet from where her husband had recovered the compass binnacle so many years ago. This bell represented a connection for her to a long departed love.
The note I received from you was a highlight as well. These are the moments with people that make this bell so special for me. People. I can only hope that both Carl and Ernie see this fantastic find as one to do good with within the diving community and use it as a catalyst to share their love of shipwreck diving with others.
I will go back to the Andrea Doria as often as time and conditions allow. It’s a spectacular place to visit and I am fortunate to be among the few who get to see her from time to time.
With warm regards,