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Setting the Hook: A Diver's Return to the Andrea Doria Paperback – December 14, 2011
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From Kirkus Reviews
A deep-sea diver explores shipwrecks and his own character in this gripping scuba memoir.
Hunt (Angles of Attack: An A-6 Intruder Pilot’s War, 2002) revisits 30 years of shipwreck dives, a pastime whose lugubrious allure is only heightened by his vivid descriptions of the dangers. Chief among these are the hulks themselves, full of ensnaring electrical cables and silt, all of which becomes an impenetrable, disorienting cloud at the kick of a fin; one wrong turn in these pitch-black labyrinths, and a diver can be trapped in a watery tomb. Then there’s the sheer physiological challenge of penetrating an alien environment where breathing itself is a high-tech feat rife with fatal glitches. Carbon dioxide can build up to asphyxiating levels; nitrogen first intoxicates and then bubbles out of the blood to cause the bends; even oxygen becomes toxic and induces convulsions. Hunt’s well-paced narrative is full of underwater panics, nerve-wracking escapes and rescues that sometimes end in failure and death. He structures it around his dives to the wreck of the Italian cruise ship Andrea Doria, which sank in 240 feet of water off Nantucket in 1956—he includes a riveting account of the disaster and the blunders that caused it—and remains a magnet to divers because of its difficulty and wealth of fine china and other loot. Along the way he presents a lucid, engrossing study of the art of diving, introducing readers to the arcane gear, the constant attention to breathing, buoyancy and “situational awareness” the sport demands and the complex decompression routines that make surfacing take twice as long as the dive. Hunt’s three decades of Andrea Doria excursions also frame an affecting story of maturation and limits, as he ages from a strapping, reckless youth to a more cautious man in physical decline—a transformation that prepares him for the onset of Parkinson’s disease with the knowledge that “dying slowly is hard work.”
Hunt’s taut scenes and meticulous prose will have readers holding their breath, but his saga probes hidden depths as well.
...fascinating read of true adventure, very much recommended.-The Midwest Book Review
...excellently written, well structured, and superbly proofed...fully delivered on the diving, adventure and technical fronts, but it was the human angle of the author's very personal journey that elevates this much recommended book. -C. H. Blickenstorfer, scubadiverinfo.com
Peter Hunt’s engaging memoir...offers a thoughtful perspective of America’s wreck diving scene. -Simon Rogerson, British Sub Aqua Club (BSAC) SCUBA Magazine
...heartfelt and inspiring story of diving, the fragility of life, and a reflection on our humanity.-Dive News Network
...two books in one...a story of camaraderie, conflict, drama, success and failure in early technical diving, and also one man's personal struggle… thought-provoking…highly recommended.” Jesper Kjøller, DYK – The Scandinavian Dive Magazines
...the story of a wreck diving pioneer and the personal story of a man…Setting the Hook is a great read…well written…a great diving book, but an even better people book. -Charles George, Wreck Diving Magazine
…enthralling personal account…unique perspective…gripping subplot...-Undercurrent Magazine, Editor’s Pick of the month
A “Must-Pack Book” for your next dive vacation. -Sport Diver Magazine
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Author Peter M. Hunt is a retired Navy and commercial pilot who as a young college student in the early 1980s crewed on the dive charter Wahoo that made regular trips to the Andrea Doria. Hunt dove the Doria several times and therefore knows what he's talking about. And the record of his personal friendships with some of the principals of that era adds to the fabric of written Doria history. The special angle of this book is the author's resolve to return to the Andrea Doria almost 20 years later, after life had gotten in the way, taking him away on a military career that included deployment in the first Gulf war. Much has changed inbetween, from the wreck itself, to deep and technical diving methods and technologies, and to the man himself who is now older and has a wife, career, and children.
Setting the Hook (the title refers to crew diving down to the wreck to set the anchor, or "hook") alternates between four eras in time. There's the 1956 sinking of the Andrea Doria when she collided with another ship, the Stockholm, about 50 miles south of Nantucket and 100 miles east of New York City in a freak accident where blame is still being discussed over 50 years later. The slow sinking and rescue efforts (all but 51 of the 1,700 onboard were saved ) is well documented, and the Hunt does a fine job describing the tragic event in considerable detail. There are several chapters devoted to the author's dives to the Doria in the early 1980s, recapturing the almost carefree thrill and camaraderie among crew and divers, portraits of the near legendary crew of the dive charter Wahoo (Steve Bielenda, Janet Bieser, etc.), gripping descriptions of dives and penetrations, including some of the tragic accidents and fatalities.
There are chapters describing the intense training the author, by now pushing 40, required in 2000 and 2001 to reacquaint himself with deep diving and getting his trimix certification. Here you find interesting information on trimix training and use, as well as description of at times harrowing dives in the cold Pacific Northwest.
Then there's the section about meeting old friends again, as well as the Wahoo and its crew, now 20 years older, too. The trip back to the Doria -- the diver's return -- brings a surprise that's very much in line with the overarching theme of this book, that of life's early thrills and drives, the later reflections and efforts at recapturing the magic, dealing with the conflicting priorities of passions, career and family, and finally being able to see everything in perspective.
While there are parallels between Kevin Murray's Deep Descent (published in 2001) that's loosely organized along a timeline from the ship's sinking in 1956 to approximately 2000 and primarily an account of the grand wreck and the people drawn to it, in Setting the Hook the ship, while a strong presence, is almost incidental. It is about life, youth, growing up, the many directions we're pulled. But unlike many books discussing life's issues, this one never wanders but maintains a laser-sharp focus on Hunt's own personal Mount Everest. Which means you essentially get two books in one; the story of a man's way of dealing with life, and a first rate account of diving the Andrea Doria and all that it involves.
But that's still not all. While hinting that there may be more than meets the eye early in the book, at the end we learn that the author was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson's Disease in 2005, at the age of only 43. That puts perspective -- the main theme of "Setting the Hook -- onto a whole different level.
Like an increasing number of books these days, Setting the Hook appears to be self-published. That is generally a bit of a red flag for me. Most of us are still so accustomed to the flawless editing, proofing and layout of professional print publishers that the new era of self-published efforts all too often yields unpleasant surprises.
Hunt, very much to his credit, avoided all the self-publishing pitfalls. Setting the Hook is excellently written, well structured, and superbly proofed. There isn't a single error anywhere. That's quite an accomplishment by and in itself. Also nice are almost 40 pictures throughout the book that illustrate the narrative. While they are black and white and thus cannot convey the colors and lack of it underwater, inserting them in the right spots greatly adds to the reading experience.
I greatly enjoyed reading Setting the Hook. The book initially caught my attention because of the scuba and Andrea Doria theme (and the great cover). It fully delivered on the diving, adventure and technical fronts, but it was the human angle of the author's very personal journey that elevates this much recommended book above a mere description of events.
The main problem with the book is the author. First, he is not a good storyteller. One gets the sense that there are interesting dive stories, perhaps even insights, buried in his experiences. They just never quite make it to the surface. Because of his subpar storytelling skills. Second, the author's command of the English language is limited. Yes, he can write grammatically correct sentences but prose they're not. If there is a case to be made that not everyone should attempt to write a book, this is it. Peter Hunt is a pilot. He seems to be a fine man. But he should stay away from writing.
Toward the end of the book Hunt mentions that he has Parkinsons which is sad. Bad writing notwithstanding, he seems to be a champ and I hope he approaches the difficulties of his illness with the same attitude that he showed when flying for his country and diving with spirit.
I highly recommend this read as a journey into the human spirit, a journey beneath the waves of the treacherous Long Island Sound, a journey to the wreck of a glorious ship pulled under in her youth, never again to see the light of day, condemned to rot among the snagged fishing nets and bottom mud of a dark world. I am grateful for this man's generous sharing as he grasped at new technologies, as he confronted his past, and longed--as we all do--for the simple days we have taken for granted. Buy this now, and regret it not!!! It is an incredible story of challenge, of overcoming, of the great circle of life and time. In the end, it is the story of man himself: we are here to exist; to be the best we can be! Peter Hunt has met this God-given goal, and can be proud for all he has done! Thank you for including us all!
Part of what differentiates this book from others is how Hunt honestly examines his motivations, conflicts, joys, and fears, and the changes that the passage of time wrought. Even though I'm a non-diver, I found myself gaining insight not only about the author but about myself. For that alone, this book is worth reading, and re-reading. This is a book about far, far more than diving and I predict it will become a classic in its field.
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