C) Sponge Diving - The trip
The trip had begun. No much time for rest and sleep, the responsibilities had been assigned. Each man was necessary; the cook, the washer, the diver and the rest of the crew.
The ships usually sailed in fleets. In any fleet, one could find many small sponge boats, which carried the men responsible for sponge fishing. In each group, there was a cargo ship, which carried the sponges, the food and other essentials.
The diving techniques have evolved during the last decades. At first, a small glass boat glass was searching for sponges on the sea ground. Once sponges were spotted, the diver, got prepared to dive. He dove naked (“skin diving”), having in his hands a big stone (called “Skandalopetra” or “revera”) that helped him reach the sea ground. He didn’t have much time underwater. When he sensed that the oxygen in his lungs was running out, he had to emerge.
This method wasn’t very effective, so it was replaced by another one, where the diver started carrying with him an air tube, through which he could breathe (called “fernez” method). He also held a rope that he used to make signals to the ship when something went wrong. A man on the ship was responsible for the supervision of this tube. The boat followed the direction of the diver.
As the years passed by, sponge diving methods got improved. On some boats, the divers started wearing a diving suit, with a helmet (“skafandro”).
The basic problem with the previous two methods was that, because of the fact that the diver had to stay long underwater, nitrogen accumulated in his body. If he emerged too fast, the nitrogen stayed in his blood and created clots (so called decompression sickness). As a consequence, the diver suffered unbearable pain and numbness, leading to a temporary or even permanent paralysis or death. This led to the loss of many sponge divers, who were buried in beaches close to the place of work or carried home and buried by their families. This phenomenon also gave birth to a dance called “the dance of the mechanic”, dedicated to all these lost people.
Today, sponge divers dive using either “revera free diving” or “nargile” (a compressor on the boat continuously supplies them with oxygen).