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During his career as a commercial diver, Tony Wells survived plenty of dangerous excitement, including two near-drownings, a deadly diving disease, illegal imprisonment and several treasure hunts for sunken gold. In a friendly and unassuming tone, Wells happily recounts his deep sea adventures and the wisdom they granted him in his riveting autobiography "Black Man under the Deep Blue Sea: Memoirs of a Black Commercial Diver in Southeast Asia."
Interview with Tony Wells
Black Man under the Deep Blue Sea: Memoirs of a Black Commercial Diver in Southeast Asia
Reviewed by for Reader Views (12/07)
Today, Tyler R. Tichelaar, Associate Editor of Reader Views, is excited to be joined by Tony Wells who is here to talk about his new book “Black Man Under the Deep Blue Sea.”
Tony Wells has gone from being the child of a broken family, to one who has overcome many challenges until he could succeed at becoming the only Black American Commercial Deep Sea Diver to work in the demanding Offshore Oilfields in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa in the 1980s and 1990s. Along the way, he not only became a terrific deep sea driver, but he learned about humanity. “Black Man Under the Deep Blue Sea” is his autobiography, and he is here today to tell us more about his incredible journey.
Tyler: Welcome, Tony. I’m glad you could join me today. I understand the great change in your life began when your family moved to Hawaii when you were fourteen. Would you tell us a little bit about what your life was like prior to that move?
Tony: Prior to moving to Hawaii I was happy with the quiet country-boy lifestyle where we spent most of our time fishing and hunting after school and on holidays. For me there was no better way for a kid growing up during that time.
Tyler: What about the move to Hawaii changed the direction of your future life?
Tony: Well, in Hawaii you’re on an island surrounded by the deep blue ocean so I found it only natural to be attracted to it via scuba diving and surfing. Since I’ve always been the adventurous type I found it easy to transform from exploring on land to exploring underwater. This all came natural to me.
Tyler: Did you take to scuba diving naturally?
Tony: Scuba diving was my means to explore and breath underwater so I took to that like a fish!
Tyler: What about it did you find so enjoyable?
Tony: It was like another world for me. A silent world that had unimaginable limitations and excitement and one which I greatly needed to explore.
Tyler: Lots of people go scuba diving. Why did you decide to transform it into a deep sea diving career?
Tony: Actually, when I was scuba diving in Hawaii I never imagined that I’d someday become a commercial deep sea diver working in the demanding offshore oilfields overseas. Scuba diving is a totally different world from commercial diving. When you’re out scuba diving you’re just out there enjoying yourself and having a good time, but when you’re working as a commercial diver, it’s not in the least bit fun anymore because you’re actually working and most of the time you’re under stress and pressure from above (the ‘topside’ personnel) to go down there and get a specific job done. You don’t have any time for enjoyment at all.
Tyler: What made you decide to become a deep sea diver? Did you ever dream of being something else?
Tony: When I was young we lived in Indianapolis, Indiana and the Indy 500 race track was about a half mile from my house so we could hear when the cars were practicing there. After my uncles brought me there to see the practice and races I knew my destiny in life was to become a professional race car driver. Several years later when my mom remarried to a military man we moved to Hawaii, and I made friends with some guys who raced on the oval dirt tracks there and helped them work on their cars so I still planned on becoming a race car driver someday. However, after I graduated from high school my family moved from Hawaii to California and I started going to college part-time and working a full time job. After a few years of doing this, I realized that I was bored and wanted to travel and do something more exciting for my work so I decided to enroll in the professional commercial diving course at Commercial Diving Center in Wilmington, CA.
Tyler: Deep sea diving has had its dangerous side for you at times. Will you tell us a little bit about those dangers and why despite the dangers, you still found it worthwhile?
Tony: Well, it’s just like any other profession, I guess. It does have its dangers but once you’re working underwater you just don’t have time to think about all the stuff that could possibly go wrong. The moment you start thinking about all of that is the time you shouldn’t be a commercial diver anymore.
Tyler: I understand you were a diver for many oil companies?
Tony: Yes, most of us were ‘freelance’ so that means that we would work for whatever diving company had a job or, if there were several simultaneous jobs, then we would work for whichever company was paying the highest.
Tyler: What exactly was the purpose of your work, and how did you deal with the stress of the demanding oil companies?
Tony: We did all the things that people do while working on topside jobs. The only difference was that we were doing them underwater. Mainly, we did oilfield support type work, so that involved working on oil rigs, pipe laying barges, crane barges, derrick barges and off of large boats, etc. Stress from the demanding oil companies was just another part of our job. For the guys who weren’t up to spec or who just couldn’t take it then they either would have been run off (fired) or they would just up and quit that profession.
Tyler: You have also been on treasure diving hunts. Will you tell us about those?
Tony: My most notable treasure hunt was when we were searching for the 500-year-old Portuguese ship named, “Flor do Mar,” off the coast of North Sumatra. That was really exciting and lasted for almost two years. Another time I was hired to find sunken smuggler’s gold off the coast of Pakistan by the Pakistan Government and that was pretty interesting also.
Tyler: How did you transition from working for oil companies into treasure hunting?
Tony: My roommate in Singapore knew some guys who were putting together a team to hunt for a 500-year-old Portuguese ship that sank off the coast of North Sumatra (Indonesia) so he invited me to join them. By that time I was more than happy to do something different and exciting besides the usual oilfield type work I had been doing for the past several years already.
Tyler: I understand that you were once illegally detained by a foreign government. Will you tell us a little bit about that event?
Tony: Well, that was basically a case of us being in the wrong place at the wrong time plus some corruption and greed made up for a combination that no one would have wanted to be caught up in at the time. That was off of a small island in Indonesia where just about anything goes if the circumstances happen to be all against you as was in our case.
Tyler: What kind of work were you doing at the time, and why did the Indonesian government become upset?
Tony: I had some good research on an English shipwreck that had sunk off of a small island in1789 that had lost ten chests of gold and silver coins so myself and a good friend of mine wanted to go and have a general look at the area to see if the project was viable or not. Unfortunately, a few days earlier there had been some other guys in that general area who were using explosives to salvage a steel shipwreck so when the Indonesian police saw us in that area, they assumed we were the ones who had been doing the steel wreck salvaging. Therefore, they took us in and detained us for questioning but even when they realized it wasn’t us, they started seeing dollar signs as a requirement of us getting released.
Tyler: Tony, how do you view your life? Your stories sound like the adventures of movies? Did you ever wish for a quiet life instead?
Tony: I view my commercial diving life as quite an adventure and when I look back on it all now, I can honestly say that I’m glad to have lived it. I’m also glad to have survived through some of the many close calls which I experienced on several occasions. Now that I’m older I like the quiet life but back in those days I enjoyed the excitement, explorations and adventures I went through. Yes, as a matter of fact, I do believe my book would make a hell of a great movie also! Haha.
Tyler: Tony, what made you decide to write “Black Man Under the Deep Blue Sea”?
Tony: Many years ago I realized that it’s so easy to forget things I had done the previous week, or even previous day sometimes, so for the past twenty or more years I’ve been keeping a journal because I like to remember everything that’s happened to me in my life. It’s not that I was all along planning to write my life’s story but when I did start remembering and re-reading about those wild and exciting adventures I’d gone through I decided that perhaps I should write my memoirs. I knew that if anyone loves excitement, adventures and humor that they should love reading my book.
Tyler: Why did you choose to highlight yourself as a black man in the title?
Tony: I am a Black American so when it came to choosing the title for my book it was really easy for me. I wanted it to be self-explanatory (Black Man) and also to sound exciting enough to catch the reader’s attention (Under the Deep Blue Sea). I’m hoping I’ve achieved that.
Tyler: Your book also talks about the things you have learned about life and people. What would you say is the “message” of “Black Man Under the Deep Blue Sea”?
Tony: Basically, what I’ve experienced during all my traveling is that most of the people of different races all over the world just want to be healthy, happy and have love in their lives. My message is that no matter what race or gender you are, don’t let ignorance or jealous people put you down or tell you what you ‘can’ and ‘can’t’ do in life. Anything is possible so if you want to do something just go out and do your best and do it. If my book can inspire just one person in this world I would feel quite satisfied and happy that I did write it.
Tyler: Tony, do you have any plans to write more books?
Tony: “Black Man Under the Deep Blue Sea” is actually my second printed book. My first book is titled, “Shipwrecks & Sunken Treasure In Southeast Asia” and it came as a result of the research I obtained during our search for the 500-year-old Portuguese ship, “Flor do Mar.” After that I wrote an ebook titled, “Cannon Journal—Compilation of info on bronze Asian & European Type Cannons (1500-1800’s).” If you’re a bronze cannon enthusiast then you would definitely love this book. Anyway, the answer to your question is a definite YES.
Tyler: Since you are no longer a deep sea diver, how do you fill your time now?
Tony: At this time I’m working full time for a company in Saint Petersburg, Florida, that makes the world’s only real-time 3D underwater sonar. That keeps me pretty busy. I’m also selling my motorcycle gear shifter cushion online and am planning on more marketing to be able hopefully to increase sales so I can do that full time one of these days.
Tyler: Thank you for joining me today, Tony. Before we go, will you tell our readers your website address and what kind of additional information they might find there about your book?
Tony: My pleasure, Tyler. My web site is www.tonywells.net and I have more information about my history, some photos of my family, and also some advice to up and coming writers and inventors there. I’m a part-time inventor so there’s a link to my motorcycle gear shifter cushion invention, Shiftcush. There’s also a link to my bronze cannons website. Enjoy!
Tyler: Thank you, Tony. I wish you many more adventures.