CHAPTER 7: THE JOURNEY - GETTING IT PACKED
Much like traveling with a child for the first time, you learn a lot during the maiden voyage with an underwater rig. Herein lies an unexpected challenge; you’ve added another entity to your travel caravan. Specifically, you now have another rolling bag to contend with. Whether carried-on or checked, it creates a a logistical puzzle. Let me explain.
Recognizing (though not fully) that my baggage had increased, I whittled my gear down to the minimum. At the risk of not having a backup of nearly every item, I aimed to minimize what I would need to carry (or pull).
For this first week-long trip, I combined laptop and camera bag into a single backpack. A Tamrac bag which seemed a bit “camera-biased” left ample room for more camera gear, but relatively little room for computer “accessories.” Dive gear, being both large and usually still damp when packed for the trip home, gets its own wheeled bag. (It “does not get along well with other luggage”.) Clothing - fortunately minimal for a tropical environment - fits into a small wheeled suitcase which would be checked. Housing, ports, strobe, and arms have their own wheeled case - a Pelican - which would be carried on (for obvious reasons).
Now, if you go back to that previous paragraph and count the number of times I said “wheeled”, you’ll see there are three. One wheeled case is a piece of cake. Two - one ahead of you and the other trailing behind - takes a bit of practice but is quite do-able. But three? Lacking a gear sherpa or genetic alterations for a third arm, this would take some creativity.
When I first began traveling on business a decade ago, everything about it was a novelty. Lacking status on any airline, even the dreaded middle-seat became a endurance test of survival and efficient use of space. Packing was done with military precision and plenty of “checks” in place to make sure nothing was left behind. As such, I would inevitably over-pack. I took a suitcase AND garment bag on nearly every trip; two wheeled cases.
To simplify the dual “wheelies” situation, I came up with a “train” approach by connecting (via luggage strap) the garment bag to the main suitcase. It was an effective solution to a self-imposed problem. Oh, and it was goofy-looking.
Now, with three such bags, I borrowed that approach once again. The smaller bag would “hitch” on to the back of the dive bag essentially leaving me with the more-manageable two-bag approach; a dive bag with clothing hitched, the other housing and accoutrements wheeled in front of me, and a camera/computer backpack. Piece of cake, right?
Airport security are probably the thinnest barrier to any actual danger, but they are also the thickest layer separating you from your aircraft. In a very McCarthy-esque way, criticism generates suspicion. As such, airline security employees are immune to your “feedback” since hostility could label you a terrorist (or, at the very least, a jackass). I’m sure we’ve all experienced moments when we wanted to truly share our feelings with an airline security staff member about their handling of… well, everything, but I think we also share that same fear of being pulled from the queue, with luggage and an ever-diminishing time to departure with connections to follow, and hauled into a room in the bowels of the airport for further “analysis”; the root of that word being one potential stop in their search. In short, if you mouth off, they can ruin your entire day even if they never quite manage to gather enough evidence to (further) detain you. They don’t need to be fast, or charming, or tolerant, or efficient, or even really all that effective, but they do need to be there. I’ve never felt as “secure” as I have “overwhelmed with inefficiency.”
I’ve had them confiscate tweezers, fingernail clippers, (the solution to both being to simply turn them vertically and wedge them - centered - to the inside edge of your carry-on which leaves an x-ray profile of what looks like a zipper or mechanism in the suitcase). Simple objects can cause such a scene. I still find it ironic that the plastic knives they give you in First/Business class on most airlines are SIGNIFICANTLY sharper than the metal versions ever were as the plastic ones are actually serrated. Yes, this rant has a purpose.
With the above in mind, now imagine what kind of monkey wrench gets thrown into the mechanism when the menacing shadow of an underwater rig passes across that X-Ray screen. If you time it correctly and put the rig in last, you’ll be through the metal detector, computer packed up, your shoes back on, etc., just in time to watch the sporadic movement of the conveyor belt come to a screeching halt. Now glance up and observe the look of utter confusion on the face of the x-ray technician. You can often see them tilt their head to the side to get a different perspective; much the same way my dog did when I asked him questions about my taxes. I really think passing the skeleton of an alien who is holding (what’s left of) Michael Jackson’s skull through the machine would yield a less shocked response than an underwater housing. If tweezers and fingernail clippers give them pause, I can just imagine what this thing conjures.
They’ll stare at the monitor, invert the image, adjust the exposure overall, sometimes even squinting slightly in the hopes of making sense of the Rorschactian image now before them. Usually, a second specialist will be summoned to stare at the same image arriving, not at an answer, but at the same question - what the hell is that?
When it’s clear that the screen won’t magically explain the odd collection of x-ray-absorbing shapes of various shades, out come those two nasty words “Bag check!” It is escorted out the end of the x-ray machine by a rubber-gloved individual who then inquires, “Whose bag is this?” “It’s mine”, you confess, dreading the the next few minutes; the presence of rubber gloves only serving to, once again, remind you of the “depths” they will go.
In my “case”, they politely asked if they could open it. “No, can you just let me get to my plane?” didn’t seem like the correct response, so I uttered a “sure!” with an undertone of surrender.
Unless the thing is obviously a bomb or a projectile-emitting device, the only thing they can really do is swab it with those makeup-removing pads, and stuff it in a machine. While he probably felt like he was being immune to curiosity, the whole kit must have looked like a Mission Impossible personal helicopter kit. He MUST have been as curious as the boy in the pool. He dutifully swabbed it with the explosive detector pads, all the while trying to figure out what it is. Turns out, its purpose is no more self-evident with the case open as it is through an x-ray.
Pretending it’s for official purposes, but really for his own personal edification, he gave in, “Sir, what is this?”
“It’s an underwater camera housing.” The response must have seemed bizarre since those three words in any other context have nothing to do with each other. I probably could have said “monkey-powered aluminum cribbage adjustor.” I’d have likely gotten the same reaction and given him about as much useful information.
I can’t - for a minute - believe this is the weirdest thing that’s ever been hauled through an x-ray machine. A variety of personal (aka “intimate”) devices and accessories, chains, whips, clips, and a myriad of obscure manufacturing and recreational items must surely pass through with some regularity. Throughout the career of any one TSA employee, how many underwater housings are they likely to see? They’ll never be “common,” and the odds of seeing and recalling the same brand of housing twice seems highly unlikely.
He continued to swab a bit more, all the while trying (unsuccessfully) to understand how all of the various pieces fit together. (Hell, I can’t remember how to put it together, he doesn’t stand a chance.) The swab came back clear. I closed the lid, and smacked the latches closed, and headed for the gate. My only threat now was to the serenity of the fish I now planned to strobe the following day.
Okay, my dramatic tone probably makes it sound worse than it was. It was fine, I just need to remember to add some “buffer time” in the schedule.
Clearing security, it was time to introduce my housing to salt water.
by Daniel Brown
Dome Port Diaries
The Adventures of a Newbie Housing Owner