Wait Until Dark
Header & Diving Photos by Gishani Ratnayake
Twenty meters down, I slowed my descent by squirting a puff of air into my buoyancy wing. I hovered just under the overhanging edge of the massive wreck. In contrast to the bright tropical sun streaming down from far above, the maw inside this upturned ship was in deep shadow. To venture inside was to go from day to night, and despite years of exploring shipwrecks, it always gave me pause to penetrate the bowels of one.
There’s nothing particularly dangerous about the Hilma Hooker, and indeed it sees hundreds of divers a year, due to its proximity to shore, warm water, and relatively accessible depth. The wreck rests at the bottom of a lush coral reef, hard on the sand at just over 30 meters. Most divers are content to kick along its hull, snap some hero shots near the propeller, and marvel at the huge tarpon and barracuda that spend the daylight hours hovering in the shadows. But somehow, the yawning darkness inside beckons—hollowed-out cargo holds and engine room, long empty compartments that once purportedly held contraband drugs before the ship was seized, abandoned, and then mysteriously sunk. I hesitated, then switched on my powerful dive torch and swam into the darkness.
Truth be told, I wasn’t really penetrating the Hilma Hooker to search for sunken treasure. I’d been inside this wreck many times before, in over a dozen trips to Bonaire. I had a different, more quixotic goal: a lume shot of the watch on my wrist. You see, I was wearing the Citizen Promaster Aqualand, ref. JP2007-09W, a new version of the vaunted Aqualand line with a black PVD case and fully luminescent dial. It is a watch that truly comes into its own in the dark.
Since 1985, the Aqualand has been prized by divers as a legitimate instrument, due to its integrated depth gauge. There have been many iterations of the Aqualand since its groundbreaking introduction close to 40 years ago. Some have had larger digital displays or dual digital screens, while others had fully analog depth gauges. But to me, the original form factor remains the quintessential Aqualand. The mid-80s saw a transition period for dive watches. The digital dive computer was on the verge of revolutionizing scuba diving, with its ability to track depth and dive time and calculate no-decompression times on the fly. The old analog dive watch was soon to become obsolete.
When the original Aqualand debuted, it was revolutionary, the first of its kind and, in some respects, also the last of the true tool watches. Its classic analog dial and rotating timing ring was familiar, but then the left side of the case bulged prominently with the depth sensor, and the top of the dial taken up by a multifunction digital display. Activating the dive mode before descent would track current and maximum depths, total dive time, and log statistics for later reference. Subsequent evolution of the Aqualand bettered battery life and introduced a rapid ascent alarm to protect a diver from pulmonary embolism and decompression sickness.
It was, and is, an eminently capable and useful tool, while becoming something of an emblem of a diver, recognizable on the wrist across a dive boat or airplane aisle, like some kind of secret fraternal ring. The watch has since earned a place in the canon of great historic dive watches, next to the Rolex Submariner, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms, and Omega Seamaster. You still see the Aqualand in use to this day on the wrists of professional and recreational divers alike, including some military dive units.
There have been lume dial Aqualands in the past, most notably the Aqualand Duplex C500 of the late 1990s. There was also a black-cased PVD version of the original Aqualand, famously worn by Jean Reno in the movie, “Le Grand Bleu.” The new JP2000-09W pays tribute to both of these legends with a matte black case, fully luminescent yellow dial and bright white markers.
It is the Aqualand so many of us were waiting for, but didn’t know we wanted. It is both deeply joyful and fun, and also the most tactical and serious looking of any Aqualand. It remains a suitable backup instrument for a diver, or for recreational use, a primary tool for tracking depth and dive time. The quartz caliber C520A inside keeps predictably accurate time, in two time zones if you wish, via the analog hands and separate digital display. Synchronizing the sweep hand with the digital seconds is part of the fun of setting this watch. In addition to its dive functionality, the digital module also sports a stopwatch, date display, and alarm. The watch comes mounted on a supple black composite rubber strap, vented to take up slack over a compressed wetsuit sleeve, and plenty long for just about any wrist.
There is something special about a fully luminescent dial on a watch. While perfectly legible in the daylight, come darkness it becomes a party trick, a small thrill, and a source of unmitigated, child-like glee. It makes one want to hide under the blankets with a flashlight or, in my case, to swim into the forbidding darkness of a shipwreck. As I went further inside, my shoulders brushed past tendrils of organic growth and I had to twist my body to squeeze my air cylinder through a narrow passage. Then, head first, I plunged into the abyss, my torch guiding my way, while my left wrist glowed reassuringly. I cast my beam of light around the interior. The cargo hold seemed to go on forever, the far end beyond my torch’s reach. The shipwreck lay heeled over on its starboard side, so that its interior was like a creepy funhouse—what’s up is down and down is up— with only my exhaled bubbles telling the truth.
Movement in my peripheral vision made me flinch. A big green moray eel gaped its jaws from a crevice, no doubt disturbed by this large, noisy intruder. The digital display on the Aqualand read close to 30 meters. I was near the bottom of the wreck, inside. This was no place for the living, or at least those with a limited air supply. I aimed for the square of faint light above—my exit—and slowly ascended. Back in the day-lit exterior of the wreck, I checked my pressure gauge. Time to swim back to shore. With one final look at the wreck, I swam up and over the top of the reef, getting shallower until my head popped up near the beach, in blinding sunlight. Another dive for the books. Then I remembered my Aqualand. I had forgotten all about the lume shot. It would have to wait for another trip. Or at least until bedtime.
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