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Welcome to Dive Gear Reviews, a comprehensive guide to scuba diving equipment. Scuba diving is an expensive pursuit, so looking up reviews for a particular article of equipment is a wise precaution before investing any hard-earned money in it. However, consumer reviews may or may not be written by an experienced diver, and magazine reviews could be suspect due to the advertising ties of the publication in question. Dive Gear Reviews provides cross-referenced reviews assembled by an expert, making it possible to see at a glance what multiple sources said about a particular piece of scuba equipment. If one magazine loved a scuba regulator or a dive computer, but the consumers hated it, that information will be found here.

Dive Book Review: Dark Descent by Kevin F. McMurray

Written by Dive Gear Reviews Editor. Comments Off on Dive Book Review: Dark Descent by Kevin F. McMurray Posted in: Book and Film Reviews

Dark Descent is the second major wreck diving tale from Kevin McMurray, author of Deep Descent, one of the better books about the heyday of diving on the fabled Andrea Dorea. This book is focused on the Empress of Ireland, a liner wreck in the St. Lawrence, and little known outside of Canada and hardcore wreck diving circles.

From a divers point of view, reading about the Empress of Ireland is enthralling. For most non-Canadian divers, the story will be entirely new, that of a magnificent Edwardian liner that was struck by a collier in heavy fog and went down in 14 minutes, killing hundreds. This 1914 tragedy was major news for a time, but was soon overshadowed by the apocalypse of the First World War, which is perhaps why the sinking of the Empress of Ireland is not as well-known as that of the Titanic or Luisitania.

Equally attractive are technical aspects of diving on the Empress’s. The briny, semi-salty conditions where the ship lies, at the point where the St. Lawrence River becomes the Gulf of St. Lawrence, coupled with the icy waters has acted to preserve the vessel to some extent. Divers familiar with Great Lakes wrecks know about wooden vessels remaining almost intact for a century or more, preserved by the frigid fresh water. Imagine a similar effect on a huge Edwardian cruise liner, and you have the Empress of Ireland.

Balanced against that are the clear challenges of diving in water that hovers between just below and just above freezing, in a place with the Canadian Maritime’s highly unpredictable weather, where frighteningly strong currents can rush in, and on a ship that rests on its side at at an angle, so the top hangs over the bottom like a giant, lethal lean-to. McMurray does an able job of conveying this information to the reader, along with a sidelong glance at the history of diving, but telling the tale of divers on the Empress from 1914 into the modern era.

Compared to McMurray’s Andrea Dorea book, Dark Descent is actually a better book. McMurray himself is more a part of the story of the Empress, with the last third of the book devoted to his own expeditions to dive the liner. Because of the Empress’s status as a gem in the wreck diving rough, the stories of the major figures in its diving history seem cozy, those personalities soon become familiar, and McMurray’s own story an organic part of the whole. By contrast, his Dorea book is filled with the big names of the Mt. Everest of wreck diving, and McMurray’s own connection to the wreck is overshadowed, seeming tenuous and sometimes even forced.

If you liked Deep Descent or want to read about a magnificent wreck you’ve probably never heard of, buy this book.