The Pull of the Deep
Written by: Brendon Tan Xing Ming
Photos by: Darren David Hideo Hamilton-Shimmen
Grey skies hung right above the Singapore straits. The ocean breeze gently touched his face, his cheeks cool. The sound of the oceans waves, heavy, was burgeoning beneath his feet. Strong currents and bad visibility awaited him below. This did not faze him; rather a calming invita- tion to dive right in. He puts on his diving helmet, secured it and checked for any discrepancy in his life support system.
He knew he was going to be under the depths of the ocean for quite a while. He kept still and silent for a few seconds. He held on to his diving helmet and plunged into the abyss.
“If you have what it takes and are not afraid of death, than get yourself certified as an advance and stress rescue diver.” says Darren.
Darren David Hideo Hamilton-Shimmen is 28 years old and unlike most people his age, he isn’t stuck in a cubicle in some swanky office in the central business district,
tediously typing away on some Excel spreadsheet waiting for Friday night to arrive.
Rather, his Fridays and most of his working days are actually spent underwater.
Darren is a commercial diver; a job, which he describes, isn’t really a job for him as diving is his passion and hobby.
“We are different from sport divers,” the usually soft-spoken man stressed as he differentiated his demanding job from the usual casual image of divers that we are so used to.
Well versed in the job that he does, he explained the many different types of commercial divers out there. From inshore divers who work in the river, lake and aquarium dwelling, to offshore divers who work in the open seas.
On the other hand, saturation divers work at dangerous depths for long hours while the salvage divers, as its name suggest, recover anything under the ocean, including dead bodies.
Darren is both an inshore and offshore diver and does most of his work underwater doing maintenance work of all kinds for his subsea company.
His work included welding and cutting of oil rigs and other seabed installations to polishing and scrubbing of ship hulls. Occasionally, he does inspection work, which allows him to do some photography and CCTV surveillance. His job scope is diverse and definitely challenging. But that is precisely why he loves his job.
“I wanted to do something more challenging, dangerous and fun. Not many people are cut out for this job.”
He gave an example of his time as an inshore diver when he was working at his previous company, Underwater World Singapore Pte Ltd. at Sentosa.There, he got the chance to not only dive for a living, but also deal with many different animals and fishes like the sea otters and matinee. In just a year at Underwater World, he passed a senior diver test and was promoted to Senior Diver.
It is a test in which even divers with years of experience find hard to get through either because of the tiresome nature of the work needed or because they were simply unable to handle or are afraid of the dolphins.
“One of my most memorable dive ever was with the pink dolphins, when I had to scrub their pool. Seeing the magnificent mammals swim past me was very therapeutic and relaxing to me.”
You could say that Darren was a natural at his first diving gig at Underwater World.
So it was only fitting that the adventurous thrill seeker would eventually go on to do something more demanding and a lot more dangerous. Hence the change to become a commercial diver for a subsea company where he has to sometimes deal with extreme bad weather, strong currents and choppy water to and even zero visibility at the seabed.
Most people can’t even handle pitch- black darkness in a room, let alone be put a few hundred metres below in freezing water.
“Difficulties like swimming in zero visibility at the seabed is a real thing. I still shut my eyes and use just my hands to survey the seabed. This helps medeal with the fact that it’s pitch black down there.”
But it is not all about diving for the 28 year old; Darren actually graduated with a Diploma in Digital Animation from the Institute of Technical Education (ITE). Back then; he aspired to be a concept designer. At that time, the digital animation industry was still in its developing stages with many recognised animation schools and studios moving out and closing down due to the government attempting to develop the industry. He knew a future in this industry was uncertain.
After completing national service, he managed to get a job as an interior designer for a few years. But this did not last because of boredom and his inability to handle the stressful, hectic, and noisy environment of working in a shopping mall. He decided enough was enough.
“I missed the outdoors, so I decided one day to take up diving to become a dive instructor. When I got my license to swim in open water, my Dad told me about commercial diving. From there I dropped the idea of becoming a designer to become a commercial diver.”
Being a commercial diver means leaving behind the safety of a normal typical 9-5 job and he will have to sacrifice time on the weekends. It is also stressful and physically demanding due to the large amount of manual labour needed.
To counter the work stress. Darren indulges in music and film during his free time. He makes sure to catch the first screening of a movie in the theatres in the morning. He loves the solitude, peace and quiet away from all the talkative general moviegoers. He also spends his free time fiddling with computer parts and catching up with the latest in computer technology.
But it’s not all-hard work; there is also much awesome spectacle to take in as a commercial diver.
He had the fortunate chance to dive in the open waters around Marina Bay Sands for a job in August where rehearsals of the National Day Parade 2015 (NDP) were happening. He was able to get up-close personally with the many gunships – Chinooks, Blackhawks, F15s and F16s – as they performed their fly past practice at
low altitude. It was simply an amazing and spine-chilling experience for him. There is without a doubt that Darren does not regret the rather unusual career choice he had picked and carved for himself. He believes that in life, you simply have to love what you are doing. That if you were to die, it’s best if it’s from what you love doing. And that love to Darren, is diving.