Snorkeling—once more commonly referred to as skin diving, can be traced back over 5,000 years. Evidence dating back to 3000BC reveals the earliest known snorkelers in Crete, who used hollow reeds to breath as they went diving for sponges.
By 900BC Assyrian divers filled animal skins with air and carried them with them below the surface to breath. In 300BC the first diving bell apparatus was sponsored by Alexander the Great; an extremely heavy and cumbersome contraption, the dive bell allowed divers to breathe by trapping pockets of air during descent. Over two thousand years later, in 1538 diving bell advanced somewhat technologically, allowing divers to remain dry—a test performed in the Tagus river involving a large kettle, which was used to keep the divers dry and even return to the surface with a burning candle as proof of its effectiveness.
While the diving bell was useful for breathing underwater for extended periods, it afforded little mobility. By Aristotle’s time, he boasts of divers taking air from a surface supplied tube, which he assimilated to an elephant’s trunk.
By the 16th century, Leonardo da Vinci added a diving apparatus to his growing list of inventions. Starting with simple tubes leading to surface floats, he managed to fashion the concept into what would later become the first ‘self contained’ (SCUBA stands for Self Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus’) diving apparatus, along with sketches for webbed gloves, which would eventually lead to the design of fins.
While offering a greater degree of flexibility, it quickly became apparent that the diving bell apparatus utilizing surface supplied air proved too difficult to breathe beyond a few feet because of the increasing pressure. It wasn’t until 1771 that the invention of the first air pump by British engineer John Smeaton allowed pressurized air to reach divers at far greater depths.
By modern SCUBA equipment standards, all of the previous diving bell inventions could be considered various forms of snorkel, snuba and modern helmet diving. Rubbers and plastics forged the path for comfortable and effective fins, masks and goggles, with tempered glass improving safety for the diver. The advent of materials such as aluminum and titanium led to the development of modern tanks and equipment, better suited to the destructive corrosive nature of saltwater.
Cayman Islands Snorkel Guide
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