Diving deep into life

Jeff Adams poses in his Scuba Adventure shop on Jefferson Street.

Jeff Adams poses in his Scuba Adventure shop on Jefferson Street.

For two years of his life Jeff Adams lived in the Bahamas on a deserted island called Great Stirrup Cay.

For days on end he wouldn’t see a soul. He spent his time spearing fish, drinking coconut milk and swimming in the sea. A little hut protected him from the wind and sun. “It was great. Very low stress,” he said.

When the ships didn’t make it in, Adams had to find his own food. “I can live off the land and sea,” he said.

He was the first person to live on the island and set up the diving program for Norwegian Cruise Lines. Periodically ships would anchor outside the lagoon and disembark up to 2,000 passengers for a day’s worth of play. When that happened, it was Adam’s job to provide snorkeling gear and safeguard the swimmers — not always an easy task.

“I would rescue three to four people every week on average,” he said.

One day when he had run out of provisions and was particularly starving, he had just picked up a grilled burger when he noticed a lady drowning. Instead of setting it down, he stuffed the entire sandwich in his mouth and raced toward the sea, chewing all the way.

“I was so hungry,” he said.

Another passenger observed: “I guess you’re here for more than us to look at.”

He weathered many storms, including a doozy that nearly trapped 250 cruise line passengers on the island when the hatch to their landing craft was broken by the high waves. “They didn’t know how bad the situation was,” he said.

That day the weather was calm, but the sea was building. Adams tried to tell the captain via radio he thought the weather was going to be a problem. “But he told me: ‘I’m the captain! I’ll decide!’ He was determined to come ashore,” he remembered.

Ultimately Adams approached the ship in his small dive boat to collect steel come-along chains he could use to secure the broken hatch. Although the plan worked, it wasn’t very easy as workers struggled to load the heavy chains in the 20- and 30-foot ocean swells.

When Adams left in the horrendous downpour, the ships deck hands attempted to load some food on his boat. “They were just lobbing the boxes of food onto the heaving deck. Milk and eggs and everything else had busted open,” he said.

Eventually the island lifestyle began to change him.

The chief executive for NCL told him: “Jeff, I think we have get you off this island, or you’re going to have a tough time readjusting to civilization.”

It was true.

After years of breathing the crisp Caribbean air, the smog of the ship and harbor seemed unpleasant and intense. And he still prefers to be barefoot.

“My feet hurt wearing shoes,” he admitted.

Eventually, after the years he spent in the Caribbean, he decided to return home to Missouri and his parents. He’s been here since 1987, running his Scuba Adventure shop, 901 Jefferson St.

He and his fellow divers practice at three quarries he owns on 140 acres south of Jefferson City. The quarry is home to an unusual freshwater jellyfish.

“It’s rare, but there were thousands there this summer,” he said.

One of his favorite annual events — an “Underwater Haunted Halloween Dive” — just occurred last month. To spook the divers, Adams and his helpers fog the entire quarry, set tiki lights adrift on the surface, hide scary scenes under the water and play creepy music.

Divers pay $20 to cover the night’s expenses, he said.

Scuba Adventures not only sells scuba equipment and offers classes at the YMCA pool, the shop also offers local guided trips every month.

And Adams works as a catamaran captain taking small groups to exotic locales like Bonaire and Fiji. His specialty is taking vacationers to places they would never see as ordinary tourists.

His favorite places are the sand flats in the Bahamas where the ocean’s shallow floor is visible for miles and starfish and barracuda swarm. He usually heads to a reef, covered in plants and corals, perched above the ocean’s depths.

“The best time to go is in the summer and fall,” he said.

Recently he came across a funnel from an 1800s wreck that he thinks no one has ever explored before. He wants to revisit the wreck again, to look for treasure.

“There’s a good chance nobody ever goes there,” he said.

For Adams, scuba diving has been a lifelong passion, ever since he first dipped his fins in the water as a student. Although his original life plan was to be a court stenographer, he’s probably saved himself thousands of hours in boring courtrooms by turning toward the ocean instead.

His dream is to return to the islands for good.

“I’m ready to go south and get out of the cold weather,” he said.

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