Adventure, travel seen through local man's lensWaterman's life as sailor, writer, photographer
Steve Waterman is a man of many skills and intelligences. "I'm also an endless source of useless information," he said. From rescuing marine life to working in foreign countries and writing about his experience as a combat photographer in the Navy, the South Thomaston native has had eclectic experiences.
"I told my cousin, I haven't done a thing," he said.
Waterman's cousin said, "You've done stuff people only talk about!"
With this encouragement, Waterman started to put chapters together and the result was a memoir of his time in the Navy, "Just a Sailor," published in 2000. The memoir includes Waterman's Vietnam images of comradeship and combat.
Waterman said when he was 18, he just wanted to get out of Rockland. He joined the Navy and became a first class diver and photographer's mate. He attended Navy photography school in Florida and said he first became interested in photography when he worked in the darkroom of The Courier-Gazette for a summer when he was 16.
"I was basically lazy and photography seemed a lot easier than being on boats," he said.
Waterman started scuba diving when he was 12 — illegally, he added, because his mother didn't approve and thought it was dangerous.
Interest and experience with photography and diving in his youth shaped his career as an adult in the Navy.
Waterman served a six-month tour in Vietnam as a first class photographer's mate and first class diver with the Underwater Demolition Team 13. One memorable occurrence during his time in Vietnam was when a seven-foot sea snake attacked him, agitated by its reflection in Waterman's face mask. "It's one of the deadliest snakes, but a pretty animal," he said.
Waterman was honored with a hero medal for outstanding combat photography during his service. During his 21 years in the service he also attended airborne school and completed HALO (high altitude low opening) training.
After the service, Waterman worked various jobs from commercial fishing, underwater construction and employment with a company that developed the first decompression computer.
Marine adventures required skills Waterman acquired in the Navy, mainly diving. When he was lobstering and working on a seining crew, he received a call during supper from crew member Nate Miller. Miller jokingly told Waterman, "We got a big one, a whale."
The men decided to attempt to rescue the minke, which was caught in lobster gear. Waterman, Miller, marine writer Valerie Rough and an employee from the National Marine Fisheries Service gathered to aid the animal. Lobsterman Woody Post was with the whale when the motley rescue crew arrived. Post had spotted the whale while steaming back to shore from Metinic Island.
Waterman donned his scuba gear and a dry suit and swam to the animal. Attempting to sooth the exhausted whale, he touched her head and spoke softly. The 25-foot whale had rope wrapped through her mouth and tail. She was dragging three pairs of traps. Waterman was able to free the minke of some of the rope and when he tried to remove rope from her mouth, he asked the whale to open its mouth. "And she just opened her mouth and I pulled the rope out of the baleen," he said.
When the whale was free, Waterman said, "I heard her blowing going through the channel until it was silent."
Eleven years later, Waterman had another opportunity to assist a distressed whale, this time a 45-foot-long humpback. He estimated the whale weighed 50 tons. When Waterman got in the water, the whale pushed against him, trying to distance itself from human contact. "In the end, he figured out I was there to help." The whale approached the boat and accepted the aid.
The Coast Guard was present to assist in the rescue. "Now they'd have me arrested," he said.
He added, "I like whales better than I do most people."
In 1991, Waterman was asked to operate a remote observation vehicle in Pakistan on the Tarbela Dam. At the time, the dam was the largest in the world. "I think they lost 150 people building it," he said.
"They [the Pakistanis] all loved us, they really did," he said. "I don't care what they say."
Waterman met Pakistani divers at the dam and asked if they knew a Pakistani SEAL Waterman knew from the U.S. Excited, the divers said he was their instructor. "I know everybody," said Waterman.
In Heathrow Airport in London, traveling to Pakistan, he met Assad Mahmoud, an Afghan living in Toronto he befriended on the flight to Islamabad. "Being a good Muslim, he didn't drink... more than I did," he remembered.
Waterman didn't have contact with Mahmoud again until two days before Sept. 11, 2001. Mahmoud called to see how Waterman and his family were. After that casual conversation, they never spoke again. Waterman alerted the FBI but never heard more about the inquiry.
Waterman has written for publications such as Soldier of Fortune Magazine and been a feature in other media. "I was on the cover of Offshore Magazine, with two big lobsters. I never thought I'd be a cover girl," he said.
Waterman is working on a book of ghost stories of the water and a novel in his head that just needs an ending. "If I can get it out there, it'll be picked up for a movie," he said.
From writing to building a gyro plane, international travel and raising a family, Waterman has accomplished a lot.
When asked if there's anything he wants to do but hasn't yet, Waterman said, "Die and come back to life."