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Exploring the World Beneath the Waves

Exploring the World Beneath the Waves, Sept/Oct Cape Cod Life |

Photograph by Dan Cutrona

Of Splashdowns and Frogmen

Bill Jeter of Hyannis was a Navy frogman, before they even had SEALS. Jeter (pronounced JeTT-er, not Jeet-er) always carries two of everything, for backup and for safety. It’s his Navy training.

“I carry two computers, two knives, at least two lights,” says Jeter, a calm, soft-spoken man who at age 73 still makes at least 200 dives a year. “Two regulators, a backup system, a bailout bottle.” Little computers he wears on each hand monitor time, temperature, depth, and heart rate; diving is all about preparation.

Jeter joined the Navy when he was 18, and the training still informs his decisions. Another reason he’s extra careful: In the past five years he has lost two friends to diving accidents.

Frogman training in Virginia in  1959 was intense. Jeter describes six- and even 10-mile surface swims, navigating miles underwater in the dark, and running through an obstacle course with real bombs going off. At a time when the space race dominated the national consciousness, Jeter was one of the trained frogmen who would assist the Gemini astronauts after Pacific Ocean splashdowns.

After the Navy, Jeter raised a family in Pennsylvania, where for 34 years he ran a clinic helping individuals struggling with drug and alcohol addictions. He has two sons and eight grandchildren. He moved to the Cape full time in 2009 with his wife, Sylvia, because, he says, “It was our favorite place to come on vacation.”

Jeter enjoys all manner of dives. While he does plenty of saltwater dives—he cites wrecks in Vineyard Sound and rocky areas off Nauset Beach in Orleans as favorites, as well as shore diving from Woods Hole—he’ll also mix it up. He enjoys freshwater dives at places like Hathaway’s Pond in Hyannis and Sheep’s Pond in Orleans, and even gets into caves and caverns at quarries when he visits Pennsylvania. Then there are the night dives, cave dives, and winter dives under the ice.

“I like to go places where not many people go. And then—go slow,” says Jeter, who enjoys observing the color and movement of the peaceful, easy scenes he drifts over.

Thousands of dives have done nothing to diminish his enthusiasm. “There is a mystique,” he says. “It’s different. Quite mysterious. If you have curiosity in you, you want to see things.”

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