Some businesses struggle to stay afloat. Not Zech Bennett. His focus is on staying beneath the surface.
As the owner and operator of C&C Diving and Salvage, Bennett and his crew — Jim Parker, Seth Sanford, and, occasionally Cecil Cheatwood, former owner of the business — offer everything from the simple retrieval of lost items to more complicated projects beneath the surface of Alaska waters.
Last week’s work list included everything from righting the capsized skiff being towed behind a commercial fishing boat to salvaging, with Cheatwood’s help, a floatplane off Nanwalek.
“One guy dropped the plug off his boat at the launch ramp. He could look down and see it and was contemplating getting in the water and getting it himself,” said Bennett of one of C&C’s smallest jobs. “I was already suited up and said, ‘No. I’ll get it.’ I walked down into the water, held my breath, picked it up and handed it to him.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Bennett just completed a project in Valdez where he was 100 feet deep, 30 minutes at a stretch, cutting pipe used in a fish-grinding operation.
In addition to depth, water temperature can be a concern, especially in winter.
Currents also are a consideration. Bennett recalled two jobs — one in the Kenai River and one in the Kasilof — that were particularly challenging, especially because of the speed with which the water was moving. The projects involved removing line and brailer bags tangled around propellers and then staying clear of the freed props as they began spinning with the current.
“The Kasilof was probably the hardest. It was dark and muddy, like diving in a chocolate milk shake. I couldn’t see a thing. Plus, it was getting dark outside,” said Bennett. “And there was a seven- to eight-knot current. You can’t even swim against that.”
Anyone familiar with Kachemak Bay knows it also has powerful currents. While doing some underwater welding on the OSV Perseverance, a 270-foot, 299-ton vessel owned by Cook Inlet Spill Prevention and Response Inc., Bennett felt them begin to tug.
“All of a sudden, I was welding sideways,” he said of the current shifting his position.
The risk of working underwater is clear.
“It’s probably drowning, running out of air,” he said. “But as long as you continue to do your safety checks, diving is a safe occupation. Make sure your equipment is in good working order, your tanks are full and you have a proper crew on deck that knows what’s going on and what to do in an emergency situation.”
Originally from Montana, Bennett was making a living as a mechanic and a millwright. Once he learned to dive, combining that with his work seemed a logical step, followed by completion of a seven-month program in commercial diving at the Divers Institute of Technology in Seattle, Wash.
During summer visits to the Homer area, Bennett met Cecil and Corrine Cheatwood. The couple moved to Homer in 1988 and began C&C Aquatics, teaching diving and doing salvage work.
“We sold that angle of the business that has to do with diving, but (Cheatwood) still does some consulting,” said Corrine Cheatwood.
Keeping certifications current is a must and Bennett, who has more than 10,000 hours in the water, does that at DIT each year. He has a Diver Certification Board of Canada card for unrestricted surface supplied diver, which allows him to use surface-supplied diver equipment to a maximum depth of 30 meters.
“Those are probably one of the hardest cards to get because it allows me to go anywhere in the world and dive,” said Bennett.
His other certifications include various types of underwater work and equipment, as well as life saving and first aid. Parker holds the same level of certification and Sanford is “building up his certification to the level I am,” said Bennett.
Another part of C&C’s work involves scrubbing the bottom of boats and applying zinc to the hulls as protection against electrolysis. One of those recently done was Arktikos, a sailboat owned by Hal Smith and Susan McLane of Homer, who got their diving certification through the Cheatwoods.
“I usually put our boat on the grid to do the bottom work or zincs, but if I don’t have time I have hired (Cheatwood) to clean the bottom for us,” said Smith. “To tell you the truth, I’m not sure who else is out there to do the work, but since I’ve had (Cheatwood) do it, I have not looked any further because he has done a nice job. … Since Zech now has the business, he did the work for me this spring.”
Smith summed up C&C’s work by saying he would “highly recommend” Bennett for the work done.
Even though C&C is busy with projects in the Homer area, as well as across the state, Bennett said there isn’t a waiting list.
“We just get them knocked out as quick as we can,” he said of completing projects. “We stay pretty busy.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.